The Witcher

An ode to Hearts of Stone [with spoiler discussion]

I finished the Hearts of Stone storyline last night and wow, I have some thoughts I need to share. Gonna be talking spoilers from now on.

I freaking loved this. Probably my favourite thing in the game so far (have not yet touched Blood and Wine and only just got through Isle of Mists but finished most of the side-quests). It was a roller-coaster from start to finish, both emotionally and gameplay wise.

I did not go into this totally blind but had managed to steer clear of most of the spoilers. Still, I knew what Olgierd's deal was when I met him, but that knowledge helped me to contextualise his behaviour with the statue. However, his wanton destruction made me wary. Nevertheless, the contract was interesting, and I set off for Oxenfurt, a bit underlevelled, but I was eager to get started because I'd run out of side quests to do and did not want to get on with the main quest. The monster piqued my curiosity. I knew there had to be a twist to the whole "toad who is a prince" but figured that it was just a regular monster that people had projected their expectations onto.

I liked Shani as soon as I met her (I'd not played the first games). She was an interesting character with clearly a big heart but also a strong stomach. Plus I do love a female character who is educated and independent. I wished Geralt had not sent her away like he did, but also get why.

The fight with the toad, yeah, that was fun. I had a superior golden oriole potion, so it was not too much of a challenge, but still good. Plenty exciting and satisfying.

Then- holy shit, toad was actually a dude. And holy shit, who are these people? Oh my god, I have been captured. Aright, let's wait, I'm sure there's-

Who are you? And why does your music have the sting from Ladies of the Woods in it?

I knew about O'Dimm. I knew what he was. But man, I was not prepared for how fun and charismatic he was at first. The deal itself felt like a bad idea from start to finish but no choice. Plus the quests should be fun.

I went to the crossroads after my escape and erm, okay, kids singing a creepy nursery rhyme. That's always a good sign.

Once O'Dimm told me what he wanted of me and about Olgierd, I was pissed at Olgierd. I thought he was an arse who should have warned me about the prince. I'd have preferred to lift the curse. Way I saw it, he wanted the Ofieri prince dead out of spite or revenge, or because he got sick of having it around. Questioned that story with the cook and figured it was a lie. My opinion of him did not improve when I found him with the burned manor executing one of his own men. At this point, I had decided to fully side with O'Dimm and bring Olgierd down.

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First task, his brother (that's the order I worked through them). Went to meet Shani, and without even thinking, agreed to be her date for the wedding, albeit keeping it purely platonic. After defeating the ghosts…oh gosh, was not prepared for Vlodimir. He was a laugh, although as soon as he mentioned possession, I twigged way before Geralt what was going to happen. Seeing Geralt act like a swaggering buffoon and having him talk flowery to Shani, I could not keep a straight face. Doug Cockle's performance here is A++ gold.

The wedding itself was great, albeit sometimes Vlodimir-Geralt was very cringey, but in the same way your loveable dumb friend is cringy: without a hint of self-awareness which made it all the more charming. He clearly had tons of fun, and it was nice to see him acknowledge that yes, peasants are people too. Although, why did he have to shave and cut Geralt's hair? Noo, give back the rugged Witcher I am used to.

Seeing O'Dimm at the wedding was like a slap of cold water. That was the first time his smiles and charm felt threatening. I began to get uneasy about him. That further increased when he so ruthlessly banished Vlodimir, who by then had grown on me despite his flirtatiousness and lack of shame and self-awareness.

Next, auction house. This was my least favourite part, but it was still good. Assembling a heist and executing it was a great change of pace, not something I'd done in this game. I do regret the choices I made when I learned about things later (should have killed Horst; he was a dick) but at this point, I just wanted to get through the quests. I had no sympathy for Olgierd and wanted to bring him down. Hence why I only got the house for him and not the papers.

Then I went to speak to Olgierd. And my opinion shifted.

First of all, Olgierd has a strong charisma. I can see why his group and his brother love him. It was not just that. I began to understand why he made the deal. This was a guy who was backed into a corner and desperate.

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Then came Scenes from a Marriage.

I knew I was going to get my heart shattered by Iris. I am usually a sucker for these sorts of stories. I was not prepared for the sheer intensity of the heartbreak. Iris has to be the most tragic character in the whole game, period. She seemed genuinely happy and in love with Olgierd, and I could see why. Then he changed. And it was all because he sacrified everything to be with her. As a depression sufferer, I could also relate deeply to her being unable to do anything but look at the rose until she and it both died. In the depths of despair like that, it's all you can do. Heck, I related to Iris a ton in general. Did not help the emotions one bit.

I took the rose from her in the end in the hope that she could finally go and find some peace because, oh wow, the poor girl needed it.

The fights during this quest were also both amazing. The Caretaker was such a challenging, satisfying enemy to beat, and Iris-wraith confused me so much until I slashed one of the paintings by accident. From there, it was easy. Fighting her greatest fear…that was a double gut-punch of a difficult fight and holy crap, the feels. The man she loved the most turned into her greatest fear, and that is tragic in how heartbreakingly common it is. Minus the demons, of course.

Went back to Oxenfurt and instead of telling Olgeird about Iris, welp, there is O'Dimm again. By this point, after Iris, I had decided he needed to. Go. Down. And then he was a petty sadist for no reason other than he could be, and I decided I needed to save Olgeird from him. Olgeird may have been a jerk but O'Dimm was an evil being who took advantage of desperate people because he could. I hated the Crones of Crookback for that reason, and I hated him now.

So of course, I followed Shani to the academy and…that poor professor, he did not deserve that. Another reason for me to say screw you to O'Dimm.

I went to the temple, and this was actually one of the twists I remembered. Still, seeing the look of despair and defeat on Olgeird's face was heartbreaking. I did not hesitate in helping me.

Holy crap, the puzzle of Gaunter's World. I failed the first time because I wasted too much time fighting the monsters and could not figure out the trick with the water. Second time, I did not want to run out of time, which is why I missed the sword diagram and went straight for the manor. There, I managed to get O'Dimm. Sending him back, beating him at his own game, oof, satisfying.

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Then sharing a moment with Olgeird…poor guy, I felt for him. But he seemed so happy to just be free. I had hope that he would somehow manage to find some way around the world. I really wanted him to.

I am now suffering from the kind of bittersweet withdrawal you get when you finish an excellent piece of media. And this is supposed to be the lesser of the DLCs? If so, I can't wait for Blood and Wine. And this left me seeing the game in a new light. So often, the quests can be unsatisfying because it does not feel like you achieved much in the grand scheme, which can be the point but still. Hearts of Stone, however, had stakes, tension, a tight plot, and excellent character writing and what feels like weighty, heavy consequences. Also the character designs were top notch.

Need to make some fanart of my girl Iris sometime. Serves her right for the emotions she put me through.


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