BlizzConline held for 2021 has now passed us by, and there has been a bunch of announcements for fans of Blizzard Entertainment to chew over across their games, for both present and upcoming ones. Hearthstone is no different, announcing its next expansion, Forged in the Barrens, and a new game mode in Mercenaries. Snugly hanging out remotely with us was Game Designers Joseph Killion and Liv Breeden, and Senior Game Designer Chadd Nervig. Without further ado, let’s chat by the fireside.
TOUCHING ON BARRENS
The Year of the Gryphon is kicking off with the Horde taking the first point, but staunch Alliance fans can look forward to their focus expansion coming in the future. The team confirm that they will be continuing a similar trend with Year of the Dragon, bringing in a year long narrative. This year’s theme will be on the “classic Warcraft experience”, to hark back to the time where you were just a wide-eyed newbie, seeing the world of Azeroth for the first time, embarking on your journey to become a hero whose name will be on everyone’s lips. The Barrens was chosen for the Horde’s start, just because of how iconic it is.
What else is there to say besides “look forward to it”? There’ll be 10 new characters whose storylines we will be following, and we’ll just have to find out how exactly their stories will intertwine.
CORE / CLASSIC
Some of the Core Set has been revealed, where some familiar faces have been retooled, namely Deathwing, Malygos and Ysera. Some of them are returning Wild cards too, like the good ol’ Annoy-o-Tron and Menagerie Warden. It’ll be including both types of cards, namely, existing Wild cards and new, reimagined cards.
Besides these reimagined cards, previous cards with variance – like Lightning Storm – will be having fixed values in the Core Set. The card previously did 2-3 damage to all enemy minions, but will be doing 3 damage in the Core Set. The team bring up a good point: random ranges can create interesting gameplay, but they’re moving away from that now, as they can introduce randomness in other ways like in card draw or Discovery mechanics. Missing that One damage roll on a key minion is something many will have experienced, and they’re perfectly aware of that fact. Crackle was brought up as an example, something they don’t believe they’ll be printing again, nor will they be changing it for Wild. However, should a similar card be introduced into the Core Set, it will be a standard value instead.
Tying in with the Shaman class as a whole, their Spell Power Totem – otherwise known as the Wrath of Air Totem (+1 Spell Power) – is being replaced to the Strength Totem (Give a random friendly minion +1 Attack end of turn). The team says Wrath of Air made for high variance; if you had a damaging spell, great! If you didn’t, well, too bad. Some of you might have been wondering, why not the 1/1 Searing Totem? It has that bit of stats and can find more uses, is the call.
They want more consistent value, as the Wrath of Air Totem could swing thing for both sides, like having a board clear spell: do you get that extra boost to wipe out all minions, or just dent it? That’s the rationale.
Now, the reimagined cards will not necessarily be contributing to less combo-dependent decks like explosive one-turn kills, for better or worse. These highlight worthy combo decks will still be hanging around, just not in excessive quantity, so that you memers can go have your fun. Malygos especially allowed for massive burst spells if you could get him on the board early enough and/or had a delicious hand of burn spells. They do mention having to cut cards because of this interaction with the original Malygos, who has now been relegated to Wild, so they can go back to designing more interesting cards without him too much.
The Core Set isn’t the only change for the game, as spells are getting further classifications in schools, branding them with affixes like Fire or Holy much like regular minions from pirates to murlocs. They’re raring to build interactions around these cards with synergies for specific schools. Already, Barrens has revealed cards such as Bru’kan for Shaman, boosting Nature Spell Damage by 3, and the Spirit Healer which randomly gives a minion +2 health on casting a Holy spell.
Schools will also be added to other spells retroactively, and is meant to be a way to define classes more clearly. Shamans and Druids will both have access to Nature spells, for example, but Shamans would mostly be damaging spells while Druids will lean more to buffs, and Mages will be your good ol’ spellslingers wielding multiple schools as masters of the arcane arts.
Meanwhile, nostalgic old players and newbies will be able to experience ye olde Hearthstone will the release of Classic format, opening more chances for people to use their old collection. For now, they’ll be focusing on the base Classic experience, with the potential to head into the other expansions. For those of us who remember the era of Grim Patrons and unnerfed Warsong Commander, that might be something you can inflict on others in the future…
Throughout Hearthstone‘s lifespan, there’s been many, many keywords. The rotation of sets is meant to remove the old set of keywords in play, so that you’ll only ever need to focus on a handful for the new year, so they feel they’re at a pretty good spot in regards to that. They’ve learnt from Scholomance’s Spellburst, which works as a one-time trigger upon casting a spell. The one-off natures of such keywords means they can put really bombastic effects where you really need to decide where and when to use to get maximum value.
Previously, they would have to consider the most extreme of cases for card interactions – looking at you, pre-nerf Patron Warrior – but with this card design moving forward, there are less factors to consider and they can give you something really flashy that you can only fire once. Blademaster Samuro is provided as an example: will he be able to clear the board for you to turn the tides, or will that Frenzy simply fall flat?
While there’s much hubbub over the spell schools, there are no immediate plans for Neutral spells. It’s acknowledged that they’ll be tricky to figure out, with all the talk about keeping class identity, but you’d still want these spells to add to your game. Neutral spells will be on the backburner for now.
The newest game mode coming to Hearthstone will be Mercenaries, and players will surely be expecting to add much beloved characters to their roster. They’re still going through the characters they’d like to add to the mode, some of whom will be getting their single player stories as well as relevant collectible content. They can’t disclose too many details since it still needs to be finalized, especially regarding unlocking the characters, the battlefield’s design and the like, but it will be a “very different game mode” than the deck-building of Constructed / Arena / Duels, or that of Battlegrounds.
You will be seeing character crossovers across the modes, not just in Mercenaries. The mode will be free to play, but once again, the details will have to wait for later.
OTHER GAME MODES
Moving into the other game modes, Duels is revealed to be an in-between of sorts bridging Battlegrounds and Mercenaries, as something smaller in scale and depth rather than two completely different game modes at once. They feel there’s a lot the mode has done well, taking Dungeon runs and turning them into PVP, but of course, there’s always room for improvement and polish, especially when it comes to matching with players once you’ve gotten more wins.
Battlegrounds itself is still comparatively new as well, so there’s still plenty to tinker there as well. There’s the crossover of cards, of course, with Battlegrounds cards being based on releases in the main card game. For now, they recognize the scope of the game is quite large with all these modes, though the game mode being a separate, standalone download is not quite on the table yet. There’s also the matter of progression for Battlegrounds outside of the rewards track, leaving plenty of questions for the team to work through.
They’re not worried about other game modes splitting the player base. As they put it, more game modes means players don’t need to play the standard deckbuilding game. People will play game modes they like, or the new game modes means fresh blood, and the game can overall remain healthy. Besides, the game modes give you a bit of a break from say, climbing the ladder, and you can still play the game you love without burning out as fast, and everything goes back into the rewards track.
With regards to Wild, they will be reverting a bunch of nerfs to cards that will be moving out of rotation, and see how they can best adjust the mode overall by looking back at said nerfs as needed. They assure they’re paying Wild more attention due to this.
Last but not least, they’ve got no specifics to announce, but yes, they will continue bringing back older hero portraits and card backs to the shop for players to obtain them.
The Year of the Gryphon is only just getting started, so here’s to more years of Hearthstone!