Hearthstone designers talk League of Explorers, Warsong Commander, and Secret Paladin

There was plenty fo talk about on Friday afternoon in regards to Hearthstone's upcoming League of Explorers adventure. But Blizzard's Ben Thompson and Dean Ayala also spoke to Shacknews about the potential for a more permanent co-op mode, the massive Warsong Commander nerf, and the possibility of Mysterious Challenger getting the same treatment.

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Hearthstone is getting into the exploration and archaeology business this week with the arrival of The League of Explorers adventure. Shacknews had a chance to try it out at Blizzcon this weekend and it should be interesting to see how the game starts to shape up with the addition of 45 new cards.

After escaping the temple a couple of times, it was time to catch up with Hearthstone lead artist Ben Thompson and designer Dean Ayala. On top of learning more about the upcoming League of Explorers expansion and the cards that it's set to debut, there was something of an elephant in the room to discuss. The Warsong Commander hasn't been the same since his debilitating nerf, so it was time to ask what led to the big decision for his adjustment, as well as what the future holds for a certain other minion that Hearthstone players are in something of a tizzy over. The following interview was conducted on Friday afternoon at this year's Blizzcon event.

Shacknews: You seem to be going to in somewhat of a different direction with League of Explorers. On top of the 1-on-1, you also added in more of a survival puzzle element with the temple. What made you want to experiment with the formula in this way?

Ben Thompson, Lead Artist: League of Explorers is a big departure for us as a team, overall, I would say. It changes the way we're telling stories. It changes the way we're telling stories. It changes the way we're really building a sense of canon around Hearthstone and not just make everything so dependent on WoW storylines that have happened. We really treat them as two parallel worlds that dabble into each other periodically. That's no less different for our gameplay. We definitely want to try new things when it comes to gameplay. We really like what Tavern Brawl has done for the game, where it applies those kinds of moments or sparks of curiosity, for "What if this? or "What if that?" and where it makes sense adding that into the gameplay as a whole. Especially in Adventures, it makes a lot of sense.

You mentioned the puzzle-like quality to one of the wings of the adventure currently. That's not wrong. It's certainly a mode or scenario that we've toyed with years ago, early in the development of Hearthstone, and it was one that always stayed in the back of our minds, because it was so much fun for the team when we'd hit it. But we really looked for the opportunity to put it in when it made sense for the story and when it made sense for the adventure. In League of Explorers, we got that chance. And really, that's true for every part of Hearthstone. Whenever we find a moment that furthers the story, makes for good game design, and really provides moments of joy and excitement for the player, we'll more than likely jump on it.

Shacknews: What was the design goal with the new Discover mechanic?

Dean Ayala, Designer: Really, the design goal with any mechanic is to do new things, build new decks. I think Discover is particularly cool because having new cards and interesting decisions to make, it's one of the most fun things about Hearthstone. One of the downsides of drawing a lot of cards and having a lot of those decisions is that you tend to draw most of your deck, and when you draw most of your deck, a lot of the games tend to play out very similarly. So with Discover, we can add this aspect of randomness, but also give you a lot of interesting decisions to make.

Shacknews: You've been experimenting with the idea of snowballing effects, like with the Explorer's Hat, the Mage's new Torch, and even with Elise Starseeker. How did the team approach this major design shift?

Ayala: I wouldn't say it's a major design shift exactly. Those cards just do a new fun thing. With the Torch, I wouldn't call it a snowballing effect. You pay a cost when you play the card originally. "Okay, I'm going to play this card and it's not necessarily great right now, but later on, I'm going to get something that is very powerful." So it's kind of a new, fun way to build a card, to give it a new mini-mechanic.

Elise, I think does a very interesting thing. Getting a lot of different Legendaries, some might say, "Why not just put in the Legendaries you want in your deck already if you own them?" I think Elise allows you to build a deck with no in-game threats at all. You can be a control deck with Elise and focus on removal or aggressive decks and then you can flip the switch with Elise and fill your deck and hand with late-game threats. So it allows you to build a control deck that hasn't really existed before.

Thompson: I think those are really good design goals to do all of those things that Dean mentioned, but on top of that, Adventures shine at their best when they promote a vibe or a feel for the player. With the Curse of Naxxramus, you feel kind of creeped out and everything's a little dark and sinister and it's really playing to that haunted vibe. The League of Explorers, we are really trying to go for that exploration and discovery and something new with untold treasures. Putting things into a deck only to only discover their powers later really plays with that. The idea of a Curse going into your opponent's deck really plays to that. It gets that feeling of exploring tombs and lost treasures. Elise Starseeker is the truest mode of that. The fact that you can discover entire bejeweled gold deck as the ultimate payoff for this quest or adventure of getting the map, finding the monkey, playing the monkey. That is a quest over the course of one card. By the time you get to the full deck, you've "won!" You've reached the fulfillment of that exploration by finding those untold riches of gold. As much as it is a game design aspect, really it plays into that "fun to play the game" moment and have that adventure and quest before you.

Shacknews: I want to ask about Tavern Brawl. I think with this week's Tavern Brawl, some people assumed that co-op was coming to Hearthstone. Players were kind of thrown off the scent in that sense, but now that you've seen how players have approached this Tavern Brawl and how they're working together, is there any consideration being given to adding co-op permanently?

Thompson: It's certainly one of my favorite Tavern Brawls we've had. I've played this countless times with friends and strangers online and it's been no less fun every time. It certainly does pique the interest on our end for new modes of play. Tavern Brawl, once again, has proven to be an excellent place to play with some of those ideas and try some of those experiments.

