What’s next for Hearthstone?

Cabal Shadow Priest, Hearthstone

It feels like the Hearthstone scene is currently drifting along, enjoying a period of relative stability. Behind us lies the Naxxramas rollout, the Leeroy/Buzzard nerf, and the turbulent effect those events had on the metagame. Ahead of us is the biggest tournament yet, in the shape of BlizzCon, when it’s hoped we might also hear more about the next card expansion. So, now seems like a good time to take stock of what lies in store for the game. Here, I use my own version of Tracking (Google plus common sense, essentially) to try to pick what features might come next, based on likelihood and desirability, starting with extra deck slots. Joke, we’re never getting new deck slots.

Guaranteed to arrive soon-ish

A lot of new cards

Duh. It’s a CCG. There will be more cards. We will pay or grind for them. But here’s what we can say about the next expansion for sure: The set will feature more than 100 cards, and it will have a theme of some sort, although it won’t be delivered via a Naxxramas-style single-player expansion. Instead, the cards will be sold through a new kind of Booster pack, separate from the existing Expert ones. What we don’t know: whether the set will launch this year. However, with Team 5’s production director Jason Chayes suggesting we should expect news “very soon”, it makes sense to think an announcement might be made at BlizzCon in early November. My guess is Blizzard will want to cash in on the holiday period by getting them out before Christmas.

The other critical piece of information that remains unclear is whether you’ll be allowed to use the dust, which players are currently accruing from disenchanting their duplicate Expert cards, to craft cards in the new set. This seems a critical question to me, because if the old dust can’t be be used to create the new cards, then players with mostly complete collections would be better off hoarding gold rather than dust to put towards the next set. I’ve tried bugging senior designer Ben Brode on this, but to no avail. It may be that, as with the Naxxramas pricing, a final decision won’t be made until closer to launch.

Spectator mode

Blizzard reps—including producer Yong Woo, speaking here at Gamescom earlier this year—have stated multiple times that an in-game spectator mode is in active development with a view to improving the tournament experience for fans. From listening to Brode talk on the Angry Chicken podcast, it sounded like the feature was top of the priority list, so my expectation was that it would probably be in place in time for BlizzCon. Now that November 7th doesn’t feel so far away I’m less sure, but still fairly confident.

With no official announcement, it’s impossible to know what functionality to expect, but reading Woo’s interview again it sounds like Blizzard wants to implement some form of chat functionality—but likely only between friends, to prevent the inevitable donger-based copy-pasterino unpleasantries of anonymous Twitch chat. Whether you’ll actually be able to see the competing players via webcam also remains unclear. Certainly the experience would lose something without being able to see an Assassin’s Blade-wielding Rogue’s live reaction to a top-decked Harrison Jones. (Go to the 40-minute mark here and watch the exact moment Realz’ heart breaks. No wonder he quit the pro scene.)

What doesn’t sound likely to be included, though, is any sort of replay system. “This is something that we think is really cool,” said Woo, “but it is not quite in the top tier list. There are various ways we could do replays that are more expensive or less expensive, in terms of development cost, and we still need to figure that out.” Which seems slightly odd, given the obvious potential for re-watching classic matches, or saving and sharing your own favourite moments. But I suppose at least my opponent won’t be able to beam me missing lethal around various social networks.

Good ideas (they’ll get to eventually)

More deck slots

No, but seriously Blizz. When it’s got to the point that obsessives like me are using a 10-tab Google doc to manage their deck archive, surely it’s time for a compromise. Whilst I grudgingly accept that there is logic to Brode’s view that less is sometimes more—and can see that Team 5 don’t want to scare the casuals—surely Blizzard’s UI team is smart enough to design a system that allows for a little more flexibility. Think how many Druid archetypes there are: Watcher, Token, Ramp, Combo and, of course, Murloc. Having a separate page for each class wouldn’t be so confusing, and would allow players to keep a few more of their old favourites backed up without having to rely on third-party software solutions. I imagine we’ll get the option to expand the number of slots at a later date, but wouldn’t rule out having to pay for it either.

Next page: more nice ideas and some decreasingly likely ones

Tim Clark

With over two decades covering videogames, Tim has been there from the beginning. In his case, that meant playing Elite in 'co-op' on a BBC Micro (one player uses the movement keys, the other shoots) until his parents finally caved and bought an Amstrad CPC 6128. These days, when not steering the good ship PC Gamer, Tim spends his time complaining that all Priest mains in Hearthstone are degenerates and raiding in Destiny 2. He's almost certainly doing one of these right now.