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Don’t get me wrong. All three Witcher games are enormously enriched by being based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher books. The world Sapkowski created is so much more interesting than standard fantasy genre fare, full of dangerous creatures and magical curses inspired by Slavic folklore, rather than yet another Tolkien retread. The narratives are also very personal, even when events span the continent, and they offer a wonderful glimpse at how stories become legends, how grim events morph into fairy tales. The Witcher games largely capture the feel of this world, a place where society has grown around magic and monsters, and people — be they kings, soldiers, or lowly peasants — are often worse than either. It makes the games cohesive and memorable, with a flavor that no other games offer.
But, as I pointed out when I nitpicked about The Witcher 3, the games also suffer from being too beholden to Sapkowski’s writing. Whether it’s reenacting prior events from the books despite taking place afterwards, or shoehorning in characters from the novels just to have them appear, The Witcher 3 is too caught up in Sapkowski’s saga to really stand on its own. It’s also trying to act as a sequel to a series of books that already has a great ending. In Hearts of Stone, the first of two story DLCs for the game, the writers are instead free to tell a new story in Sapkowski’s world, and it’s all the more interesting for it.