The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is easily one of the most talked about and adored games of the year thanks to a gripping story, a huge, vibrant world and a unique approach to designing sidequests. The Hearts of Stone DLC was released earlier this month and is definitely worthy of your time, whether you’ve finished The Witcher 3 or are still prowling the grassy knolls of Velen for some more slimy beasts to put down.
Here are 7 reasons you should give Hearts of Stone a whirl.
1. It’s big but not ridiculously big.
That the DLC for The Wild Hunt would be large is no surprise. The main game is colossal and filled with activities that aren’t prebaked but instead meticulously created adventures that have you doing a variety of things so that no side quest ever really feels the same. For one contract you might be tracking down a werewolf through the woods and in another you might be chatting with a ghoul to try and convince them to leave a house they’re haunting. There’s a lot of high quality stuff here that usually isn’t in open-world games and that’s a bit of a double-edged sword because it’ll probably make you want to do everything in the game…which would probably take around 200 hours altogether.
Instead of being a pack of 20 side quests to pepper The Wild Hunt’s world, which wouldn’t have been bad either, Hearts of Stone is essentially a giant version of one of these contract quests that’ll take you around 10 hours to complete. So you get the best of both worlds: a good time that’s both substantial and manageable.
2. It’s self-contained.
Haven’t finished The Witcher 3 yet but really want to play this? Not a problem. CD Projekt Red has given players a number of options to do that. If you’re at least level 30 in your most recent save, you can just go play the quest immediately without worrying about being underleveled (if you’re in New Game+, you’re going to have to be level 60). If you’re not quite there, the developer has also included a standalone option launched from the main menu that will let you play the DLC with a level 32 Geralt whose abilities you can customize.
Though the DLC takes place either after the main storyline or deep into it, it’s pretty good about not spoiling any of the major plot points from that story if you’re still going through it, though there are some smaller details that might be given away if you dig too deep into the optional conversation choices with certain characters.
3. It’s funny as hell.
Sharp and often crass humor has always been a part of The Witcher but it’s often pushed to the sidelines of each game, a goofy remark from a side character every now and then in a tense moment, or Geralt shaking his head at Dandelion’s nonsense. Hearts of Stone changes that. The DLC is extremely, deviously funny, with one bit involving the overly serious Geralt being possessed by a lecherous version of Gilderoy Lockhart, self-centered and throwing himself (as Geralt) at every woman he sees in a goofy fashion. It’s all rather ridiculous and amusing in a way that’s different from the rest of the series, making it a nice change of pace from the world’s bleakness.
4. It’s sweet, too.
The Witcher 3 received a good deal of praise for taking the time to focus on Geralt’s emotional tethers to the world: Ciri, his adopted daughter; Yen, his lover; Triss, his other lover; and his various pals. Long sequences of characters just talking about happier times or maybe how they’ve hurt one another and what they can do to try and mend their relationship (if anything) have helped set the series apart from other fantasy epic games. Geralt, in spite of his rather unoriginal badass appearance, is sort of a grumpy relative character, being tough but also letting those around him know he cares about them (to what degree he does is, as always, up to you). Hearts of Stone offers up even more of those character-driven scenes, with Geralt trying to connect with old friends, and wavering between sympathy and disgust for the DLC’s troubled and tragic villain. Though there aren’t quite as many heartstring-tugging moments here as there are jokes, they do their job well when they appear.
5. It has a heist mission.
Not only does it have a heist mission, it has a really good heist mission that has you robbing from a jerk who deserves to have everything taken from him. The first part of the quest has you choosing who you want to be on your team (do you want the circus act elf or the halfling climber to scale a building for you?) and then trying to convince them to be part of the job. It sounds a little bit like dull chore work but all the sequences are pretty funny and worth the 10 minutes it takes to travel to them and complete them.
The second bit, the actual heist, is great: a sword & shields version of Heat, basically. We won’t go into spoiler territory for this one but rest assured, it’s one of the best quests in The Witcher 3 and makes Hearts of Stone worth playing at least a few times to see how the quest can play out with different group builds.
6. It’s got Shani!
Folks who played the first Witcher game to completion back in 2008 will remember Shani, the red-haired medic that tends to Geralt and is also a romance option. The Witcher 2 disappointed a number of players because if they decided to romance Shani, the game had it set so he was involved with Triss Merigold no matter what. Hearts of Stone fixes that a bit, letting Geralt meet up with Shani again and possibly rekindle an old romance. But beyond that, Shani’s just a great character in general, one of the few people in the world of The Witcher who’s almost always got a smile on her face and a pleasant view of people, a perspective that may be somewhat naïve in such a dark world, but it makes her compelling. She’s also good at throwing sassy one-liners at Geralt when he needs to stop being such a sourpuss.
7. It has a villain for the ages.
Olgierd Von Everec is just a great name, isn’t it? Good thing the actual character is just as good. He’s charming, but temperamental, cutting off a man’s head just because the dude offended him, and also has a tragic backstory that’s solid enough to engender sympathy toward him but not enough to let him off the hook for all the awful things he’s done before and during the game.
As crafty as he is vicious, Everec is probably the most interesting villain The Witcher has had so far (far more intriguing than the dull buffoons of the Wild Hunt) and a worthy opponent for Geralt of Rivia.
Javy Gwaltney devotes his time to writing about these videogame things when he isn’t teaching or cobbling together a novel. You can follow the trail of pizza crumbs to his Twitter or his website.