Over the past month Blizzard has been releasing Hearthstone‘s third adventure expansion: The League of Explorers. Now that all the wings and cards are released it’s time to evaluate this expansion. After a poorly received ‘The Grand Tournament’ card expansion there was pressure on Blizzard to deliver an expansion with fun and meaningful cards. I’m glad to say not only did the cards well exceed expectations, but the the PvE content is also the best Hearthstone has received to date.
In previous adventure expansions the PvE content was fun but forgettable leading players (including myself) to quickly forget about it upon completion and to never have an urge to return. The characters and stories were boring and each encounter felt similar to the last. This time around the characters are genuinely funny to hear squabble and the bosses are more imaginative than ever. Most importantly there is an incredible variety of boss fights featuring some refreshing game mechanics. A few encounters like Temple Escape, require the player to build a deck not to win, but to survive for ten turns. Others like Mine Cart Rush offer a pre-made deck against hordes of enemies, challenging players to show their understanding of tempo. The highlight has to be Arch-Thief Rafaam who actually steals your deck and uses it as his own. I can’t explain the shock and hilarity I felt after being beat down by my own creation, an experience I soon won’t forget. Heroic mode benefited the most from these imaginative boss fights. Building decks to try and beat these extremely hard bosses tests your skills more than ever. With many of these encounters being so interesting and memorable, I’m sure I’ll return to try and beat these heroic bosses again this time with new strategies.
For beating every boss on heroic difficulty you receive a special card back. But that’s not all that’s aesthetically been added, there’s also the game boards, plural. Yes that’s right this time around the new adventure introduced two new game boards instead of the usual one and they are just as charming as expected. One has an exploration theme featuring a desert filled with traps and secrets to unearth. The other is a museum that has plenty on display to click on to your heart’s delight. I found it especially charming that the boards appeared in the specific wings of the adventure where they were most applicable, giving the story some meaning unlike previous expansions.
In the end though the real meat of the expansion is the new cards. I’m happy to say that this is easily the best card release in the history of Hearthstone. Blizzard released 45 cards this time around, more than any previous adventure expansion. This set of cards has struck a wonderful balance between being fun, imaginative and impactful. There are very few cards that lend themselves to improving aggressive play-styles, instead most cards encourage combo or control strategies. For as long as Hearthstone has existed aggressive decks have been the main complaint of the community as they aren’t fun they are criticized as being anti-fun. Sadly these decks are extremely popular due to their relative simplicity to play, cost to assemble, and average length per game played. Blizzard released a set of cards that so far at least has slowed down the meta making Hearthstone more enjoyable. On top of that these cards addressed many issues the community had and did so in a way that was very imaginative.
The main way Blizzard has succeeded with this expansion is with the introduction of a new mechanic: Discover. Discover cards allow to player to choose one of three cards offered from a certain set and add that card to their hand. For example one of the new most popular cards is the Jeweled Scarab, a 2 mana card that reads discover a three cost card. The player is then offered three 3 mana cards and chooses one to add to their hand. This mechanic is brilliant because it allows players to use cards that are rarely used, leading to more interesting gameplay, while allowing players to show their skill by picking the right card for the right scenario. It’s a mechanic that perfectly balances randomness and skill which at its core is what makes Hearthstone such a great game.
On top of the Discover mechanic Blizzard specifically added cards to fix problems in the meta, and boy have they worked. The Tunnel Trogg card has finally allowed the Shaman class to be viable again after disappearing for almost a year. The Fierce Monkey and Obsidian Destroyer immensely help the Warrior class in the arena, satiating those who are constantly hash-tagging ArenaWarriorsMatter. And of course Reno Jackson, a card that can singlehandedly beat aggressive decks and encourages the use of cards we just aren’t use to seeing. That’s only a few examples. Overall this card pool has made an overwhelming amount of new deck archetypes viable while not improving the old ones to where they are too powerful. The meta has never been so interesting and vibrant and games have never been so interesting and unpredictable. Hearthstone is healthier than ever thanks to The League of Explorers expansion.