If you've been following along with TouchArcade for the last half a decade, I've mentioned a bunch of times how much I love collectible card games. I've been playing the physical version of Magic the Gathering for no joke, over 20 years now, and I've never found a digital collectible card game (Short of just playing Magic online, of course.) to even begin to compare until I got in to Blizzard's Hearthstone [Free (HD)]. Like any CCG, I've had more love/hate moments with Hearthstone than I could even count, but at minimum, just playing even a couple matches has turned in to part of my daily routine. We've already got a review of the core game on the site, so I'm not going to focus on that as much as I am the new expansion. If you don't know what Hearthstone is, or much about it, definitely start there first.

Back at PAX East Blizzard announced plans for a vague "single player campaign" for Hearthstone called Curse of Naxxramas. Hearthstone leans entirely on the World of Warcraft universe for its cards and lore, so it made a lot of sense for them to implement additional content in the card game based on existing content in the MMO. Naxxramas is an infamous raid instance that was featured both in the original pre-expansion World of Warcraft and then re-released as part of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Blizzard got a lot of flak for recycling content, but, so few people ever even zoned in to the original Naxxramas that it made a lot of sense. If your only exposure to the WoW universe is Hearthstone, it's worth watching the original Naxxramas reveal trailer from 2006:

Needless to say, the production value of Blizzard's expansion trailers increased exponentially when they revealed the Curse of Naxxramas trailer in July:

Collectable card games, like most multiplayer games are built around the idea of intentional imbalance. (Check out this awesome video for a great explanation of what that means.) Hearthstone has a metagame that was constantly evolving, but felt like it was on the verge of beginning to get stale right around the time Curse of Naxxramas was on the verge of release. After all, with a small initial card pool, there are only so many reasonable possibilities for putting together competitive decks.

Curse of Naxxramas added much needed cards to spice things up a bit, both providing answers for some of the more popular decks as well as expanding deck building strategy with additional cards which when paired with cards that were previously seen as under powered could turn in to some killer combos. Typically, in the CCG world new cards are released as an entire set that you need to chase down by opening up packs of cards. In the world of Magic, this makes for an awkward couple of weeks as people without the time, money, and desire to track down all the new best cards are at a significant disadvantage to casual players who just buy a couple packs here or there and don't dabble in trading or buying individual cards from dealers.

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Hearthstone did things totally differently, and is without a doubt the most clever way I've seen new cards injected into an existing CCG card pool. Instead of chasing packs, the playing field was leveled in to five wings, each with their own cards that everyone who played through it would unlock. There's no chasing down play sets, getting frustrated because you're opening every card but the one you want, you just get everything.

The pricing structure is great too. Hearthstone is a free to play game, I've dropped some cash on it, but I've got many friends who I play with competitively who haven't spent a cent on it. Similarly, the expansion content can be entirely unlocked via spending in-game gold earned through completing daily quests. Better yet, you can spend a mixture of in-game currency and real-world currency to get the expansion content. Each wing costs 700 in-game gold, or $6.99, and the more wings you buy with in-game gold the cheaper unlocking the rest of the content gets. It's totally agreeable, and in an era of the App Store where it seems like its in fashion to endlessly abuse player through infinite consumable IAP, it's great that it's just a buy once and get everything sort of affair.

7742To unlock the cards, you've got to play through different boss battles, all following the World of Warcraft Naxxramas theme along with specific class challenges for each of the nine classes included in the game. Each wing has three bosses, with the exception of the Construct Quarter with four and the Frostwyrm Lair with two.

The normal boss battles are a lot of fun, and seem pretty flexible regarding what kind of deck you need to beat them. Most fights involve trying them out with your favorite deck, seeing if the hero power of the boss you're fighting requires you to tweak it or try something else, then going back again and unlocking your cards. The overall difficulty level of these fights in normal mode ranges from pretty easy to sort of tricky, but if you've been playing Hearthstone and have a decent understanding of the game, you shouldn't have much issue.

What's fascinating, and honestly somewhat unexpected, is the amount of flavor Blizzard was able to jam in to these battles. As someone who experienced the WoW iteration of these fights, it's an incredible feat of game design that they managed to make these multiplayer raid encounters feel strikingly similar in a single player card game. Notorious boss gimmicks are all there, with Hearthstone flair, providing both a fun challenge for players who have never played World of Warcraft and a nod to those who did.

