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Review

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Hearts of Stone Review

  • First Released May 18, 2015
    released
  • Reviewed Oct 8, 2015
  • PC

A motley crew.

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone is at once a horror story, a romance, a character study, and a classic fairy tale. And somehow, these disparate parts mesh to form a cohesive whole.

This is CD Projekt Red's first paid expansion for its masterful RPG, and it fits seamlessly into Geralt's narrative. Although it's meant for late-game characters around level 30, it's available at any point in your playthrough. And like many experiences in The Witcher 3, the expansion's main draw is its twisting storylines and vivid inhabitants.

It's difficult to talk about these elements without ruining the experience as a whole. CD Projekt Red presents its own dark take on weddings, haunted houses, and the story of the prince and the frog. Quests never resolved how I expected them to, and seldom how I hoped. They even ventured into metaphysical environments, and gorgeous as they were, there's a haunting presence to them. Hearts of Stone runs the gamut of fantasy tropes, but subverts every one. It's this willingness to take successful risks that sets these quests, and the story they compose, apart.

Many of these storylines trace back to one man: Gaunter O'Dimm. Geralt calls him the Merchant of Mirrors. Others know him as the Man of Glass. He's a character who makes you feel uneasy with a glance and, even when he seemed relaxed, I always had my thumb hovering over the attack button. You get the sense he knows far more than he lets on. Hearts of Stone paints him in a complex fashion, melding his odd behavior with a strange charm, thereby creating someone who doesn't fit any archetype.

There are more than cobwebs inside this manor.
There are more than cobwebs inside this manor.

But there are good people in the Northern Kingdoms, too, however few and far between. Hearts of Stone reintroduces Shani, the medic from Oxenfurt, who reprises her role from the original Witcher. She's my favorite character here, and maybe in all of The Witcher 3. She's equal parts charming, caring, and clever. In fact, Shani's much smarter than Geralt: your responses have a time limit more frequently when speaking with her. She's quick witted, but only gives that away the more time you spend with her.

Shani's mother wants her to find a husband, but she's too busy with her own medical practice, and doesn't feel the need for a serious partner. While many women in The Witcher 3 play minor roles, often supplemental to men, Shani is a vivid character in her own right. She's a foil to both Geralt and the dark world he lives in--maybe that's the reason for their romantic past.

If you don't remember, or weren't aware of that history from the earlier games, it doesn't matter too much. CD Projekt Red conveys it with expert dialogue and subtle visual cues. Pay attention to Shani's shuffling feet. Listen as Geralt softens the edge in his voice. It's not often you can read into animated characters' body language, but here, Shani's lingering glances and Geralt's looser gestures tell a story in themselves. Shani even knows how many scars Geralt accumulated since last they met--27, to be exact. Once again, CD Projekt Red excels at capturing the details.

While many women in The Witcher 3 play minor roles, often supplemental to men, Shani is a vivid character in her own.

In between these living stories and fluid narratives are engrossing quests. I planned a heist, recruited team members, and cringed as my plan fell apart. I attended a wedding straight out of a sitcom, complete with praiseworthy comedy and awkward scenarios. Even in the absence of combat and supernatural catastrophes, Hearts of Stone pulled me through with expert pacing--for the most part.

CD Projekt Red implemented several mini-games throughout this expansion, most of which were tracking sections. Geralt's Witcher senses usually lead you only a few feet away to a breakable wall, or hidden object, that seem placed only to remind you of the man's superhuman detective abilities.

There's also an infuriating section that places you in a muddy pen as you try to herd pigs toward their respective troughs. The activity alone breaks the overall immersion, but Geralt's wide turns double the annoyance factor.

Geralt's not exactly himself in this scene.
Geralt's not exactly himself in this scene.

But these activities are negligible in the grand scheme of things. When combat does rear its head, there are unique enemies and tenacious boss battles to keep the dynamism alive. In fact, I saw three such enemies within the first two hours of Hearts of Stone. I fought a mage, a headless swordsman, and a hideous beast much larger than Geralt, with more complex attack patterns than many of the Northern Kingdoms' other denizens.

