DJ Arruda ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Since its hugely successful launch, The Witcher III has received 16 free DLCs which consisted of new weapons and armor, alternate outfits, new quests, and culminated in New Game Plus. In addition, numerous patches have also been distributed going beyond simple bug fixes, fixing inventory management and even adding new dialogue to the Triss Merigold romance. Now the first official expansion has been released, and it is everything fans could have wanted. Hearts of Stone introduces Geralt to Olgierd von Everec, an eccentric bandit captain whose simple request drags the Witcher into a story fraught with mystery, action, and intrigue, while reintroducing a character briefly met at the beginning of the game, and bringing back Shani, a feisty medic who players of the first game will remember quite well. The storyline of the expansion is phenomenal, definitely on par with if not better than the main game, blending humor, horror, and the grey morality which makes the series one of the best written in the industry.
Numerous in-jokes poke fun at critiques posited by the community, showing how self-aware the studio is, and taking it in stride. It is evident that the studio has been listening to fan feedback on the main game and the new characters in the expansion shine as players follow their arcs, fully fleshed out and complicated beings who genuinely engross the player as they move through the story. Beyond twisting fairy tales and urban legends familiar to its audience, the expansion offers a number of different quests which allow for highs and lows whether it be attending a wedding or exploring a haunted mansion. The motto of this expansion is “be careful what you wish for,” but the writers explore a well-known concept through the unique lens their world offers.
In introducing a sizable new area northeast of Novigrad, the expansion also allows players a tantalizing glance at the Ofieri, a culture starkly in contrast with the North experienced in the main game, taking the time to flesh out the previously unseen country in a way that feels natural and engrossing. In addition, new Gwent cards and achievements add more to do, new weapons and armor are beautiful and reflect the exoticness of Ofieri, and the introduction of rune crafting as a natural evolution of the runes in the main game offers players new way to take on the challenges of the new quests. And, beyond simply introducing new types of common enemies in lieu of the common bandit, there are quite a number of boss fights, but each is unique and challenging in a refreshing way. Pushing the already challenging combat further, each new boss employs tactics previously unseen in the game and forces players to adapt to these new strategies or fall. Again, it is as if the studio crafted this expansion with a loving ear to the community, as it improves on the combat of the main game with these new AI behaviors
The studio could have justifiably charged twice as much, if not more, given that the expansion involves at least ten new hours of content in the main story alone. Each quest line is substantial and feels complete, and they are all strung together through the narrative of Olgierd. There are truly gorgeous, standout moments through the expansion, and callbacks to the main game that do not having any significant effect. In this way players can jump in whenever they feel comfortable and still experience an awesome new storyline. The only true downfall is some noticeable graphical and audial glitches that plague the game, though to their credit the patches the studio has dispatched have attempted to make the game perform better. If the content were not so quality, it would be less acceptable, but in dealing with such a massive undertaking, they serve to show that even without perfection, the game is still worth playing. It is not unreasonable to say that there is more in this expansion than some whole games, and for only $10, or $25 for the expansion pass which also includes the next expansion, Blood and Wine, it is a steal for longtime fans or those who simply fell in love with this installment of the series. In an expansion that deals with wishes, it is fitting that CD Projekt RED make their first expansion a dream come true.