Something I hope they explore more in future expansions is multi-phase fights like Kel'Thuzad. All of the most memorable boss encounters in WoW had all sorts of tricks you needed to know, especially as the fight evolved to different stages. The first time Kel'Thuzad steals your turn away is an awesome experience, and getting legendary cards as your "loot" for vanquishing these bosses is even better.

7747My gripes with the expansion start with some of the class challenges and the heroic side of things. Some of the class challenges are a ton of fun. The hunter one, for instance, gives you an entire deck full of minions which give you a random beast card when they die. This was so awesome I wish it was its own game mode that I could play with friends.

Alternatively, some of the class challenges, namely the warrior and paladin feel like you're just brute forcing the random number generator. Luck in card games is a cruel mistress, and while there's obviously strategy involved in a CCG, you're also depending on getting the cards you need to respond to threats while your opponent gets screwed out of answering your threats. In some of these challenges, the decks you're forced to use feel so clunky that you're basically just slamming your head against getting the god hand in your opening draw, then continuing that trend for the rest of the game. Lose momentum at any moment, and you might as well start over.

Heroic difficulty, much like the WoW raids of the same name, are intentionally designed to be way harder. Thankfully, unlike WoW, there's not any better "loot" to be had in the heroic side of things aside from a snazzy looking card back to show off.

The difference between WoW heroic raids and Hearthstone heroic bosses is that instead of the flawless execution required through player skill in WoW you're again brute forcing the random number generator. Some fights take hours of retrying to win, while you lose because an enemy's random hero power somehow manages to nuke the one minion of all the minions on your side of the board that you needed to win.

7740Player perception when it comes to random number generation is a tricky thing to deal with. People were so sure that the iOS version of Monopoly [$0.99 / $6.99 (HD)] featured AI that cheated they went as far as to add a heat map for dice rolls in the game to prove that it's not. I'm not sure what Blizzard can do to fix this, or if it's even something that can be fixed, but conversations with friends on Hearthstone since the expansion has been released have definitely shifted from discussing decks to sharing tales of how bad the random number generator screwed you over as you were one turn away from winning and the boss drew exactly the card they needed to end the game.

But, hey, the whole point of heroic mode is it's supposed to be hard, so it makes sense that these fights are tuned to require a perfect game to win. I suppose it's better than the alternative of making them as easy to beat as the normal bosses and being disappointed that the single player content included was so short. One thing that's desperately needed for heroics is a way to edit your decks from the actual expansion menus. Continually navigating all the way out of and back into the Curse of Naxxramas area to just swap out a card can be a little tedious.

The way the release was staggered with each wing unlocking over the course of five weeks was awesome. I'm definitely going to be bummed next Wednesday when I open Hearthstone without being greeted by a popup telling me a new wing has been unlocked. That's alright though, as all the cards that have been released will keep deck builders busy and the metagame shifting for months to come.

Overall, I really couldn't have possibly asked for more in a Hearthstone expansion. Curse of Naxxramas was flawlessly executed. The new cards are great, the boss encounters were clever, and while some of them along with the class challenges had their moments of pure frustration, that also came with the excitement of victory. Kel'Thuzad taunting you the entire time was highly amusing, and I seriously cannot wait to see what Blizzard comes up with next.

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If you're even remotely interested in Hearthstone, unlocking Curse of Naxxramas is a no-brainer. Technically speaking, it's a better "value" if you buy it with cash, as you get more cards by spending your gold on packs compared to buying that same amount of packs with money, but it really doesn't matter. However you end up unlocking Curse of Naxxramas, whether it's gold, money, or a mixture of the two, just be sure you do.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • mekanikal fiend

    had fun running all of the wings. haven't gotten around to the heroic levels, tho, because i feel that the reward is seriously lacking. i know that winning them is the reward in itself, but find myself having better things to do, rather than do every superhard heroic for just a card back that i don't care about.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Yeah, the reward is sort of lacking. Card backs aren't exactly rare, especially since you only need to level up to 20 in ranked... Which is a level you can't even lose stars if you wanted to, so you've basically got to bang your head against whatever person you get matched up with enough times and blammo free card back.

