When Blizzard launched Hearthstone, it was seen as an “also ran” in a world of card games dominated by the likes of Pokémon and Magic the Gathering. Now on its fifth expansion, this is a game that has done its best to prove those doubters wrong. With Whispers of the Old Gods, Blizzard have attempted to mix things up a bit. With cards added that could change the way that people play the game and new formats, this is the most the game has changed since launch. But is change a good thing in this instance or not?
The biggest change that will be noticeable is the addition of C’Thun. This multi-eyed king of the Old Gods can be found in World of Warcraft and has a reputation for being one of the hardest bosses in the game. This extends to the world of Hearthstone as his card is a particularly powerful one which will do a lot of damage to the board. He’s quite unique as minions go, as his stats can change when he’s not on the board. There are cards such as Twilight Elder and Doomcaller which will increase his health and attack whether he is in your hand, deck or on the board. There’s also a few card which synergise with him. Twin Emperor Vek’lor clones himself if C’Thun’s health and attack is over ten for example, and Ancient Shieldbearer adds ten armor to your character with the same condition. Again, this happens wherever he is, even if he’s dead. When he does finally make it onto the field of play, he deals damage equal to his attack to all enemies, meaning that even if he gets taken out by a Big Game Hunter on the next turn, he’s already had a major impact on the board.
We’re a couple of weeks into the expansions now, and I’ve found that a great deal of decks have been based on the aforementioned Old God. The nature of what he does, along with being a 10-drop, means that he lends himself more to control decks than to aggro. This means that the meta, which had been quite aggro dominated previously, is slowing down. This is something I was quite happy to see as I prefer control decks. That’s not to say that aggro has gone entirely, but there are a lot more options for control players and this means that the types of decks seen in game are a bit more varied, at least they are at the moment.
The interaction with C’Thun was the only new mechanic, but there were a number of cards that will likely see new ways of playing existing archetypes. Shamans seem to have got a much needed boost, with some interesting new cards, including example and example which sees a bit of organised chaos in action. There’s a few more options for priests, including new AoE removal spell and the example on steroid, Power Word: Tentacles. There’s 134 new cards in total over the whole of the new expansion.
The other big change is the addition of two different “Play” modes. You can now play in “Standard” mode, which encompasses the last year’s worth of expansions as well as basic cards. This means that at the moment, you can play Standard with everything except Gnomes vs Goblins cards. The second mode is called “Wild” and this allows all cards from all expansions. So if you want to avoid facing off against decks with Dr. Boom and Kel’Thuzad then you can stick to Standard, but if you miss those guys, then Wild is where it’s at. I felt this was a good way of doing things, it means that the game can stay accessible for newcomers who may otherwise need to buy a bunch of expansions to get all the best cards. It also means that Blizzard can control the way the game operates before the pool of cards that can be chosen from becomes unmanageably large. However, if players prefer playing with those cards that they have invested time and money into, then they still can, and they can still play on the ranked ladder like before. At the moment, tournaments are all set to be Standard format, but I wouldn’t mind betting that will change as the format matures.
There’s some really nice artwork included in the new cards. The guitar playing Psych-o-Tron was my personal favourite, with Bilefin Tidehunter a close second. Other standouts for me in terms of nice fantasy art were DOOM! and Embrace the Shadow. This attention to the artwork is something that I haven’t seen that much in Hearthstone previously. It’s an area in which, personally, I’ve felt Hearthstone has lagged behind compared to physical TCGs like Magic the Gathering since launch. I’ve always felt that the aforementioned card game was like collecting little pieces of fantasy art, many of which I would be happy to see adorn my walls. I never really felt that about the art in Hearthstone and whilst I still don’t, it’s certainly stepping in the right direction.
Overall, if you like Hearthstone, then you’re going to like this new expansion. There are a lot of new options and ways to play. I’ve found three new favourite decks before settling on the one I’m playing with now (A Warrior C’Thun control deck in case you wondered) and when I miss my old friends Dr. Boom and pals, I can play Wild instead. This expansion probably won’t make anyone who didn’t previously enjoy it change their mind, but it does bring in some new ways to play that will keep things fresh for those of us who’ve been playing a while.
As a final thought, I often like to think of how many hours I find myself sinking into a game as a measure of how successful that game is. I streamed my first games in the new expansion on the GameGrin Twitch channel, and found myself overrunning by a clear two hours. I’ve also played enough to be halfway up the ladder in both Wild and Standard after just over a week, so that probably tells you all you need to know.
Hearthstone: Whispers of the Old Gods (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
This will change how a lot of us play the game, but there’s always the Wild format if you aren’t ready to let go of any of your cards. With a new set of nicely designed cards and a noticeable improvement in the artwork, this is a great addition to the Hearthstone Stable.