On the opening ceremony of the first day of Blizzcon 2015, a new Hearthstone Adventure was revealed – The League of Explorers. Later in the day, a full one-hour panel was dedicated to Hearthstone, titled “What’s Next”.
The panel was all about exploring the new adventure and its cards – while some expected official tournament support, or new game modes, Blizzard either doesn’t have those features in the works, or didn’t feel it was the time to reveal them. Perhaps we will hear more about it on Saturday’s Q&A session – the link to the relevant article will be included here in due time.
For now, let’s dive deep into the new adventure:
Setting and Lore
Unlike previous Adventures, this one is not based off a World of Warcraft raid or set of raids. Rather, it follows the adventures of old WoW secondary character and sometimes quest-giver Brann Bronzebeard, and three totally new characters belonging to Brann’s “Explorer’s League”.
The Explorer’s League has been around since the beginning of WoW. One of the game’s’ main capitals, the Dwarven city of Ironforge, has always hosted the Hall of Explorers, a museum with relics and fossils excavated throughout all of Azeroth. And indeed, many archaeology-themed WoW quest lines are often initiated by talking to a member of the league.
So it’s no surprise that the new adventure follows the archaeology theme, taking the player into long-forgotten WoW locales on a quest to unearth the missing pieces of a powerful artifact.
It’s really nice to see Hearthstone breaking onto its own and away from World of Warcraft history, introducing new characters into the overall storyline. From the beginning it felt that Blizzard was aiming for a more family friendly game with Hearthstone, which can be at odds sometimes with some of WoWs more heroic-fantasy plot points. It makes sense that they would try to create a more goofy adventure in the universe rather than recreating old adventures with a different tone.
LoE introduces a new kind of challenge: escape puzzles. In these, you aren’t fighting against an opponent, or at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, you are fleeing a trap, and use pre-built decks where the cards represent choices you can take to evade traps and further your escape. From what was seen in the stream, it felt a bit like a choose-your-adventure type of scenario. For example, while fleeing in a mine cart, you could choose to either use a card to accelerate the mine cart, placing you closer to the exit, or throw off something to slow down your pursuers.
Blizzard has been experimenting with ways to refresh and shake up Hearthstone playing in the Tavern Brawl, and this feels like the natural extension. There are plenty of original board games that focus on solving puzzles rather than defeating an adversary, and that may be the way Blizzard is going with further adventures.
A new mechanic, or “keyword” as Blizzard likes to call them: Discover. I’m going to borrow Stonekeep’s excellent analogy and say they work like tracking – you get to choose between three cards and keep the one you choose. The twist is that these cards aren’t drawn from your deck, they are random cards generated on the spot.
In the original presentation, it was said that they would “fit the theme of your deck” – a pretty awesome feat of AI if it was indeed to be – but no mention of that was made again in the “what’s new panel”, where the developers made a point of repeating several times that it would generate “neutral or class minions, or class spells”.
So what it feels like is that the original “theme of the deck” remark was a flunk, and you can get anything that’s either neutral or of your class, within the parameters defined by the Discover. For example, a mage card with “Discover (3)” could bring up any 3-cost minion or 3-cost mage spell.
While any mechanic will be applied to both good and bad cards, it seems that Blizzard is conscious of players not liking to rely on RNG, and so has upped the value proposition. For example, the warlock’s Dark Peddler (pictured below) is a 2/2 body for 2 that “discovers” a 1-drop. Regardless of the quality (and since you can pick, you only need one out of three to be decent) that’s OK value. Of course, anyone used to playing Arena knows very well that some “pick one out of three” situations are a no-win…
State of the Game
While Blizzard has been very vocal in pushing Hearthstone as an eSport, it’s obvious they are not above making some purely “fun” cards, and at first glance this Adventure seems full of that – a perfect example is the early reveal of the legendary “Elise Starseeker” (pictured below), a simple ? body for 4 that will shuffle a card into your deck, that you can then play to shuffle another card into your deck… That turns all the cards in your hand and deck into legendaries. That’s way too much RNG to be taken seriously.
But at the same time, they do seem to try to include cards that will push the game in new directions, that will incentivize players to think in different ways – for example by crafting a card that has a game-changing effect… But only if the deck doesn’t contain duplicate cards.
On the other hand, it pays to remind that everything is up for grabs until we, the players, get our hands on the cards and start tinkering. I remember well when Naxxramas was announced, people saw haunted-creeper and poo-pooed its stats (“There are a lot of better bodies for 2 mana!”). Right now, that sounds ridiculous, right? Some people said avenge was the worst class card in the adventure – and now half the Paladin decks run with it. And I remember others – you know who you are, no use hiding – that laughed hard at zombie-chow… Until it started being acknowledged as the perfect turn 1 drop VS aggro.
So I’m not going to start commenting on the value of cards just yet. I’m looking forward to playing with them, and especially to see what the awesome deck builders I follow come up with. Until then… November 12th can’t come soon enough.
In the meantime, check out all the cards and pricing details here.