As far as a dedicated mode of play, I'd say that becomes more difficult and becomes a user interface question, especially when you want to put more than one person on the board. It's going to become a very unscalable problem. It's not something we can easily adjust into a UI for the long term. It is something that we're looking at for different ways and opportunities and Tavern Brawl is where you'll see those things show up from time to time. Ultimately, this all just comes down to what was the player's enjoyment with that interaction and that mode of play. Where it makes sense to put it in, we look forward to things like that.

Shacknews: The big news of the last month was the adjustment to Warsong Commander. Having spoken to you all in the past, I know these aren't things you approach lightly at all. You've put a lot of thought into this. So what led to this decision to make this change? And more interestingly… the timing of it. Why do it shortly before the big Blizzcon championships?

Thompson: As far as the mood and tone (I'll let Dean talk about the timing itself), but Hearthstone is a game where we don't approach those kinds of changes lightly. When we do approach those kinds of changes and choose to make them, it always comes from a place of what makes the game fun and what keeps the game fun? When we have interactions like Warsong Commander that created a feeling of unwinnable or unfair or something that felt like there was no surmounting that or strategizing around it, that becomes unfun. That becomes something that, as a player, I begin to feel like I had no control over that scenario and really it was just a chance maneuver by the opponent that would make that kind of thing go off.

That's when we start to look at, "Okay, is this something that we can add cards to the game to help?" That's our usual mode of adjusting for this is providing tools for players to add different deck types and different changes and combos... or in the case of Warsong Commander, it's something that really takes a stronger adjustment.

Ayala: As far as timing goes, it's really about making the best decision and once we come to a conclusion, we just want to get the change up there as soon as possible. We don't really want to wait around. It's not like we were waiting for a specific moment, really, to unveil this change. This was the decision that we came to, it was the right decision, and we got it out immediately after that. You always want to give players enough time to adjust on their own. It's much healthier if there's something out there, people figure it out, and the meta shifts naturally. We gave it the amount of time that was necessary, started to realize that maybe this isn't going away and it's a problem for the future. Once we all came to an agreement, we just got out the change as soon as possible.

Shacknews: So now that you've seen the player feedback and now that you've seen the change in the wild for yourself, do you still consider Warsong Commander to be a viable minion?

Ayala: Warsong Commander definitely plays a role. It still is a card that you can look at in the base set and think, "Okay, I can build a deck around this card." Specifically, the change that we made, it's not going to fit in the exact same decks that it was before. You can still use the card, but Charge has always been an interesting topic for us in particular. Getting killed from hand, basically, and not having a chance to interact with anybody, it's not the most fun way to play Hearthstone. It's not the most fun way to lose the game, so I think we tend to not push the power level of Charge minions exactly, but that mechanic is still there for someone to use. And there are cards like Secretkeeper that no one played before, but cards were introduced and now they are played. What the future holds for Warsong Commander, no one can really know. You can always introduce cards that maybe Warsong Commander turns into a card in the future that is played at the highest competitive level.

Thompson: And I think that's where League of Explorers is going to come into its own, in that it introduces new types of play with the new keyword Discover. With 45 different cards put into the set, it's going to be interesting to see what those do to every card. Warsong Commander may be one of them, but more importantly, there's a lot of cards that maybe haven't had an opportunity to start showing up in decks and coming into their own. Heck, in Ben Brode's talk, we saw Wisp buffed from 1/1 to 11/11. I don't think anybody is going to argue that Wisp is overpowered for that sense, but rather the card that's doing that is creating some really awesome and engaging gameplay. So I think as League of Explorers starts to get into everybody's hands, myself, I've been having a lot of fun watching the meta shift again.

Shacknews: As has been the pattern with Hearthstone, when one big change hits, everyone reacts, and then everyone moves on to the next big thing they want to see changed. With that said, I'd like to bring up Mysterious Challenger and the Secret Paladin. What is your view on this deck and has there been any thought to giving an adjustment to Mysterious Challenger?

Thompson: All adjustments coming to cards come after some consideration and deliberation. I think we'll be very curious in the days and weeks to come after the release of League of Explorers to see what changes to the meta happen with that. Whether to that card in specific or all cards in general, I think League of Explorers is going to have an effect. I think not just through keywords, but more importantly, 45 new cards is a lot of new cards to add to the meta. It's going to create whole new decks. One that was brought up previously was a Reno Jackson deck, the idea that Reno Jackson when he comes into play is going to heal your Hero to full, which sounds crazy overpowered, but when you consider the kind of deck you have to make to do that, that's going to create some awesome and interesting and fun decks to not just watch played, but to play myself and build. So I think we are very curious to see what 45 new cards do to everything before we make too many hasty decisions about cards in the game currently.

Shacknews: I notice that with League of Explorers, we're getting some new Murlocs and some new Mechs. With The Grand Tournament, we got some new Totems. So I'd like to ask, what minion type do you feel is currently underrepresented or underappreciated?

Thompson: I don't know about underrepresented or underappreciated, but I think this is going to be really interesting to see what happens with Murlocs, who I don't think are underrepresented or underappreciated, per se. They're a big fan favorite and very close to my heart. The cards that you're getting from that wing in League of Explorers that are going to make Murlocs an even more interesting dynamic in your deck, as a player, and the way that you're going to learn how to play some of these things when you do face Giantfin and his cohorts could be really interesting to see happen. Murloc has always been an interesting beast, there's always been an interesting dynamic back and forth between that race and other races of Azeroth. These new cards that are coming in through the meta of change from League of Explorers, like Anyfin Can Happen and Everyfin is Awesome

Ayala: (singing) Everyfin is Awesome!

Thompson: You got the song in my head now! So all of that stuff coming to bear is going to make Murlocs interesting and change it up. Not so much that they're underappreciated noo, but I definitely think they're going to be played more.


The League of Explorers is coming to Hearthstone this Thursday.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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