Feel free to either watch the review below or read it, the old-fashioned way. I like to cater to all tastes.
I enjoyed playing Witcher 3 immensely and I’ve been looking forward to the release of the DLC expansions. Here is the first one. So was it worth the wait? Well, I think so. It adds around 10 to 20 hours of gameplay depending on how much of a completionist you happen to be. It doesn’t add a completely new zone, instead it just expands the top part of the Velen map to incorporate the new quests’ locations, but within the expansion there are plenty of new buildings and areas to explore, from creepy graveyards and haunted houses to a painted world.
The Hearts of Stone quest line starts normally enough, another notice board, another contract, this one for a giant toad in the sewers whose taste for women isn’t quite the usual sort. While weaving through the sewers, we’re reintroduced to Shani, a character last seen in the first Witcher game. She’s a lively character and great to interact with. My only gripe is that last time my Geralt spoke to Shani, she vowed never to speak to him again after he delivered the boy she wanted guardianship of, to Triss instead. Shani, however, seems to have a very selective memory and greets Geralt like it never happened with only a passing reference to their meeting in Vizima back in Witcher 1.
I just think that as Shani plays a pretty big role in this quest line, a bit more continuity with the events in the first game, even if it means adding an extra question to the save game import simulation at the start of the main game, would have added an extra dimension to her and Geralt’s relationship and prevented veteran players from staring confused at the screen, wondering why she hadn’t hit him yet. But that’s a minor gripe.
The battle with the DLCs first boss, the giant toad, will remind you of the difficulty level you’re playing on. The main game even on ‘death march’ setting felt quite easy, but this does seem to have been re-tuned a bit in the DLC. The combat felt more challenging, with the enemies taking off some pretty exuberant amounts of health on landing just a single hit. Then again, maybe I’m just rusty. But, unlike the main game, I didn’t feel that overpowered when playing through the DLC, despite being fully equipped with Mastercrafted armour and weapons and with max strength potions. The bosses I found particularly challenging, really forcing me to raise my game, and when you’re playing on the highest difficulty level, you do expect not to be cut too much slack, so I loved it. However, I think the standard encounters could get away with being a little more challenging. Although, the game does throw enough enemies at you at once in the DLC, to make the fights feel a little less trivial.
What makes this game stand apart from the average RPG, is the quests. In most RPGs you almost always feel like a grinding machine, completing quest after quest just to top up that EXP bar; collect ten of these, kill five of those, activate ten of these, etc, to the point that you even forget why you’re actually doing the quest in terms of the storyline. This is a pit that I think Witcher 3 manages to avoid. Each quest feels unique, whether it’s so and so has gone missing, such and such creature killed my wife, I lost my precious ‘insert object name here’. It’s the personal stories, I think, which makes the quests feel worthwhile as if you’re actually providing a service to the NPCs inhabiting the world and not just boosting your EXP bar, and this continues into the DLC.
While there has been some improvement made to the game since its original release, nothing major has changed with regards to the gameplay mechanics. The control system has been sharpened up, storage boxes have been added and you now have two additional potion slots, which while handy can sometimes mess you up when you’re in a bind, like when you press the button to use a healing potion and instead it just swaps the potions over, leaving poor Geralt to die a horrible gruesome death. But I did find that after a little practice it happened a lot less.
The DLC adds a few new armour sets, the main one being the Viper set which Geralt is kindly modelling above. It also adds a new way of upgrading your armour through the use of runes, which is unlocked by completing a series of quests and emptying your pockets of gold, into the rune-crafter’s eagerly outstretched hands.
I found this expansion a really enjoyable addition to the Witcher 3 game. It gives the player more of the Witcher action that they love, more areas to explore and side quests to complete, all bound together by a very engaging, well written, new storyline. The amount of content the DLC adds makes it well worth the money spent purchasing it. If you enjoyed the main Witcher 3 game then you’ll certainly enjoy the additions on offer here.
A great new storyline
More places to explore
New armour sets to collect and craft
A good 10 to 20 hours more game play
Excellent value for money
Outside of the boss fights, Death March difficulty still doesn’t feel that difficult.
‘New game plus’ was bugged on release with all the previous DLC items missing from inventory (only an issue if you wanted to play the expansion on new game plus.)