There's another enemy later, in a graveyard outside an abandoned manor, whose character design echoes the horrors of Pan's Labyrinth. It's grotesque. It's terrifying. Its abilities make for one of the more grueling encounters I've faced as Geralt. Defeating that thing was both a triumph and a relief.

The Witcher 3's first paid expansion is well worth the return to the Northern Kingdoms.

For all of its storylines, and all of its varied combat, Hearts of Stone houses deeper themes. Matters of regret, apathy, death, and the passage of time pervade every character's motivations. One woman laments the monster her husband turned out to be. "I've stopped wondering what you feel about me anymore," she says. "I don't feel anything," he replies. And in an intimate moment between Shani and Geralt, the former asks the Witcher if he worries about never falling in love. The response is up to you.

This thematic pulse elevates an already great batch of content. Hearts of Stone feels just as much a part of the narrative as any of the main game's quest lines, but stands on its own as a memorable adventure. It may have its negative moments and the pacing may be broken at certain intervals, but The Witcher 3's first paid expansion is well worth the return to the Northern Kingdoms.

There's a point when a character whistles the boss fight music. And just when you're sure one such encounter is coming, he walks away to that haunting tune, without so much as a fistfight. This is what Hearts of Stone does best. It takes our expectations and runs with them.

Mike Mahardy on Google+
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    The Good
    Clever dialogue and cinematic storytelling
    Shani is a bright point among a cast of vibrant characters
    In combat and out, the quests are engrossing
    Deeper themes permeate character actions and plot points
    The Bad
    Obtrusive mini-game and detective sections
    9
    Superb
    About GameSpot's Reviews
    Other Platform Reviews for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

    About the Author

    Mike wishes he could talk about Hearts of Stone's plot points here, but doesn't want to spoil them for you. Let him know when you beat it.
    401 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
    GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

    Avatar image for penstrol
    penstrol

    Good review, and agree with all the main points. If I had a gripe, it's that the runesmith feature was poorly implemented - kind of a waste of time.
    That said, it's completely irrelevant next to how goddamn good the narrative content of this expansion is. Brilliant writing, excruciating decisions, incredible settings, amazing boss fights. Anyone who liked the Witcher 3 for its story, characters, and atmosphere should stop reading these fucking comments right now and get this expansion.

    Avatar image for kingcrimson24
    kingcrimson24

    this games is way too big

    Avatar image for Yams1980
    Yams1980

    ya i gotta agree here. By the time im actually done the main game, im still not sure if i need this expansion. Kinda burned out on the game at this point, but yet I wonder what i'm missing?

    Avatar image for dannydouble
    DannyDouble

    Im getting tired of the witcher3, every map looks the same and its impossible to run any direction for longer than 3 minutes without getting turned around by an invisible wall.

    I did not enjoy dragon age inquisition that much but at least there were deserts, snowy mountains, woods, swamps.. all sorts of different sceneries.

    I just wish the witcher 3 was a more diverse game in general. I wish it had different weapons with different movesets, i wish there were bow and arrows with real arrow physics, i wish there were curved katana swords and polearms.. I wish you could use physics to pick up barrels and toss them at enemies. I wish you could use your horse and rope to pull enemies by the legs. I wish you could ride a wooden bicycle, i wish you could have throwable tomahawks, i wish you could lasso a rope up tall cliffs, i wish you could create boobytraps, i wish you could craft your own little hut in the woods to sleep in

    Witcher3 is just kinda hollow

    Avatar image for DanielCorfour
    DanielCorfour

    @dannydouble: I honestly can't tell if this is satire or just that stupid... Poe's law I guess..

    Avatar image for wrednajasobaka
    wrednajasobaka

    @DanielCorfour:

    Hard to tell. Ability to ride wooden bicycles puts in the satire territory, but the rest seems like more or less serious complaints.

    I just had time to finish expansion pack and while it doesn't add much new to gameplay the story of the main quest and characters are one of the best I have ever seen.

