My first meeting with Ben Brode for Hearthstone at PAX East 2018 had a couple of new reveals in store for the upcoming Witchwood expansion. In particular, a pair of new cards – one of which immediately struck me as probably one of the most insane cards added to Hearthstone entirely, let alone in this expansion. My time with Mr. Brode was all about this new card, the thought processes behind The Witchwood, and even a couple of nods at what could have been.
First off, I had a rundown of everything The Witchwood is bringing to the Hearthstone table, which we’ve all heard up to this point: a new PvE mode in the form of Monster Hunts, new keywords and, of course, new cards. Two of these cards were revealed to me as part of the presentation: Prince Liam, which has a Battlecry that transforms all one-cost cards in your deck into Legendary minions; and Shudderwrock, which has a Battlecry that repeats all other Battlecries that have been played this game. That’s every Battlecry effect ever up to the point Shudderwrock hits the board, with the target chosen randomly. All of them. As Mr. Brode said himself, it’s easily the most insane card they’ve put out, as well as the most challenging card to implement. Understandably.
As Brode put it, the best way to implement this card is to have Battlecry cards that don’t have a target, making it probably one of the more interesting cards to put into Battlecry Shaman decks or those who hear about this card and already have their wheels turning on how to take advantage of this new ability. Cards like Shudderwrock are part of a dev strategy to make Legendary cards truly feel legendary and make a huge splash when they arrive to the board.
Battlecries and Esports
After the presentation, I went over some of the things I noticed with the cards that have been revealed to this point, specifically the fact that the Battlecry keyword seems to be in pretty heavy use. This use of that particular keyword wasn’t intended to speed up the play of the game as I had first supposed so much as a way to offer additional strategies, as well as to have complexities of minions up front with either Battlecry or Deathrattle as opposed to having to juggle numerous abilities for large numbers of minions on the board.
Of all the things Witchwood revealed, easily one of the most intriguing to me was the Odds and Evens deck strategies that were detailed earlier. Namely, were these new deck types meant to spice up the esports and competitive meta, or meant to just make things interesting. Overall, the devs do try to keep an eye on making the metagame churn and shift enough to be interesting while also spacing things out enough that people can get used to what’s new. They also want to make sure things are interesting to watch when esports broadcasts go live – something that I can certainly appreciate.
Future For New Arrivals
This discussion segued into a talk about the subset of people who maybe arrive to Hearthstone late and get overwhelmed with all the new cards, so what can the game do to get new arrivals acclimated? While Brode feels the game’s introductory experience is in a good place, he does agree that the greatest point of friction is the leap from Casual mode to Ranked mode. According to what Brode has seen, Casual mode’s win rates went up so much that they got confident enough to enter Ranked and found themselves facing more entrenched players or a lot of new cards with alien mechanics. The devs do hope to improve matchmaking or find other ways to prevent players from seeing too many new cards in order to make that less of a pain point.
Even More PvE
Finally, I decided to head in the PvE side of things, since Monster Hunts are coming with The Witchwood and players appear to have taken a shine to things in new expansions like Dungeon Runs in Kobolds and Catacombs. Unsurprisingly, future expansions are likely going to see new PvE content; in fact, the devs have hired a Missions team and Brode even sees single-player expanding above and beyond what’s been done to this point.
Overall, The Witchwood looks to be bringing a lot more fun and fascinating things to a swiftly growing CCG title, while also continuing to have fun with the Warcraft license. When I expressed my personal appreciation for the team’s willingness to play with the canon, using One Night in Kharazahn as an example, Brode laughed and mentioned that the team had considered making the Lich King a heavy metal theme instead of going with Knights of the Frozen Throne. It’s clear in my first meeting that Hearthstone gleefully likes to stir the pot and I’m eager to see how players take to what The Witchwood’s ladle does to the overall Hearthstone stew.
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