”Hearts of Stone” expands Witcher game series

Brian O'Kelly

“The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone,” an expansion to the critically acclaimed “The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt,” strives to separate itself from the largely grandiose narrative that comprised the main series’ titles. Avoiding a plot focused on medieval politics, the expansion adds a more human element to its storytelling. The new story structure gives it a severely different feel from its predecessors and engages players with the characters found within “The Witcher”’s mystical universe.

“Hearts of Stone” begins by introducing Olgierd von Everec, a noble rogue, as he criticizes a statue of a naked woman. To him, the statue is nothing more than a rock, ideally proportioned, without a flaw on its surface. In disgust, he sends the statue crumbling onto the floor. This introduction sets a thematic tone for the rest of the expansion, which seeks to deconstruct the stolid character of Geralt of Rivia who existed in the previous iterations of “The Witcher.” 

The new narrative strives to repeatedly put Geralt in situations in which he is forced to break his usually stoic character, having him act as a fool during a wedding or break from his lone-wolf mentality to plan a heist. Overall, the story is a refreshing change of pace from the emotionless mutant that players have come to know.

The series has previously used flat characters that range from irredeemably evil to unscrupulous in order to tell its cynical fairy tale. “Hearts of Stone” seeks to tell a more human tale, focusing itself around the relatable story of a single character, von Everec.

Von Everec lacks the self-interest and intrigue characteristic of previous characters in the series. He has human flaws, and his story is tragic.

The new story takes place in the northeast region of Novigrad, which is more open than in “The Wild Hunt.” The region recycles many of the assets used in “The Wild Hunt” to create its new landscapes and towns. Despite these new additions, the story takes place in the familiar city of Oxenfort, requiring little exploration on the part of the player.

“Hearts of Stone” introduces a handful of new bosses that largely stray from anything found in “The Wild Hunt” in terms of difficulty and creativity. One boss fight against an otherworldly gravedigger with the power to siphon rash players health forces the player to abandon the usual button-mashing tactic and adopt a more cautious approach.

Disappointingly, the new enemies, Arachnids, put up no challenge to a seasoned monster hunter who can mow through them in a single hit. In contrast to the new bosses, new enemy types are just re-skins of previous enemies from “The Wild Hunt” that don’t challenge the player to approach battles differently.

The expansion also introduces Runewords, an addition to “The Wild Hunt”’s rune system. They offer enhanced buffs that try to alter gameplay styles by empowering the traditional runes, letting the player maximize their stats beyond what was possible in the base game. While they do offer a serious edge in battle, they are largely unnecessary. “Hearts of Stone” can easily be played through without ever using the new Runewords and can be easily missed by players who only go through the “Hearts of Stone” main
quest line.

“The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone” truly exists in its own realm in the Witcher universe. “Hearts of Stone” still offers more of the great gameplay found in “The Wild Hunt,” truly enriching the Witcher experience through a narrative that is easily the best the series has to offer, only falling flat in the minimal additions throughout theten-hour adventure.

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone

  • Rating: M
  • Score: 4/5 Stars
  • Genre: Action Roleplaying Game