As someone who still occasionally unwinds by giving the Innkeeper a brutal kicking in practice mode, (on 'expert', I'm not a monster), I'm always excited for more single-player Hearthstone content. Launching next Thursday, The League of Explorers is the next adventure mode, and sees four adventurers ransacking trap-laden tombs in pursuit of the Staff of Origination. Over the course of four wings players will defeat bosses and other challenges to unlock 45 new collectible cards. One of those is a Murloc that wears a monocle. To which I say: "Stay out of my wishbook, Blizzard."
Here at Blizzcon in Anaheim, the challenge being used to demo the expansion is called 'Temple Escape'. The fast readers among you will have deduced that this involves escaping from a temple. What that actually entails is keeping your hero–who is accompanied by a feckless Indiana Jones-alike called Reno Jackson–alive for 10 turns. Making that less likely is the fact that each turn the temple will summon a 0-Mana obstacle, which are generally powerful creatures, and as Reno moves from room to room 'Choose Your Own Adventure'-style events will be triggered.
Some of these are beneficial, like finding a pool of glowing water which you can either drink from or wade through (gaining a mana crystal or drawing a card, depending on which you pick) while others are riskier. Another one involves deciding whether to take 5 guaranteed damage or a chance on receiving 0 or 10. In a rare display of mercy from RNGesus I managed to roll 0 all three times I played.
Other hazards included a collapsing ceiling which wiped both sides of the board, but you got one turn of warning beforehand to plan accordingly (hint: play Deathrattle creatures), and a Rolling Boulder card that gets placed on your side of the board and destroys the minion to its left at the end of each turn. That was pretty easy to play around, and to be honest Temple Escape wasn't much of a challenge. Which isn't a huge surprise, given that 'normal' mode in these adventures is designed so that pretty much everyone can scoop up all the cards. The 'heroic' difficulty will likely be another kettle of murlocs.
Don't sleep on Sir Finley, this posh amphibian may prove surprisingly powerful.
Speaking of murlocs, a word on my favourite card in the set so far: Sir Finley Mrrgglton. As one of the titular explorers this gentleman murloc is a legendary card, with stats of 1/3 for 1 mana. But it's his Battlecry we're interested in. It reads: "Discover a new basic hero power". This is a super powerful effect potentially. The Discover keyword lets you pick from three options, like the Hunter's Tracking card, so it's RNG but with an element of player control.
Perhaps you'll be in the late game when you draw Sir Finley, and switch to the Priest hero power for some desperately-needed healing. My guess, though, is that Warlock's Life Tap hero power will be the most coveted pick. There's a reason Warlock minions tend to be bad, and that's because the hero power gives the class easy access to card draw. But imagine Life Tap in a class with great creatures like, say, Druid, or one that struggles with card draw, like Shaman. Interestingly, when I interviewed senior game designer Mike Donais afterwards, he said that the most picked hero power internally has been Paladin's Silver Hand Recruits.
Another card which seemed notable was Unearthed Raptor, which is a 3/4 for 3 that has a Battlecry that copies a friendly minion's Deathrattle. That's a decent statline and a fairly easy to proc effect. It will see play. Also potentially strong is Wobbling Runts. It's a 2/6 for 6 which summons three 2/2s when it dies. (The runts are standing on each others shoulders, and spill out when it gets knocked down according to senior game designer Ben Brode.) The Runts initial attack might seem underwhelming, but collectively they represent 20 points of attack and health. That's one more than Savannah Highmane! It could definitely be viable in a deck like Token Druid.
Tomb Spider also looks dangerous. It's a 3/3 for 4 mana with the text: "Discover a random beast". Discover seems like a much more viable—and sensibly costed—mechanic than The Grand Tournament's Inspire. Think about how surprisingly good drawing random beasts from Webspinner is. Now add an element of choice, and it's easy to imagine this card entering Hunter lists, and potentially even Beast Druid if that ever becomes a thing.
Note that the way Discover works limits the possible outcomes to neutral cards and those from your class. The element of choice is what's really interesting though. I think it will potentially alleviate some of that frustrating sense of helplessness players can feel when they draw badly, and choice in general is a powerful tool in terms of making the game more interactive.
But back to the murlocs. I suspect they really might be a menace again. Between the equally ludicrous Everyfin is Awesome and Anyfin Can Happen cards, plus Sir Finley and that adorable murloc Wisp, the time is surely right for the second age of murloc. I expect The League Of Explorers to usher in some serious experimentation with the slippery mrrgghlers, and I for one do not necessarily welcome our new fish overlords.
There's a lot to like about the League of Explorers though. Judging by the Temple Escape demo, Blizzard's Team 5 is now supremely confident with this single-player stuff, and the 45 new cards are interesting enough, and should freshen up the post Warsong Commander nerf metagame somewhat. So why don't I feel more excited? I think it's because wider doubts about where Hearthstone goes next persist, and they're too big for another adventure mode, however fun and tightly designed, to truly allay.
Hearthstone now feels in need of a more significant shakeup. The card pool has expanded to the point where certain creatures are so obviously best-in-class for their mana cost (think Dr Boom, Shielded Minibot, Piloted Shredder, Knife Juggler and Sludge Belcher), that they've led to completely entrenched deck archetypes and a fairly samey play style based on curving out with highest value creatures possible.
Much as I like Discover, it will take some even more radical new mechanics, a wide ranging rebalance of the existing card set, or perhaps fundamental changes to the structure of the game, in order to keep players coming back to play constructed Hearthstone. But for now, the League represents a welcome pre-Christmas pick-me-up. I just worry that these jolly explorers may end up getting trampled by a bunch of secretive men on horseback.
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