    Avatar image for Frozzik
    Frozzik

    Too many games in October. This has been bumped to the top of my to play list.

    My backlog grows by the day.

    Avatar image for Duremioh
    Duremioh

    Witcher 3 was a gorgeous looking open world adventure. Thats all it was. It looked pretty. For an RPG the combat was fairly shallow. By the time i reached level 22 I completely forgot about ability points. Just didn't care. It wasn't till the final boss fight that i actually remembered that i had like close to 20 unspent ability points. I couldn't even get excited about levelling up because the skill tree abilities were so superficial

    ( An RPG world where i can't even get excited about levelling up???)

    I got bored (yes bored) sometime into the first 20 hrs and lord knows if it weren't for gwent i probably would have ditched this game. I know there are a number of people who also feel this way but for some reason no one wants to talk about TW3's lack of substance.

    At this point I'm just tired of the media. I know GS is a gaming site so hype is matter-of-course, but I blame the disappointment this game was for me on all the hype that preceded it, and all the fool gamers eating CDPR's parsley.

    Avatar image for DanielCorfour
    DanielCorfour

    @Duremioh: "lack of substance" in the most substance-heavy game in existence. And you wonder why no one is talking about it's "lack of substance". If the leveling system being shallow(which I actually do agree with, it could've been handled far better) is all it takes for you to declare the most story-rich, content filled game in existence "lacking in substance", then I don't what to tell you...

    Avatar image for deactivated-59e0c3e2b083b

    True Game of The Year material, this Witcher 3.

    Avatar image for adamus
    adamus

    people crying over the movement still? ive played countless hours and have no problem moving around and fighting in combat. if you cant adapt then you clearly do not have the skill for this game and need to stop blaming the movement.

    Avatar image for DanielCorfour
    DanielCorfour

    @adamus: to be fair, the movement system could've been handled far better. Yeah, I managed to adapt, but it took half the game. And the alternate movement system isn't that good either.

    Avatar image for warwickknight
    warwickknight

    @adamus: They DID add an alternative movement system. If people are still complainig idk why. Its smooth and fluint

    Avatar image for Mogan
    Mogan

    @adamus: I didn't like the movement at launch, but the alternate mode they added in one of the patches feels a lot better. It's not perfect (and still feels better with a controller) but it's a big improvement and totally playable.

    Avatar image for urbanman2004
    urbanman2004

    I'm ready, I'm ready [in my Spongebob voice]

    Avatar image for Yosh_24
    Yosh_24

    Great game but since patch 1.10 it's went from 'The Witcher 3' to 'The Glitcher 3' for me. I'm assuming it's all NG+ bugs though since my 1st play-through had no issues. I'm hoping that the expansion will be bug free haha

    Avatar image for njs72
    njs72

    I love the game but i find it a chore to think about playing it. the combat is just plain awfull. Its like a failed version of dark souls style combat. Riding a horse and just yhe movement of geralt feels awkward and clunky, i got frustrated 2 or 3 times just trying to get in a door running From mobs. But everything else about wither 3 is stunning.

    Avatar image for warwickknight
    warwickknight

    @njs72: Sword combat at its finest. You have to be looking for a hole in your enemy's defenses while putting up your own. And if you cant find a hole.....make one.

    Avatar image for njs72
    njs72

    @njs72: I guess after putting in 200 hours on dark souls 2 and 100 hours on dark souls 1 ive been spoilt by the slick, smooth combat both the ds games offer. great hitbox and just simple intuitive mechanics. simple put, DS is like driving a sports car where Witcher 3 is like driving truck. same applies to just walking around the world.

    Avatar image for bobothemighty
    BoboTheMighty

    @njs72: How? Dude, if someone had told me he had sex with alien, I'd find that more believable. Animations and transition between them are vastly superior in Witcher in comparison( they used a real martial expert for motion capture),,,same way as Arkham Knight is ahead of Witcher. When it comes to character rotation and movement, DS almost feels like a more modern version of RE Remaster...stiff, unnatural and clumsy movement, exactly like controlling a truck. As for intuitive mechanics, that is absolutely false...unless you wish to spend hundreds of hours of play testing, new players need on line guides to understand how stats in DS affect gameplay, their soft/hard caps, I frame windows... there is no explanation or tutorial of any kind. It's learn through die experience, that many people find pointlessly frustrating.