  • Maglor

    ⊂_ヽ
      \\ Λ_Λ
       \( 'ㅅ' ) THAT 5 Stars!!
        > ⌒ヽ
       /   へ\
       /  / \\
       レ ノ   ヽ_つ
      / /
      / /|
     ( (ヽ
     | |、\
     | 丿 \ ⌒)
     | |  ) /
    ノ )  Lノ
    (_/

    • PallaZ

      This stupid cat is used for everything these days, isn't it?

  • Louis Ace

    And then there's me, without an iPad :(

    • AngryBaby

      Download for PC/Mac!

  • Kenan2000

    I am hoping to see world of warcraft on ios...maybe not in this year...maybe not in next year but I am sure it will be released.

  • uFinKnow

    Amen Brotha!!!!

  • echo_pdx

    This was such a pleasant surprise. I knew it would have that Blizzard polish but was floored by the creative encounters, the unexpected humor (I actually had to start the KT fight with every class just to hear all of his burns), the challenging heroic matches, and a killer set of cards that has completely revitalized the competitive scene. This was the best effort from Blizzard in a decade at least. It's a delight in every way.

    Bring on the next expansion!

  • Pray For Death

    Just wanna point out that the original Naxxramas trailer came out in 2006. 2011 was the date that particular video was uploaded to youtube

    • Mag

      Thank you was about the point this out myself. I played WOW like 50 hours a week back then and I was sure it was way longer ago than 2011 :D

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      When I posted this I was like "That doesn't seem right but that's when they uploaded the trailer, so..." Thanks for the heads up, I edited the review to reflect the release date properly. :)

  • shcgzb

    Basically this is the cheapest way to get lengendary cards. By gold or dollar. You get far more legendary card by 3500 gold than regular play.

  • Chungston

    nice review Eli. I love this game too!

  • Williamgood

    Still a pain for players way behind.

  • abodi

    My thoughts are that the battles are quite boring.

    And the money you spend to unlock these cards is ridiculous. Like $25aud for like 20 cards. Gimme a break.

  • elia

    Any game like this for iPhone????

    • Quorlan

      Hearthstone for iPhone and Android tablets and phones is in the works and planned for release in 2014. They confirmed this many times including in an interview with one of the lead developers in the final episode if the Value Town podcast today.

  • abodi

    Solforge is on iPhone

  • RunningWild

    Really having issues with the game freezing in My Collection / during disenchanting. Re-installed and still happening. Makes it really frustrating. Anyone else?

  • CptButternut .

    Naxxramas is a perfect example of a perfect dlc that awards longevity
    not ingenuity. Whilst players who have played the game are reinvigorated
    with a new way to play the truth is that the concept of a single-player
    expansion with multi-player elements included is awful. To explain what
    I stated in the first line Naxxramas released a collection of cards,
    some of which have provided new strategies: 'Undertaker', 'Reincarnate',
    where others have become instant deck staples: 'dark cultist', 'web
    spinner'. It is the latter cards that provide a problem. In a sense the
    game has become pay to win (One of the top decks currently is reliant on
    at least two cards from naxx (mid-range hunter)). Other such cards that
    are needed to succeed are the likes of 'Loatheb' which has a usable
    stat line and a great ability. As someone who only got into the game
    recently I have effectively stopped playing the game because I feel I am
    always two steps behind the meta.

    The question I am sure Naxx'
    supporters have at this point though is "surely, the game has always
    been that way, what changed?" To me the answer is simple Blizzard ruined
    their own leveling system with Naxx'. In this case that leveling system
    was unseen but effective. Stronger and weaker cards always existed in
    hearthstone but thanks to the rarity system and behind the scenes
    matchmaking rankings when you initially picked up the game you were
    playing against others of your skill level; this usually meant players
    of a similar card set. The reason being the game isn't all that
    complex.At the beginning of the game most people play the way they are
    equipped and taught to, board control (If I remember in the tutorial at
    some points you are forced to do so). Therefore minions that provide the
    elusive 'Value' can easily turn a game in your favor; thus the
    ubiquitous middle skill argent-drake decks. The same is true with
    legendaries too, with cards like Carine and Sylvanas providing great
    board control. However the slow acquisition of these cards meant that
    the hidden leveling system still existed. as you accumlated more of the
    game winning cards you reached the upper echelons of play.
    Furthermore
    if you were an impatient sort, you could pay to acquire these cards
    faster; I have no quarrel with this though, as you simply accelerated
    your ranking. Sure, you could pay to win but in the end the resources
    were attainable by everyone so it was only a matter of time until you
    reached players with skill and thus card parity. So even though I
    desired certain cards previously, and became frustrated when I lost to a
    card I did not have more often than not I had fun playing against cards
    and opponents of skill parity (Bear in mind I am using the word skill
    fleetingly as I believe the game is more resource/luck driven beyond the
    extremely skilled top ranked play).

