When you first meet Olgierd von Everec, Hearts of Stone leading man, he is flexing his art history muscles as he examines a stone sculpture. Deciding that it is a bit too perfect, and a bit too static, Olgierd throws it to the ground and smashes it claiming that “Its much more interesting now.” That quote could just as easily be applied to The Witcher 3, With the addition of the Hearts of Stone, its much more interesting now.
The DLC starts simply enough, Geralt accepts a contract via notice board that takes him to the quest giver, Olgierd von Everec, who happens to be the leader of a group of bandits. For many, Olgierd is the antagonist of Hearts of Stone (the DLC’s namesake is a reference to him) but in typical Witcher style, not everything is so black and white. Olgierd comes off as a bad guy, and sometimes deservedly so, but it soon becomes evident that he has a code of honor that few in the Witcherverse do. He has made his fair share of mistakes but has also been victimized to the point of sympathy. In fact, despite making me jump through hoop after hoop I found myself siding with him and sympathizing with him on more than one occasion. He is much more nuanced and complex than someone like the Baron, who in my opinion was easy to dislike. Olgierd von Everec is one of the most deep, layered, and interesting characters in the entire Witcher series which, given the masterfully crafted characters this series has produced so far, is really saying something.
The other big character Hearts of Stone introduces is Shani, a friend of Geralt and possible romantic counterpart. Shani is interesting enough but her romance with Geralt never seems fully developed or fleshed out. It seems as if most of their spark was developed before we see them here. Where Shani really shines, is in a particular mission where she attends a wedding with a ghost possessing Geralt’s body. What is interesting, is that Shani has way more chemistry with the ghost than with Geralt. Despite his rather forward advances I found myself rooting for him as his lively and forward personality is refreshing for both Shani and the player. I was almost disappointed when the ghost departed and I was left with dull old Geralt.
Following in the model of Olgierd, CD Projekt RED has crafted some of the best missions in all of Witcher 3. Following his contract to eliminate a monster in the sewers (a mission in and of itself that takes some interesting turns), Geralt finds himself having to fulfill three wishes for Olgierd that take the form of long multilayered quests that are not only excellent but unlike anything available in the vanilla game. One quest has you bidding on art in an auction house before doing your best Ocean’s 11 impression and recruiting your own band of thieves to rob said auction house. Another quest is the previously mentioned wedding quest that essentially forces Geralt to have fun and shows us a much more lighthearted side of The Witcher. The last wish to fulfill literally takes player into a painting, giving us a world that looks painted with an Impressionist brush while providing two of the most difficult boss fights in the game. What is amazing about these missions, is that most of them emphasize conversation over fighting and are still some of the best The Witcher 3 has to offer. It is quite the testament to CD Projekt RED’s storytelling and character development. More so than in the vanilla game, I found myself constantly wondering what paths alternative choice would’ve led me down. I fully intend to replay it to find out.
The DLC is not perfect however, the new Runewright mechanic—a method of enchanting weapons and armors with unique abilities—forces you to abandon existing rune slots making it feel less like a mechanic that empowers items and more like just another option for beefing up your arsenal. However, the biggest sin of the Runewright is just how much gold you have to spend to unlock all it has to offer. You need to spend 30,000 gold to fully utilize the Runewright (Hint: its not worth it). In my experience with the game I also found a fair share of bugs (I played on PS4) one of which caused Geralt to appear squatting in mid air, another got me stuck in a loading screen forever, forcing me to reload the game.
In terms of value, Hearts of Stone is well worth the $10 price tag. The way I see it, I got so much time and fun out of The Witcher 3 vanilla game that I would’ve payed $80 for it without blinking an eye. Coughing up a total of $70 for the vanilla game and this great DLC is a no-brainer. Sign me up for the next DLC as well. Completing all the main and side quests took me around 10 hours giving me plenty of time to reacquaint myself with the world and really get to know the new characters presented in it.
Despite the small issues, Hearts of Stone is an excellent example of what DLC should be. It is not a radical departure from the main game, but it is different enough to feel refreshing. The innovative mission design and fascinating characters are some of the best of the series. If you enjoyed The Witcher 3 you owe it to yourself to play the Hearts of Stone DLC.