    You're 100% right about hitboxes...in Witcher most are good, but DS completely wins on that.

    Avatar image for kozzy1234
    kozzy1234

    @njs72: The combat is terrible? ahhh nope. Witcher 3 combat >>> Dark Souls combat.

    All you have to do in Dark souls is watch the enemies learn how they move and thats it. Witcher 3 has much more depth than Dark Souls in combat. Not to mention Witcher 3 actually has wonderful writing for its dialogue, story and characters. Where as Dark Souls has some of the worst writing every in rpgs.

    The only advantage Dark Souls has over Witcher is that it is harder, everything else Witcher does much better and is in a totally different category. Not to mention the horrible controls in Dark Souls and the half baked PC version of the first game.

    Avatar image for bobothemighty
    BoboTheMighty

    @kozzy1234: Honestly man, I think you're pushing it and oversimplifying DS by a mile,,,there are plenty of things in game play mechanics of From games deserving of praise. But I also get the feeling their fan base is incredibly quick to jump and ridicule other games for their flaws, while willing to be blind to even the most obvious you'll find there.

    I would place this game's combat somewhere in the middle "tier" of the more popular action games( subjectively, somewhere between Kingdoms of Amalur and Shadow of Mordor)...it's a step ahead of almost all western action rpg's, but we'll still have to wait a long while before we seem them challenge anything like Bayonetta or DmC.

    Avatar image for razecah12
    razecah12

    @njs72: the combat is not bad , just limited and geralt movement is good

    Avatar image for bobothemighty
    BoboTheMighty

    @njs72: I'll never understand Dark Souls fans complaining about movement and controls in other games. If I need to jump over a gap in DS, I need to press F a second BEFORE making a jump, to avoid falling down to death. And camera, lock on and combat UI is easily one of the worst I've come across...lock on doesn't stay locked on when facing moving opponents and camera very poorly follows players movement and glitches around, especially in tight quarters. And you cannot even quickly switch in between spells in combat.

    Avatar image for deactivated-58b0b257815cf

    @njs72:

    It's not like DS at all really. I enjoy the combat. Controls feel fine to me. Problem is, it's too easy.

    Avatar image for jdlok
    JDlok

    DRUSMINBASHIR is the greatest little CDPR fanboy in the history of the world and he will defend them until the END!!!!!!

    Avatar image for larsondir82
    Larsondir82

    @jdlok: And your point is? CDPR has done a better job on their games than most of the game companies out their.

    Avatar image for bobbo888
    bobbo888

    @jdlok: nothin wrong with CDPR.

    Avatar image for Hydrafiend
    Hydrafiend

    Your videos never run on iPad!

    Avatar image for snogglethorpe
    snogglethorpe

    @Hydrafiend: The GS video player is just awful in every way, it's pretty much a lost cause. I watch their videos on YouTube when I can, because the YT player actually works properly.

    Avatar image for masaharina
    MasaHarina

    Everything CDPRED touches turns to gold.

    Avatar image for shreddyz
    shreddyz

    @masaharina: Yeah and someday they'll make a game with good gameplay.

    Avatar image for colt_a
    colt_a

    @shreddyz: And someday you'll learn how empty inside you are to run around trolling message boards.

    Avatar image for razecah12
    razecah12

    @shreddyz: the witcher 3 have decent gameplay , but u darksoul fanboys like to complain alot

    Avatar image for zivojofiha
    zivojofiha

    I've made $76,000 so far this year working online and I'm a full time student. Im using an online business opportunity I h eard about and I've made such great money. It's really user friendly and I'm just so happy that I found out about it.

