Blizzard's reveal of Hearthstone's Mercenaries mode in September 2021 was, as we put it not too delicately, "a masterclass in how not to announce a game (opens in new tab)." Despite that inauspicious beginning, it actually turned out to have real potential (opens in new tab): Hearthstone streamer and podcaster Ben "RidiculousHat" Goodman said that after a few days with it, "I feel the pull of the couch and just one more run."
Unfortunately, it looks like his longer-term concerns about competition and economics were prophetic. Blizzard announced today that Mercenaries is getting one more big update (opens in new tab) in patch 25.4, after which there will be no further new content released.
The patch will add six new Mercenaries to the mode, described by Blizzard as "some of our most interesting Mercs yet," which will push the total number of Mercenaries in the mode to more than 120. Mercenaries will also be able to have two different types following the update, like Human-Undead or Celestial-Beasts.
Many Mercenaries will also be getting factions indicators that will make it easier to tell how a Treasure or Ability will impact the party. The two factions in the game will be expanded to seven: Alliance and Horde will be joined by Explorers, Empire, Legion, Scourge, and Pirate.
Another big change is the addition of Mythic Boss Rush end-game content, for players who just can't get enough of the mode.
"Mythic Boss Rush is weekly content, with a new Boss Rush unlocking every day throughout the week, until a reset at the end of the week," Blizzard said. "Each Boss Rush is like a Bounty with 3 Bounty Boss fights in a row, leading to a final Boss that is two Bounty Bosses at the same time!
"Mythic Boss Rush has been streamlined to include only the most interesting PVE content: there are no Point of Interest nodes or mob fights, just bosses. Bosses will also have random anomalies that make them stronger—with power that scales based on a sliding difficulty setting you can choose for yourself. You earn Renown as a reward for each clear, with the bulk of your Rewards being granted after your first clear, based on the difficulty you were set to for that run."
In Mythic Boss Rush, you can spend Renown to upgrade your Mercs beyond their Max. These upgrades don't carry over to regular Bounties or the Fighting Pit.
We've seen this sort of thing happen plenty of times previously (opens in new tab), and the fact is that unless a game can establish and maintain an audience of sufficient size—and in the case of Blizzard, that's a very big audience indeed—this is how most of them ultimately end up. The good news is that Mercenaries isn't being abandoned entirely: Blizzard said the mode "will continue to get support for bug fixes and periodic balance changes as needed."
But I'm not sure how much comfort that will be to players who sunk good money into it. Somewhat controversially, the mode charged for packs from the moment it was officially unveiled, and I would have some sympathy if those players feel more than a little hard done by. Such is the way with CCGs, I suppose. Certainly this news should not come as a surprise to the mode's dwindling playerbase. A look at the player data from the Firestone app's users show's Mercenaries performing appallingly last month. The PvP data is a flat line!
How much time Firestone users spent on each game mode, along the year.Usual disclaimer: this is not at all representative of the whole player base, it's just a fun little retrospective on the app's player base. pic.twitter.com/NfclmhnfVVJanuary 4, 2023
Full details on the update will be revealed in the 25.4 patch notes, which Blizzard said are "coming soon."