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7 tips for The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt launched in May. It's now October. That's quite a long time between the core game and the expansion, and it's entirely possible you've forgotten how to play. Even if you haven't, there's a lot to tackle in Hearts of Stone, and it's not totally obvious how to get at it or what to do once you've found it.

Let us help you out with a short list of quick and dirty trips to get you back in the monster-hunting game as quickly as possible.

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1. Take time to relearn the controls

The Witcher 3, bless it, has a pretty unique control system. And CD Projekt RED's take on RPG combat definitely falls squarely in the "difficult to master" end of things rather than "easy to learn".

If you've been away from Geralt of Rivia for a while, go out into the countryside and wail on some level three wolves for a bit, until you remember how it all works. Don't be like me, accidentally cutting a guard's head off trying to dismount from my horse and losing an hour's progress.

Parry humanoids, dodge monsters. Roll to gain distance from everything. Archers go down first. Remember how to use your quickslots, signs and bombs as well as oils and potions. It's coming back to you, right?

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2. Prepare for battle

The baddies you'll face in Hearts of Stone are tougher than almost anything you will have faced in the core game. Even if you're playing on a lower difficulty setting, you'll want to be at least level 30 before you get started. It's important to have a good set of gear - a matching set of masterwork Witcher equipment, tricked out with strong runes, is about what you're aiming for.

If you're not quite there, don't worry too much; you'll gain loads of XP and find some great gear in the early missions of the expansion. That said, you'll need to be very careful in all combat encounters. Heck, even if you are loaded up to the nines, the enemies hit really hard and take a fair beating to keep down. Don't underestimate them.

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3. Learn how to find expansion content

First of all, how do you even kick off the main story quests and the most important secondary missions? It's easy: just visit the Seven Cats Inn and read the noticeboard to get started. The two quest lines available here will take you on a tour of most of the new locations, introduce you to new enemies, and also show you a rollicking good time while collecting loot and XP to match the more powerful challenges.

After that, you can easily differentiate Hearts of Stone content from standard Witcher 3 quests by checking your quest journal. Hearts of Stone missions are marked with a bright, pale blue exclamation mark, whereas standard content is listed with a yellow one. Easy peasy. The new content brings better and more interesting rewards, so make it a priority.

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4. Do some sidequests first

There are two quests you should absolutely check out before you launch into the main story line, which begins with Evil’s Soft First Touches. Visit the Seven Cats Inn and read the board for word of an Ofieri runecrafter in the area and receive the quest Enchanting: Start Up Costs. If you can scrounge the 5,000 gold you need for the first step, there's a quest chain which ultimately rewards you with the ability to apply very powerful upgrades to your gear.

While you're here, talk to the Ofieri merchant to kick off the scavenger hunt From Ofier's Distant Shores. You can do this any time, but you'll come across many of the pieces as you follow the main story, so grabbing it before you start is more efficient.

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5. Collect the Viper School gear

Back when you first started The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, you could find two Witcher diagrams in the first area. The Viper swords were better than anything you could find in White Orchard, and many a beginner player spent hours harvesting the materials and gold needed to craft them - only to find them outclassed the very moment they entered the wider map. Nuts.

If you were disappointed that you never found more Viper gear diagrams or even upgrades for your existing Viper swords, good news: they're in Hearts of Stone. Some diagrams will be found in treasure chests in main story line dungeons, but the majority are on sale during the Open Sesame mission; speak with Vivaldi's Countess friend and ask to see what she's selling. Bring about 500 gold and you'll be right as rain - although you'll need more if you want to bid in the auction.

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6. Explore the side content

Maybe you'll burn through the story and secondary quests in hours and find yourself at a loss for what to do. Well, have I got a treat for you: many new map markers have popped up north of Oxenfurt, and they're teeming with powerful beasties and rare loot to discover. Keep an eye out for hidden treasure icons in particular.

In addition to roaming the map trying out your new tools and tricks, which is a pleasure in itself, don't forget to check in with merchants to buy Gwent cards and play a few hands. The new Gaunter O'Dimm cards are especially worth collecting.

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7. Have fun!

Hearts of Stone tells a dark and serious story, steeped in very human misery and constantly flirting with stakes much higher than mere life and death. Read everything you can and pay attention, and you'll come to understand some deep currents underflow the strange happenings.

On the other hand some of the stuff in here is just bonkers. In Dead Man's Party you can enjoy making Geralt do ridiculous things you'd never otherwise feel fit with his dignity. At one stage during Open Sesame you can make Geralt join the circus, which I secretly believe he longs to do. Hell, the whole story starts when you go down into a sewer to look for a toad which may or may not be an enchanted prince. This is fun stuff. Enjoy yourself rather than rushing through.

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