Hearthstone: Unraveling the Curse of Naxxramas

The summer is always a slow point for video game releases, but that doesn't mean you can't have a good time catching up or playing some DLC. This week, Ozzie and I dive deep into the Curse of Naxxramas, the first expansion for Hearthstone.

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The summer is always a slow point for video game releases, but that doesn't mean you can't have a good time catching up or playing some DLC. This week, Ozzie and I dive deep into the Curse of Naxxramas, the first expansion for Hearthstone. 

Steve Watts: So after a few unlucky draws against Maexxna, I've finished the first wing of Naxxramas. I think the first thing that really struck me was how light-hearted the world is. For something as simple as a CCG, they make an effort to riff on the characters as goofy fun. I especially loved the ongoing dialogue as I worked my way through the Naxxramas underlings.

Ozzie Mejia: I'm really surprised about that, myself. I was expecting it to be this serious narrative, like something out of World of Warcraft or StarCraft, but was taken by how light the whole tone was. It's just another manner in which Hearthstone continues to set itself apart from Blizzard's other properties.

Of course, the actual battles were serious business. I somewhat liked that the bosses weren't messing around and not carrying around any pretense of balance. Those Hero Powers were downright unfair and that was the entire point, challenging you to adapt and build your deck accordingly.

SW: Yeah, I remember Blizzard saying the battles themselves were going to be skewed in the bosses' direction, and they weren't kidding. The new cards could be doable with some adjustment, but it's really the Hero Powers that create such a radical imbalance. 

The thing is, their powers are absolutely ludicrous, which is why it's kind of nice that they follow set patterns and strategies. I'm not sure if you've gone against Maexxna on Heroic yet, but her power sends not just one but two random minions back, and it costs 0 mana so she does it every single time. The only way you can win that battle is by tailoring your strategy to take advantage of how predictable she is. I'm glad these are just for bosses and not being rolled out to human players.

OM: I actually thought I'd be able to cruise through the three bosses with my Mage. And yeah, eventually that was possible. But these battles are really made for a variety of strategies and different types of decks. One class won't get you through this whole thing.

SW: For sure. I think if nothing else, this is a good learn-by-doing lesson on the strengths of different decks and why they matter, but it isn't restricted to just one type. On Normal my Paladin rush was enough to dodge the most brutal effects of Faerlina, but by the time I went to Heroic I had to switch to a Warrior control deck that armored up as she pinged me. It's all about evaluating what they're good at and turning it against them.

All that said, I was a little surprised I finished up the content in just one day. Granted it took a lot of trial and error for Heroic Maexxna, I'm not going to pretend it was easy or anything, but that brings up the value question. This wing is free right now because of the launch period, but normally it'll be seven bucks. Even with the bundle discount you're paying $5 per wing. Is that a good value for this amount of content? I bought the bundle upfront, and I'm glad that I already know I'll have access to all these new cards, but if I were a more casual player I might not think it's worthwhile.

OM: I'm wondering if the value is coming from the cards that you eventually get from beating the whole thing. But that's a tricky proposition, because Blizzard didn't make any of these bosses easy. There's a chance that a casual player will walk into this and come up completely empty and at that point, what did they just blow $7 on?

Of course, it's not like you can just expect to pay $7 and get handed premium cards, because then it just becomes "pay-to-win." You can't nerf the bosses, because that takes away from what makes the expansion so special. So what's the solution? I personally feel like being able to pay in-game gold for entry is a pretty good compromise.

SW: Right. This is sort of straddling a strange line, which was incidentally my point when I wrote about it disrupting the balance. I think people might have thought I was talking about the overall game balance, when I was actually referring to the balance between the haves and the have-nots. These new cards are pretty absurdly powerful, and you're basically paying for them since the barrier to earn them isn't all that tough. (At least so far, I might eat my words on that). Someone who doesn't have the cash or gold is going to spend their time getting stomped by these new legendaries.

Maybe that's worth the upfront cost by itself. I mean, you're going to get lots of time out of building decks that integrate these new cards. Plus it does have a nice presentation and a funny story. All that together is probably worth a five, but I'd caution casual players to try this first wing before plunking down $20 on the rest.

Speaking of value, I would've liked some reward for finishing the Heroic mode. As far as I can tell, the special card back is a big meta-goal for beating all of the Heroic bosses, which is slightly demotivating. Plus if it's the card back they have the Heroic bosses use, it's super-ugly. I'd rather just stick with my rainbows.

