The last week was supposed to be a real funky one for Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft [official site], with the launch of One Night in Karazhan. This is the latest add-on to the online card game, bringing four new weekly wings of tailored solo boss fights along with the 45 new cards which is what everyone (apart from you, inevitably) is not so secretly more interested in. So how come it’s lost the groove?
One Night in Karazhan is set during an epic party thrown by Warcraft’s most eligible bachelor and chief wizard, Medivh, which I know is playful enough to probably be at least slightly amusing/outrageous to hardcore lorephiles, and there’s also a pretty decent disco meets pound-shop-Disney-knock-off vibe to the whole thing which is easy to like.
We’ve only got access to a quarter of the new bits right now, but so far so good - I sat laughing in my computer chair at most of the sharp dialogue, fought a bunch of naughty plates and a sassy mirror, and there’s a chess duel that’s absolutely excellent and which I would like to play against a human opponent as soon as possible. If you’re looking to play through another batch of fun Hearthstone puzzles (and their accompanying outrageously difficult Heroic difficulty variants) then, yeah, money well spent. Thanks for reading.
But alas, all is not peachy. A bunch of players, notably fans of the much-maligned Priest class, feel like they’ve not really been invited to this lavish party.
To explain this I need to do a brief history lesson, apologies. Please do not be alarmed. While still very much about forging decks of 30 cards and taking on an opponent, Hearthstone is now a very different game today than it was two years ago.
After starting as a nimble little Blizzard curio, Hearthstone has now become the successful poster boy for a genre that every other publisher seems adamant to copy. Plus it’s now a game that, due to the regular addition of new cards across its nine separate classes, evolves every few months. Most cards now come with a two-year lifespan – after this point they're shuffled away into the less prominent Wild mode, or they're just always available in the Arena, Hearthstone's random draft playground. This keeps the game shifting, allows strategies and power rankings to change and also ensures Blizzard can more easily lean into your wallet and pluck out generous fistfuls of shiny pennies every now and then.
In short, the launch of Standard mode in April turned the previously loose release schedule into something more planned, structured and official – everything feels more grown up. Hearthstone is now Very Serious Business, and the once-nimble little game has now gobbled up 50 million players and presumably a whole load more staff and, with it, internal bureaucracy and planning.
Now an expansion about a lavish party going horribly wrong has had its own soiree spoilt. Let’s have a look at why:
1) This card is Purify. And, wow, Purify has angered a whole lot of people, mainly due to the fact it’s absolutely rubbish. It’s a card exclusive to the Priest class, and when you play it you get to draw a card while silencing one of your own minions. That’s terrible because you would only ever want to silence (removing all status effects, good and bad) from your own characters under incredibly specific circumstances – and a reliance on reactive specificity is generally the Priest’s biggest problem at the best of times. The card is actually so rubbish Blizzard has blocked it from the Arena, because it makes a weak class even weaker. Each class will receive a total of 3 exclusive cards from Karazhan, and most armchair analysts consider all the Priest’s new cards to be pretty bad. If people unwittingly saw Karazhan as the “let’s make Priest better” adventure (and plenty of people did), then you can start to see why it all feels like a sucker punch.
2) Tucked away down here is the Moat Lurker, also new. This card costs a lot of mana and has terrible stats, but it can eat a minion when played – but they’ll spit them back out upon its own demise. Silencing it after gobbling up a big enemy card would be good, because that swallowed card will be out the game forever. A cool move to pull off, but it’s still a massive faff as you’d need to have both cards in your deck, and randomly in your hand, and be in a position to play those cards. And those cards are super expensive!
3) This is the Priest, Anduin Wrynn. Unluckily he almost never wins at a competitive level, so I bet he cops some flak from his mates with that surname. Back in the day, when old people will tell you how Mind Control only used to cost 8 mana and that sterling used to be valuable, everyone would fear the Priest. But no longer. I’m playing Karazhan’s class-specific challenge here, where you play using a pre-built deck, and this match took me about twenty times longer than when I just fought him with another class. Which is kind of the problem: anything the Priest can do, pretty much every other class can do better, and faster and without as much of a headache. And whereas most other classes are coupling off with phenomenal cards (Shaman, arguably the second most popular class right now, was barely played a year ago) that poor Priest has been stuck as a bridesmaid for a very, very long time. To stretch the metaphor to the limits, perhaps it’s time for the Priest to be the quirky star of his own empowering romcom, hmm?
And look, please do not think I am trying to say that every card in Hearthstone should be excellent. The game needs bad cards. Much of playing Hearthstone is trying to engineer your own luck around random factors – what’s in your hand, random status effects and then whatever your opponent is up to. Playing with experimental, fun decks built from wacky, unpopular cards is a reward in itself, and to beat someone with a deck you know they won’t have seen a thousand times already this month is a very delectable kind of pleasure.
But what happens when you want to, you know,
consistently occasionally win? The problem is that some classes, such as Warrior, Warlock and Shaman, seem to have a greater concentration of excellent cards than say, the Rogue, Paladin (although as Paladins were brilliant six months ago nobody really minds that they’re rubbish now – c’est la vie) and the ever-unlucky Priest. Maybe it doesn’t help that the competitive classes can still enjoy the fun stuff, too: right now I’m playing a Warrior deck that seeks to win by buffing a bunch of shielded minions and it’s a hoot.
In response to Purify’s reveal, Blizzard's affable Ben Brode (both Lead Designer and Hearthstone’s public face) took to YouTube (embedded above) to, basically, admit the team misread the situation slightly and admitted that perhaps Purify wasn't the right card to announce given the circumstances – the right bad card at the wrong bad time.
In many ways it’s all a bit of a shame as everything else around One Night in Karazhan is excellent. If you ask me the response to this unholy predicament could have been softened a bit if Hearthstone got a little nimbler on its feet – this adventure’s development probably overlapped with Whispers of the Old Gods’ release and nobody could change course once the freighter had already started. That’s kind of a shame, I think, when you consider the game’s humbler beginnings. But surely, following this, it’s only a matter of time until we see a reinvention of the game’s weaker classes. Hearthstone’s next update, perhaps? Maybe then we’ll all feel like throwing a proper party.