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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Hearts of Stone
Score: 90%
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: CD Projekt RED
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/Adventure/Action

Starting Off with the Options:

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Hearts of Stone is the first expansion for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. CD Projekt RED impresses right out of the gate with multiple convenient options for playing this expansion. As expected, you can load a saved game where youíve already completed the prologue. This will allow you to play the expansion and its quests. But if you havenít finished, you can do a "Fresh Start" which will allow you to complete the gameís prologue and then automatically embark on the expansion. The final option is to play the expansion alone with a specially prepared character that has already been leveled to 32. Sure, this is one of the simplest aspects of the expansion, but it shows the thought and care that goes into such things; Theyíve done their best to cater even to the player who hasnít picked up the game in months.

If you do choose the last option, all main story quests will be completed, but you can still pursue side quests. Donít assume the pre-leveled character is just an effortless ride, however. Even the first main quest of slaying a mysterious beast in the sewers will knock you off your feet if you donít take some time to prepare your pre-prepared character.

Story Time with Geralt:

This first quest sounds like standard Witcher stuff, until you meet the man who sent out the request. Olgierd von Everec is a strange man at first glance, but you can write him off as eccentric and a perhaps gifted with blind luck at first. The strange details of his life start adding up gradually until he reveals himself as an immortal. Thatís not where it ends, as thereís more to Olgierd than just being a bored immortal.

That brings you to your meeting with the Gaunter O'Dimm. He attempts to rival even Geralt with nicknames as heís also known as Man of Glass or Master Mirror. You've actually already met him early on in the game, but itís likely youíve forgotten that little meeting. Heís another mystery man with strange motivations. But whereas Olgierdís strange habits and actions can be sympathized with as you learn his story, Gaunterís picture becomes ever more sinister and disturbing. Geralt canít figure out Gautner at first; Is he demon or genie? Is he something entirely unknown to Witcher lore? He claims to despise magic, yet he seems to summon storms. He claims to grant wishes, but enlists the help of Geralt to fulfill his contracts. He shows signs of being manipulative, sociopathic. Perhaps heís not actually in need of anyoneís help, perhaps heís a powerful being who amuses himself by putting mortals through pain, terror, and hardship.

Geralt is prominently branded by Gaunter, and demon or no demon, must fulfill Gaunterís contract to Olgierd in order to remove it. Gaunterís contract granted 3 wishes to Olgierd, but requires a third party, Geralt in this case, to fulfill them. Olgierd tries to game the contract though, asking for wishes that are impossible for Geralt to grant. Well, they should be, anyway, but Gaunter indirectly helps you out here and there. And of course, Geraltís no ordinary Witcher.

Maybe itís the break from the normal "the world ends unless you do this" or maybe itís just me, but this really does feel like a more personal, character-driven set of quests and characters than you normally find in the main game. It's an enjoyable change of feel to the game. Geraltís old friend Shani returns as well, allowing you to catch up with her and pursue a romance as well. A word of caution, however, this romance scene can turn pretty embarrassing if you let Shani drown her sorrows in alcohol all night. Ew, gross. Thatís all Iím gonna say. Catching up with Geraltís old friends is fun and adds depth to the characters you already know. Geralt also gets a rather fun bank heist quest where he has to recruit an unlikely group of allies to help pull it off. While the heist is explained, the camera cuts to some scenes of your potential partners in crime. Itís got an "Oceanís 11" vibe to it and makes the whole thing a lot more exciting than simply listening to a guy explain the skills of various safecrackers and other specialists.

The time spent with Shani is a good example of the enjoyable character interactions youíll have for a number of reasons. I wonít go into too much detail, but you end up being her date for a wedding. Unfortunately, poor Geralt has to suffer through being possessed by a ghost for most of it. The ghost is a lot more of a party animal than Geralt, and gets him into embarrassing situations such as chasing pigs, dancing, and hitting on women (OK, that last one isnít too far off for Geralt). The evening ends, the ghost leaves Geraltís body, and Shani and Geralt get to catch up. She ends up with mixed feelings about the whole thing (the ghost was a pretty huge pervert and party crasher, but Shani wonders if Geralt and, maybe deep down, she was enjoying some of it), and opens up about her family, her motherís pressuring her to marry, and the drudgery and joys of being a doctor. Geralt listens, and you really do feel like the two are connecting. Thereís still some sadness, however, when they both acknowledge that they lead such different lives that it could never work out as a long-term relationship. The Witcher is best when it hits these sweet and sour notes because it does it so much better than a lot of games and stories out there. Thereís no real right or wrong, thereís just the tangled mess of sadness and the delights that are life.

New Stuff, New Jokes:

There are, of course, new armor sets, new weapons, and new Gwent cards to be found in this expansion as well. The armor youíre given during the bank heist, for example, is actually pretty decent and nice looking. You can also fill out Geraltís armor collection with new Ofieri gear or Viper school gear. Thatís good, because Iíve said it before: the Christmas sweater look just ainít working for Geralt. There is also a new runeword and glyphword system that will allow you to customize gear in new ways and even add extra slots.

In-jokes and funny references return as well, with items like a "Goblet of Fire" to be found in the Auction House and one guard who has recently healed up from an arrow to his knee. Geraltís deadpan lines and sarcasm are also alive and well in this expansion and many of his lines made me laugh out loud. Thereís nothing like answering someoneís question, "Have you ever loved? I mean truly loved?" with an abrupt "You donít give a sh**."

Go on Wallet, Follow your Heart:

Overall, this feels bigger than just a ten dollar expansion and is an enjoyable return to the Witcher world. If you got a little burned out on the core story of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, this provides you with a new adventure and a new set of mysteries to solve. Old friends and flames keep the story connected to the Witcher world and add new depth. Hearts of Stone does everything an expansion should do to breathe new life into a game you already love.

-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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