    So,bearing all that in mind,
    my problem with naxx' should be easily apparent. Not only does it
    artificially increase the threshold to newer players who may find
    themselves stumped by the fact that there novice engineer cannot out
    perform a haunted creeper to discover that if they want the haunted
    creeper they have to spend real money on the game that they were told
    was free. To these people the game is pay to win. And now you may ask
    but what if they spend in game currency on the dlc. Its simply an
    untennable position. From the point of view of the developers the
    multi-player is what awards the game longevity and if this player saves
    up 700 coins to then player a single-player game no matter how fast they
    earn the coins that is a player lost. the main driving force of your
    game has been squandered. Furthermore any rudimentary gamer, or game
    developer can tell you that the reason that easily obtainable packs
    exist at the start of the game is to seduce new players into the
    addictive game-play rewards system Blizzard is infamous for. the new
    player who buys Naxx' with in game currency has circumvented a key
    driver of Hearthstones re-playability and ended up with a single-player
    experience that is (as Lumin states) not particularly re-playable.

    Furthermore
    I am baffled that the approach was taken even if Blizzard have tracked/
    decided that there new player stream was not providing sustainable
    income vs. there loss of players whose card almanacs were saturated. I
    understand that you therefore need to release new cards to reinvigorate
    your oldest players, but why within a single-player dlc?. If the cards
    had been released into the resource pool thenthe eldest players with
    dust reserves likely would have quickly obtained all the cards, and thus
    the artificial ranking system would remain in play. Furthermore they
    wouldn't have to play a single-player to play multi-player. Those of
    medium skill level would choose to buy many packs to get the new cards
    or not, and skill acceleration would exist, but I have already explained
    why I was at peace with that. New players would be least hit at all,
    they would simply have a more diverse card game to play at day one.
    Which whilst sheer card numbers to obtain can become a problem the
    crafting and RNG store counteracts this. Furthermore concurrent
    information from other card games shows that in most cases far more
    cards are needed before this becomes a major problem.

    Nonetheless,
    I consider the people at blizzard to be intelligent and good at
    creating and sustaining multi-player games. Therefore I can see a
    possible motive behind this dlc. I believe that the dlc will remain as
    expensive as it is for a time and then will drop in price substantially.
    This is so that the most valuable resource (Sheer numbers of players,
    exacerbated by hearthstones creative nature) for a free-to-play game
    will return. Whilst the most valuable players within that collective
    (paying players) feel justly rewarded. This point bears even more
    credence when you consider that many Hearthstone players are WoW players
    who already pay for one game and thus it would not be odd to assume
    they would spend money on another game, making the WoW specific
    references even more rewarding to there paying players.

    Conclusion: Great marketing, has stopped me from playing hearthstone, will likely return it the dlc goes cheap.

  • CptButternut .

    Naxxramas is a perfect example of a perfect dlc that awards longevity
    not ingenuity. Whilst players who have played the game are reinvigorated
    with a new way to play the truth is that the concept of a single-player
    expansion with multi-player elements included is awful. To explain what
    I stated in the first line Naxxramas released a collection of cards,
    some of which have provided new strategies: 'Undertaker', 'Reincarnate',
    where others have become instant deck staples: 'dark cultist', 'web
    spinner'. It is the latter cards that provide a problem. In a sense the
    game has become pay to win (One of the top decks currently is reliant on
    at least two cards from naxx (mid-range hunter)). Other such cards that
    are needed to succeed are the likes of 'Loatheb' which has a usable
    stat line and a great ability. As someone who only got into the game
    recently I have effectively stopped playing the game because I feel I am
    always two steps behind the meta.

