The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Hearts of Stone Previews

A handful of game publications had the chance to get their hands on the first hours of the first paid expansion for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Hearts of Stone. As a result of that, quite a few previews for the expansion have surfaced today. As usual, we've rounded them up for your perusal.

Eurogamer isn't quite convinced this is truly deserving of the "expansion" monicker:

Two characters in particular stand out: the two key figures of the Hearts story. One you've met before, and I certainly never expected to see again, and the other is an immortal - something CD Projekt Red has already announced (I don't want to spoil more than that - look away from the gallery at the bottom of this article to preserve secrets). Discovering their motivations and their secrets pulls you along. There's also another romance to pursue with a character old Witcher-game fans will recognise, and doing so doesn't affect your relationship with Yennefer or Triss - it's guilt-free in that regard. And when these stories warm up, Hearts really gets going. This is CD Projekt Red relaxing after the serious work of the main game, playing around with what you think you know about how certain characters behave, particularly Geralt. At points, Hearts hits genuinely funny notes.


Hearts of Stone improves and deepens with every objective I complete, and I'm confident that several hours later it will be one of the quests I remember the game for. But there's nothing screamingly essential in what I see, or dazzlingly different - just more of the kind of thing that's come before. It's not really what I hoped for from an expansion. Nevertheless, £8 for 10 hours of carefully crafted story still looks like good value, if more story is what you desperately want. But the main event, it feels like, will be the game's second expansion due in Q1 2016: Blood & Wine.


But there was still a beast to track, so we slogged through the sewers until we found it. And it was massive. Unlike other monsters, this one didn't fall into the archetypes other Witcher contracts might: this wasn't a wraith, or griffin, or drowner. This was something else. And again, I don't want to spoil anything, but as a boss fight, this creature was versatile and difficult to bring down. But when I finally finished it, the story took another sharp turn. As it turns out, von Everec, the contract giver, had ulterior motives of his own. At this point, I stopped trying to analyse Hearts of Stone, and let it pull me forward on its own whims.

It was here when the expansion's breadth of content made itself known. There are various paths to go down, and differing plot threads to chase. I took another quest from von Everec, who asked me to bring his brother out for a day of partying, which brought us both to a wedding. This scene was among CD Projekt Red's best, with hilarious encounters well suited for some sort of fantasy sitcom. It also served as welcome comic relief.

PC Gamer:

Hearts of Stone also adds the Runewright, a new type of NPC vendor that has the ability to convert runestones and glyphs into '˜words' that imbue items with powerful abilities. However, they come with a heavy price. Enchanting any item with a word will block all of its slots and destroy any equipped runes or glyphs. In essence, you sacrifice a few smaller bonuses for a single, powerful bonus.

As pictured above, you can sacrifice your rune slots in a mastercrafted silver sword for the ability to have an armorer's table and grindstone bonus that never expires. Tempting. I'm not sure how many words a single item can be enchanted with or what kind of diversity we'll see in the enchant abilities, but it's a welcome addition anyway. I think players testing their skill in NG+ or harder difficulties will benefit most, as I imagine hardcore players will experiment endlessly to find super efficient loadouts.


After a string of smaller free pieces of DLC, Hearts of Stone will be the first to charge players. It justifies that by being bigger, bolder and more like a full expansion, featuring one major new quest line and a variety of new side content, plus new areas, enemies and so on. While the game doesn't stray far from the map and world established in The Witcher 3 proper, Hearts of Stone finds an opportunity to spirit you away to an all-new area almost immediately in the form of a dank, dingy sewer beneath a city players will have visited before.


After I meander a bit, reminding myself of the flow of the combat, I head right to the first objective. Quickly I'm pointed down into the sewers, and down there Geralt finds a familiar face, dead bodies, and of course creatures eager to do harm, plus all-new architecture to explore with extra loot to gather and such. The sewers look great on this (frankly ridiculously powerful) PC at the preview event, and it's easy to be inclined to agree with Bury this is a new type of area for The Witcher 3, somehow naturally cavernous and man-made all at once, with the slick wetness of every surface a great use for the REDengine's lighting systems.

Battles ensue down in the sewers, with the beast down there threatening to poison the water supply for hundreds. After some basic tracking, the enemy appears a huge, disgusting frog-like boss. When the boss is downed some interesting events transpire in that sewer involving a group of cultists of a sort and while I'll keep this preview spoiler-free beyond this introductory encounter, I will say it opens the doors for a much wider story in even more new places which makes sense, considering CD Projekt claim that Hearts of Stone will be at least a good eight hours longer than I got to play.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun:

What I really liked about my options here, however, was how few of them involved fighting. Like so many other Witcher 3 players, I had to learn to tolerate the finicky combat system, so it came as a joyful surprise that I didn't really have to hit things save for a few uppity rogues. The rest of it was talking, wandering, convincing people that it was far better to sell their captive than to obey the letter of the law, and failing to talk a profanity-spewing, dynamite-ringed dwarf from his place in the rooftops.

And that was glorious. Witcher 3 has always been about the people for me. Virtually everyone's a caricature, sure, but more often than not, they also carry shades of something human an idea or an easily identifiable ache. The dwarf I've mentioned is hilariously foul-mouthed, sure, but his matrimonial woes are not inconsequential. Similarly, even von Everee's crew isn't just a tumble of scallywags. At least one of them is human enough to gruffly worry about a friend-lover-brother-person-of-significant-importance.


As we've come to expect with The Witcher franchise, situations and people aren't purely good or evil. The series has earned its claim to fame with morally gray characters, always keeping you on edge about how much you can actually trust them. First impressions can often be misleading; most of the people Geralt gets involved with have serious flaws and have made some mistakes. Hearts Of Stone carries on this tradition. Geralt accepts a monster contract from a mysterious man called Olgierd von Everec. Even your first meeting with Olgierd is full of uncertainties. The crew he roams with all play a trick on Geralt, each of them pretending to be Olgierd. You'll soon see that this crew some harsh rules, and Olgierd isn't afraid to slice off their heads for the smallest transgression. When Geralt slays the monster for Olgierd, he discovers that he might have had ulterior motives. Not to mention that Olgierd is also immortal.

This leads to an encounter with a familiar face - Gaunter O'Dimm, the man who guided us to Yennefer's whereabouts in the beginning of The Witcher 3. O'Dimm also has some business with Olgierd and he's equally enigmatic. Something about him just seems off; he mysteriously appears whenever you need him and he seems to take delight in toying with Geralt. Olgierd and O'Dimm will constantly try to rationalize their behavior to Geralt. Expect to make decisions where you must try to choose the lesser of two evils. As CD Projekt RED does so exceptionally well, there's never really a "right" answer. As I played the expansion, I felt uneasy around both characters, always conflicted by their requests and what would be the best scenario for Geralt. I liked having the two try to lure me to their side and sell each other out, and I can't wait to see more of this dynamic when I play the entire expansion. Plus, finding out more about O'Dimm is exciting in its own right. He creeps me out, but that's what makes me think he has something interesting up his sleeve.


It's this sense of intrigue, of never knowing who was on which side of right and wrong, that really stuck with me after my demo had ended. Even though I only played a short portion of the main questline, it felt as if I were in the middle of a spy thriller though with wizards and monster hunters in place of secret agents. With every NPC I spoke with or objective I completed, I was always learning something new about these new characters. Jose Teixeira, the Senior VFX artist from CDPR, explained that during it's design, "a lot of people likened it to the Bloody Baron questline [from Wild Hunt]," which focused more on in-depth character exploration through its many sub-quests, as opposed to the stereotypical "Go here, fetch/kill this" style of other RPGs.