OM: That's all you get? And here I was thinking I'd need to invest all my time in unpacking an Alexstrasza card before attempting any Heroic battles. If that's all you get, I don't even think it's worth it, other than bragging rights. And really, isn't everybody throwing Legendary cards in my face bragging rights enough?

Arguably, Hearthstone was already a game of haves and have-nots, which I learned each time I went up against someone with three Legendaries and I doubt that these new cards are going to help matters any. But the synergy possibilities these new cards offer are just so much fun!

SW: Good point! I haven't had a chance to try any new synergies with the new cards I earned, but the Class Challenges were a nice chance to try out cards that you don't already have. I put a Taunt on my Echoing Ooze just to see if it would make a perfect copy, and I was pretty pleased to see that it did. That's going to be a lot of fun to try out. I also can already foresee the Nerubian Egg being a pain for my Consecrate spell as a Paladin, which was probably part of the goal. Any other synergies or strategies you're looking forward to or dreading?

OM: Well, Defender of Argus and Sunfury Protector just got a whole lot more useful and they were already pretty valuable to begin with. Put them with Echoing Ooze or Nerubian Egg and you've thrown some pretty annoying Taunt cards on the board.

Stoneskin Gargoyle is going to be really fun in a Priest deck and a nightmare to play against. If you keep buffing its health with cards like Divine Spirit or Temple Enforcer and it keeps regenerating that increased health at the end of every turn, you have the potential for something unbeatable. If you up its health and give it Taunt, it literally can't be beaten, unless you have the right spell or it gets silenced. But it can also be a slow burn until you eventually use Inner Fire and just take the game in one swoop.

I know you mentioned it before, but cards with Silence are so much more valuable now.

SW: Yeah. If this expansion was all about Deathrattles, we might need the next one to be loaded up with Silence cards. As it stands I might have to seriously consider revising my deck with some cheap Silence cards like the owl, just to have them ready in-hand for when someone breaks out one of those combos. I think we also might see a resurgence in classes like Mage or Shaman, since their Polymorph and Hex spells are like more advanced versions of Silence.

OM: I always used to save Polymorph and Hex for the higher-end legendaries and I think it's interesting that now the possibility exists where I might have to blow them early. Yeah, they're still great to have, but there's the potential that they might be gone before the other guy can lay down Ragnaros. Then where am I at? So yeah, while it's ideal to just be able to use Polymorph/Hex as a fix-all, they need to be used wisely, because the scenarios under which they need to be used just increased by quite a bit.

SW: That's probably what's most exciting about the expansion. The content itself is nice, but the real fun will be seeing how crazy the meta game is about to get. By spreading it out over five weeks, they're giving time for people to adapt new strategies over and over again. Once all five are out, I expect it will take a couple months before someone comes up with something like the current Miracle Rogue, and then people will respond to that, and the whole cycle will start again under this reality. 

At which point Blizzard will have to release another expansion, preferably with a new class. I vote a Pandaren Brewmaster with a Hero Power that serves alcohol to his minions: ups their power but they might miss.

Editor-In-Chief

From The Chatty

  • reply
    July 23, 2014 1:00 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Hearthstone: Unraveling the Curse of Naxxramas.

    The summer is always a slow point for video game releases, but that doesn't mean you can't have a good time catching up or playing indie games. This week, Ozzie and I dive deep into the Curse of Naxxramas, the first expansion for Hearthstone.

    • reply
      July 23, 2014 1:14 PM

      You don't need Alexstrasza for the heroics. Neat discussion article though, thanks.

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        July 23, 2014 1:24 PM

        I did it without Alex! But it is probably much harder.

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      July 23, 2014 1:25 PM

      I'm pretty happy with Naxxramas. Definitely style of play and pretty fun

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      July 23, 2014 3:19 PM

      Nice article/talk guys. Especially liking that Pandaren suggestion, cool balance of power and chance. I've gotten through the first 2 bosses, they're fun but I still can't decide if purchasing the rest of the expansion is worth it just yet.

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      July 24, 2014 9:34 AM

      I <3 Naxx. They added a nice replayable single player component to an already awesome game. Better still instead of releasing it all at once, I get to savor it a bit more over the next few weeks. I've really enjoyed going back against the first two heroic bosses with different decks. Maexxana is more of a puzzle than an opponent, but I'll let that slide because I like puzzles.

      Another interesting wrinkle to all this is how constructed will be in this weird state of limbo for the next few weeks while SOME of the cards will be released but not all of them. You'll have these short bursts of meta changes creating chaos in the ladder. Hopefully the internet won't be able to react fast enough with netdecks that solidify things like they were pre-Naxx.