    The question I am sure Naxx'
    supporters have at this point though is "surely, the game has always
    been that way, what changed?" To me the answer is simple Blizzard ruined
    their own leveling system with Naxx'. In this case that leveling system
    was unseen but effective. Stronger and weaker cards always existed in
    hearthstone but thanks to the rarity system and behind the scenes
    matchmaking rankings when you initially picked up the game you were
    playing against others of your skill level; this usually meant players
    of a similar card set. The reason being the game isn't all that
    complex.At the beginning of the game most people play the way they are
    equipped and taught to, board control (If I remember in the tutorial at
    some points you are forced to do so). Therefore minions that provide the
    elusive 'Value' can easily turn a game in your favor; thus the
    ubiquitous middle skill argent-drake decks. The same is true with
    legendaries too, with cards like Carine and Sylvanas providing great
    board control. However the slow acquisition of these cards meant that
    the hidden leveling system still existed. as you accumlated more of the
    game winning cards you reached the upper echelons of play.
    Furthermore
    if you were an impatient sort, you could pay to acquire these cards
    faster; I have no quarrel with this though, as you simply accelerated
    your ranking. Sure, you could pay to win but in the end the resources
    were attainable by everyone so it was only a matter of time until you
    reached players with skill and thus card parity. So even though I
    desired certain cards previously, and became frustrated when I lost to a
    card I did not have more often than not I had fun playing against cards
    and opponents of skill parity (Bear in mind I am using the word skill
    fleetingly as I believe the game is more resource/luck driven beyond the
    extremely skilled top ranked play).

    So,bearing all that in mind,
    my problem with naxx' should be easily apparent. Not only does it
    artificially increase the threshold to newer players who may find
    themselves stumped by the fact that there novice engineer cannot out
    perform a haunted creeper to discover that if they want the haunted
    creeper they have to spend real money on the game that they were told
    was free. To these people the game is pay to win. And now you may ask
    but what if they spend in game currency on the dlc. Its simply an
    untennable position. From the point of view of the developers the
    multi-player is what awards the game longevity and if this player saves
    up 700 coins to then player a single-player game no matter how fast they
    earn the coins that is a player lost. the main driving force of your
    game has been squandered. Furthermore any rudimentary gamer, or game
    developer can tell you that the reason that easily obtainable packs
    exist at the start of the game is to seduce new players into the
    addictive game-play rewards system Blizzard is infamous for. the new
    player who buys Naxx' with in game currency has circumvented a key
    driver of Hearthstones re-playability and ended up with a single-player
    experience that is (as Lumin states) not particularly re-playable.

    Furthermore
    I am baffled that the approach was taken even if Blizzard have tracked/
    decided that there new player stream was not providing sustainable
    income vs. there loss of players whose card almanacs were saturated. I
    understand that you therefore need to release new cards to reinvigorate
    your oldest players, but why within a single-player dlc?. If the cards
    had been released into the resource pool thenthe eldest players with
    dust reserves likely would have quickly obtained all the cards, and thus
    the artificial ranking system would remain in play. Furthermore they
    wouldn't have to play a single-player to play multi-player. Those of
    medium skill level would choose to buy many packs to get the new cards
    or not, and skill acceleration would exist, but I have already explained
    why I was at peace with that. New players would be least hit at all,
    they would simply have a more diverse card game to play at day one.
    Which whilst sheer card numbers to obtain can become a problem the
    crafting and RNG store counteracts this. Furthermore concurrent
    information from other card games shows that in most cases far more
    cards are needed before this becomes a major problem.

    Nonetheless,
    I consider the people at blizzard to be intelligent and good at
    creating and sustaining multi-player games. Therefore I can see a
    possible motive behind this dlc. I believe that the dlc will remain as
    expensive as it is for a time and then will drop in price substantially.
    This is so that the most valuable resource (Sheer numbers of players,
    exacerbated by hearthstones creative nature) for a free-to-play game
    will return. Whilst the most valuable players within that collective
    (paying players) feel justly rewarded. This point bears even more
    credence when you consider that many Hearthstone players are WoW players
    who already pay for one game and thus it would not be odd to assume
    they would spend money on another game, making the WoW specific
    references even more rewarding to there paying players.

    Conclusion: Great marketing, has stopped me from playing hearthstone, will likely return it the dlc goes cheap.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Reviewed by Eli Hodapp on . Rating: 5