League of Explorers, the latest Hearthstone (Free)Adventure, came pretty much out of nowhere. Although we knew that something was going to be announced at BlizzCon, we didn’t have any details about its theme or the cards it would include. Not only were we surprised with an Adventure that deviated from the typical World of Warcraft lore of previous expansions and adventures, but we got it in our hands the week of the announcement, leaving little time to evaluate the Adventure’s 45 cards. It’s not that surprising, then, that when the first bunch of cards, and especially Reno Jackson, were released after LoE Wing 1, everyone was amazed by the effect LoE already had on the game. Literally overnight, the meta slowed down and everyone playing Hearthstone, from pros to casuals, felt that the game was fresh and interesting again and out of the rut it had been for months.
I suspect that if all that LoE achieved for the Hearthstone meta was giving us Reno Jackson, many would consider it a relative success. But the adventure gave us much more than that like a universally-praised new mechanic, Discover, some powerful, promising cards, and an overall fun single-player experience. So, was League of Explorers a success? Most definitely yes. Blizzard appears to have found the way to give us fun Adventures while at the same time adding cards into the game that actually impact the meta and the way the game’s played.
Yes, The Grand Tournament Expansion gave us some powerful cards, but they’ll need more cards in the future to really show their true value. LoE, on the other hand, had an immediate impact, and that made everyone, including me, quite happy. I suspect the positive reaction to the Adventure has shown Blizzard that Hearthstone players want more cards that have an immediate impact on the meta and fewer cards that act as building blocks for future archetypes and tribal decks.
League of Explorers Theme
When Blizzard looked for a theme for previous Hearthstone expansions and adventures, it always looked to the Warcraft universe and lore for inspiration, which was to be expected since the game’s called Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. While I enjoyed all the dragons and the other Warcraft beasts, I hadn’t realized how much I wanted a new, fresh theme until I saw the first League of Explorers trailer with its undeniable Indiana Jones-esque touches and tone. With Hearthstone becoming increasingly popular, many of its new players aren’t familiar with the Warcraft lore. So, it was a very smart move by Blizzard to make an adventure whose theme blends fantasy elements with movies set in the early to mid-20th century rather than an adventure that’s full-on fantasy.
I really enjoyed the idea of using cards to traverse through temples and ride minecarts; it was a very intriguing and rewarding flexing of creative muscles on behalf of Blizzard’s developers. Most of the cards we got from the Adventure worked well thematically and the fact that they deviate quite a bit from previous cards (with the exception of Harrison Jones who could easily have been a part of this adventure) adds a new flavor to our card collections. It’s really fun to go into my collection and see cards about Dragons next to a card with the image of an Explorer’s Hat; it really helps make the game feel fresh again.
Bosses and Encounters
LoE theme departure was also reflected on some of the Boss encounters, demonstrating once more that the developers are feeling more confident about their design abilities and their knowledge of the game and are trying new ideas and new mechanics. Most Bosses were your typical encounters but with a twist (one Boss spitting out plenty of minions while another being invincible for a few turns at a time and so on). While most of them worked well and were entertaining, I wasn’t too crazy about some Bosses like Skelesaurus Hex that were a bit too RNG-based to the point were the best way to go about beating them was to sometimes simply concede and start over.
Most encounters did a good job teaching various CCG principles, like controlling the board, and also did a great job highlighting the new Discover mechanic (which I’ll talk about later). As is usually the case, the Normal encounters were pretty easy to beat but the Heroic ones felt more challenging than previous Adventures. What I did notice was a few pretty dumb AI moves while I was playing the Adventure, more than in previous Adventures. Not a big deal, but there were a couple of times when a Boss would have lethal and would instead kill an insignificant minion.
What I really enjoyed was the Temple Escape and the Mine Cart Rush encounters were I wasn’t trying to use my cards to kill a boss but, rather, to survive for a number of turns. These encounters were a very fun and new idea for Hearthstone and made for some very entertaining moments. The Temple Escape even had a Choose-your-Own-Adventure mechanic, which really showed the possibilities that digital card games like Hearthstone can have.
As I’ve said numerous times in the past, I really enjoy those moments when developers discover a new design space because I like games that continue to evolve. While adding new cards often helps keep a CCG fresh and challenging, there’s no reason why a digital card game should follow the same rules and ideas as physical card games. Seeing the new design ideas the developers came up with for LoE made me very hopeful for the future of Hearthstone Adventures and expansions.
New Cards and Meta Effect
Have we ever had a card that shook the meta as quickly and as fundamentally as Reno Jackson? If you doubt Reno‘s huge effect on the game from the very day the card was released, google the name and see. Some might claim that Patron Warrior also dominated the meta for quite some time, and that’s true, but it took a while for that card to shine and even when it did, it only worked well at the hands of very good players.
With Reno, though, aggro decks came to a grinding halt, at least for a couple of weeks. And Reno wasn’t good simply because it allowed many players to survive the early-game aggro onslaught but, rather, because it helped people experiment with various deck ideas and opened up space for decks that deviated from the typical Hearthstone archetypes. These are the kinds of cards that one hopes for when an expansion/adventure hits, and LoE delivered in that respect.
While Reno opened up space for those who enjoy playing Control decks, a couple of weeks after Reno‘s release we got the Revenge of the Aggro (it’s the next Star Wars movie) when cards like Tunnel Trogg got Aggro Shaman rampaging on the ladder. While some players were worrying that the meta was going to slow down too much because of Reno, LoE had more surprises down its sleeves. With all the LoE cards released, we are at a moment in Hearthstone where almost all the classes have at least a viable Tier 2 deck (Hunter being the notable exception). This speaks to the success of LoE in terms of diversifying the meta and giving players plenty of options to build decks. I think it’s pretty fair to say that LoE has really given players a broad range of choices both when building competitive decks and also when building ridiculously-fun (and flawed) decks (Golden Monkey anyone?).
Cards aside, the other major success of LoE was the introduction of Discover, a mechanic that almost all players – pros and casuals – have been praising non-stop. After the disappointments that were the Inspire and Joust mechanics (we barely see any of those cards played anymore), Discover gave us some controlled RNG that added variety in matches while still allowing players to strategize. The developers have stated that they wanted to avoid having matches that simply play out almost identically time after time, and I feel that Discover has remedied that issue.
The Discover cards have found their way into competitive decks immediately and many of them (like Dark Peddler) have already been used in tournaments (like the recent Insomnia Truesilver Championship). Some players haven’t yet grasped how powerful and interesting this mechanic is and have simply compared it with Tracking; however, Discover is so much more than that, and I’m pretty sure that this mechanic is here to stay.
So, as you can tell from my review so far, I’m very happy with the League of Explorers Adventure, and I feel it has really raised the bar for future expansions and adventures. The cards released and the new mechanic introduced have shown me and everyone else that the developers are learning their lessons from previous attempts and are quick to remedy the issues that pop up (like too much RNG, inconsequential cards, or a relatively-stale meta).
Add to this how we got more cards for less money than usual (fewer Wings and more cards), and you can see how this Adventure is a sign of good things to come. Me (and many other casual and pro players) are very excited about the current state of the game, and it’s hard not to see League of Explorers as probably the moment when Hearthstone showed how it can evolve. Great job, Blizzard, great job indeed.