The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone is here
With the epic new expansion out today, one of the game’s producers tells us just what to expect.
We know, we know, your Steam queue is starting to resemble an angry line of punters at the post office on a Monday morning, all demanding attention. All those massive AAA, open world games just keep on coming.
Forget side quests, there's barely enough time to complete the main story these days before the 'Game Of The Year' edition is out. And yet, here comes someone muscling through the scrum, shoving people out of the way with his meaty forearms. It's The Witcher 3's Geralt, and he's back to cut the line with a new expansion. Fair enough.
Of course, as CD Projekt Red senior art producer Michał Krzemiński tells us in a new interview, expansion Hearts of Stone has every right to jump the queue. One of the largest, most critically acclaimed games of 2015, The Witcher 3 is a shining example of how a developer should make a game for console – and treat its fans.
There are no piddly micro-transactions here, no protection rackets for your forward operating bases (we're looking at you, Metal Gear Online). Projekt Red has already released 16 DLC components for the game, for free, and only now is charging for an expansion with the scope of a blockbuster game in itself. What's that, Geralt? Ten hours of new story and gameplay you say? Sorry folks, line's closed.
Tell us about the idea behind Hearts of Stone's quest. What sets it apart from the main game, and what's the studio’s policy on deciding what should be included in the game, and what should be post-launch content?
This is a really big set of questions at once, but I'll do my best! First of all, regarding the post-launch content part of the question, a few words on what we see as DLCs and what we see as expansions. DLCs are pieces of fun, meaningful content that we release for gamers to have even more fun after the launch of the game. This can be a quest, a set of weapons or armor, or even an entirely new mechanic, like the New Game+ mode we released as the last piece of the 16 free DLCs for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. We think we owe these things to fans for supporting us and buying our games.
On the other hand, we have expansions. For us, an expansion is something that offers significant value for the gamer, and required a really big amount of work to create. Hearts of Stone offers more than 10 hours of new adventure, new characters, and new mechanics like the Runewords. It extends the open world of Wild Hunt a bit, and packs some standalone quests and items in there, too. HoS is an old-school, big expansion older gamers might remember as add-on discs – rich in content, meaningful and, I think, with a fair price tag for what people get.
As for the plot in HoS, the only thing I can say without spoiling too much is that Geralt needs to confront a guy who's...immortal. At least at first, because, as usual with The Witcher games, everything soon goes in every possible direction. Expect tough choices, characters at least as deep and complex as the Bloody Baron from Wild Hunt, and many twists and turns.
Was there any feedback about the gameplay and quests in the main game that tailored how you designed Hearts of Stone?
The feedback from Wild Hunt we receive on forums or social media is, where applicable, being introduced to the game itself. A good example of this is the game's GUI [graphical user interface], which we changed (adjusted the size) according to what gamers told us would be optimal. It would be unfair to introduce these changes with HoS only, as we do continue to support Wild Hunt, even if you choose not to buy the expansions. Also, remember that the expansion was planned well before the launch of the main game – we started work on it when we finished Wild Hunt, and that's too little time to change anything significant.
Was there ever any consideration of having another protagonist than Geralt for Hearts of Stone?
As far as I know, there were no such plans. Long story short, it's a game about Geralt, and Geralt's why many people play it.
What studios and publishers do you look to as examples of handling DLC well?
Personally, I think CD Projekt Red is known for being unique in terms of the DLC philosophy. I think we have our own path when it comes to these things, and I sincerely hope we meet other devs and publishers on that path in the near future, too.
Tell us what's the process is for an expansion at CD Projekt Red. Does the team actually get a break any more after the game’s release?
It's very fluid. In a nutshell, as various teams wrap up with their stuff for Wild Hunt, after a much-needed break they start working on the expansion. However, this doesn't mean the whole studio went for a month of leave after we launched Wild Hunt. Many teams end their work well before the game ships. For instance, the writers and localisation team need to wrap-up first, as dialogue needs to be recorded into many different languages, and that takes a lot of time. Their work gets finalised first so, say, a joke in the game can be really funny instead of being a Siri-sounalike voiced by two grayboxes.
Other teams work on other stuff and then move to other aspects of the game as it nears completion. That's why it's so hard to pinpoint the exact moment the entire studio started working on Hearts of Stone. The core of the work, however, was started after we shipped Wild Hunt. Hearts is really massive, and I'm really hyped that gamers are soon going to get the expansion in their hands. As for Blood and Wine [the second major expansion for the game], yeah, it's being worked on, but it's still pretty early for details.
What can we expect from Blood and Wine that we won't get in Hearts of Stone?
Twenty hours of new adventures and a whole new realm to explore! Blood and Wine will introduce Toussaint, a land totally unlike anything gamers have seen in Wild Hunt. But this is the only thing I can say about it now.
Lastly, tell us something new about Hearts of Stone people don't know yet.
There's a wedding in the game. Guess who's attending!
Hearts of Stone is available on PC, Xbox One and PS4 today.