    Heres what I do...---->>>>>> www.Cashwiki77.com

    Avatar image for bobothemighty
    BoboTheMighty

    @zivojofiha: Good for you! ( Where is the sexy chick avatar?)

    I also discovered a method of making money by just thinking about it, but no way I'm sharing it with any of you fools. :P

    Avatar image for sladakrobot
    sladakrobot

    Awesome...i bought Witcher 3 at day one but havent played it.
    I wanted to wait for the game to iron the glitches and bugs out and soon i will start the game when the game is complete with all the DLCs. :-)

    Avatar image for nl_skipper
    NL_Skipper

    @sladakrobot: Definitely not a bad idea to have waited for a few patches (there have been 10 so far!), but I don't think you should wait for the other expansion before you start playing. It's not out until February or so, and the base game has well over a hundred hours to begin with... I think you'd get burnt out if you tried to tackle it all at once!

    Avatar image for clasmae
    Clasmae

    After reading over some of the comments, the main topic has been Bethesda Games v Witcher 3....Me being a really big fan of Fallout, so i guess im a fanboy, but i digress.....I just don't get how we are comparing a 7 year old game in F3 and a 4 year old game in Skyrim to a game that was released 5 months ago a valid argument. Lol hell, TW2 was released the same year as Skyrim, havent seen any points from that game (i didnt play it myself so i would've liked to hear some opinions about it)

    However i did really enjoy TW3, i dont really mind clunky combat from being a fan of the Fallout series i can get through that with a really nice setting, interesting characters, and a little freedom. And CDR did a nice job on those three points...But i would just like us to hold this debate until F4 comes out

    Avatar image for nl_skipper
    NL_Skipper

    @clasmae: TW2 really did blow away Skyrim in 2011 in my opinion. I had played TW2 when it was released in May, and then played skyrim when released in November... and it was dull as dish-water by comparison, and the fact it was 90% similar to Oblivion didn't do it any favors (because I played that game sooo much).

    We'll see how Fallout 4 stacks up, but it's a totally different setting and has explosives and guns and the like, so they're not really apt for comparison imo, two totally different RPG's. The same could really be said for Skyrim as well, it's more of a "sandbox" game with plenty of freedom while The Witcher has you play a specific role, but has more fleshed out and interesting characters/dialogue/quests and story because of it.

    All my opinion of course, I don't feel like direct "this versus that" comparisons do games justice though, because we all have different tastes and will appreciate different aspects of each game, and there's no denying that all the games we're mentioning here are great in their own way.

    Avatar image for bobothemighty
    BoboTheMighty

    @clasmae: You can compare a lot of things between different titles regardless of when they were released. But majority of these gamer "debates" have nothing to do with games...it's a dick size contest, where everyone's bashing another one's favorite, seeking attention and validation from opinions of others.

    Why do fans of art don't yell at one another over whether Rembrandt or Picasso is more "overrated"?...because it comprises of adult audience who realize that when it comes to things that exist for entirely personal enjoyment, your own opinion is the only one that counts. Trying to convince random strangers by yelling on the Internet about it and the only thing you succeed, is in making yourself look pitiful by showing how little confidence you have.

    And to gamespot moderators...please consider adding an option to hide comments with too many negative flags. Comment section from something like eurogamer is far more enjoyable to read when posts of these children that troll other titles taking away spotlight from their favorite, are more easily removed.

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt More Info

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  • First Released May 18, 2015
    released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a story-driven, next-generation open world role-playing game, set in a visually stunning fantasy universe, full of meaningful choices and impactful consequences. In The Witcher, you are a professional monster hunter, tasked with finding a child of prophecy in a vast open world rich with merchant cities, dangerous mountain passes, and forgotten caverns to explore.
    9.3
    Average Rating1961 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
    Developed by:
    CD Projekt Red Studio, CD Projekt RED S.A.
    Published by:
    Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, CD Projekt RED S.A., Bandai Namco Games, Spike Chunsoft, CD Projekt Red Studio
    Genre(s):
    Role-Playing, Action
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Alcohol