Blizzard’s Hearthstone development team has been on a roll lately, launching the newest expansion Ashes of Outlands as well as a new Hero class, the Demon Hunter. Now the team is preparing to launch the newest expansion of the digital card game.
Recently, GADGETS Magazine had the opportunity to interview two of the developers from Blizzard’s highly successful card game. We had email conversations with Chadd Nervig, senior game designer, and Liv Breeden, game designer, for Hearthstone. Both game designers talked about the Ashes of Outlands, the new Demon Hunter Class, the current state of the game, and a bit of Battlegrounds.
On the new year and new expansion
One of the many questions that piqued my curiosity is how the Hearthstone developers think of yearly content and expansion. The questions we asked involved the naming scheme for the year, a bit of the plot for the new year and how expansions affect previously used cards and characters.
What are your criteria in determining the yearly name (Year of the Dragon, Year of the Phoenix)?
Chadd Nervig: Our pattern has been to use various unusual creatures, usually mythical ones. I can’t promise we’ll always stick to that, but it’s worked well so far! We select a creature that somehow relates to the year. We knew that Year of the Dragon was a connected narrative that would ultimately be about a powerful dragon; “the Dragon” in “Year of the Dragon” is Galakrond (but of course that was hidden until Descent of Dragons). We see this current year as a sort of rebirth of Hearthstone—a really big moment. New ways to play, new class, big game system additions and improvements: thus, a phoenix. It also fit quite well with Kael’thas and Al’ar, featured in the first set of the year!
Year of the Dragon saw a whole year of following the League of Explorer fight the League of EVIL with all of the single-play story mode following a storyline, will we see that in Year of the Phoenix?
Chadd Nervig: We’re super happy with how Year of the Dragon’s year-long narrative worked out. We like to keep things fresh, so this year we’re doing three separate stories. But, we may return to the year-long narrative style sometime in the future, since it was so well received.
Liv Breeden: When we revisit a year-long narrative, we want to make sure that we give it the time and planning it deserves to tell its story. Taking a break in the Year of the Phoenix gives us time to focus on individual sets while planning for one in the future!
Descent of Dragons saw some previous cards take on a new life and new effects such as Alexstrasza, Yszera, and Malygos. Will you do this once again in the future with other cards from other expansions?
Chadd Nervig: Yeah, bringing back previously-used characters in new forms is a really exciting thing to do! We still want to provide mostly new characters, but a few throwbacks here and there add some fun spice to each set. We’re happy with how this has worked out, and will continue to do it when the time is right, and when the character fits the fantasy of the expansion set.
Liv Breeden: It’d be pretty silly to have a dragon set and not have the Dragon Aspects be part of the expansion. The theme of the expansion really dictates what characters you see in the cards, and we want to make sure that the characters we choose are representative of the expansion.
The new Felfire Festival has brought a new short solo adventure. Will we see more of these solo adventures in the future? If so, how often will they come?
Chadd Nervig: No specific announcements to make at this point, but we are committed to continuing to release single-player content, free in every phase this year.
The current state of the game and future plans
Of course, we needed to ask about the current state of the meta and a bit of future plans. The arrival of the Demon Hunter class has opened the possibility of new hero classes coming to the game in the future, and what our characters from World of Warcraft might make an appearance in the game.
What made you decide to include a new class in the new expansion and do you have future plans to add new classes to the game? If so, what are the target classes?
Chadd Nervig: Illidan is a massively popular character in the Warcraft universe, and we were super excited to bring him to Hearthstone. We’ve also been talking about a new class for a while now, and we wanted to visit Outland. All three of those things combined to make the perfect storm of an expansion. A new class is something we don’t take lightly; a ton of time and effort went into Demon Hunter. No plans to announce at the moment for any other new class coming.
Liv Breeden: Before making Demon Hunter, the design team sat down and hashed out all the different class identities. What did it mean to be a Mage in Hearthstone? What about a Paladin? Priest? We really dialed in the strengths and weaknesses of a class and by doing so we were able to carve out a space for Demon Hunter that was unique to them. Our goal is to make sure every class feels special in its own way and I think we did a great job with Demon Hunter.
Are you satisfied with the current class decks or do you see a need for more tweaks? Ashes of Outlands saw some classes regain their identity. Will there still be future changes that will change their play styles once again?
Chadd Nervig: We’ll continue to make small changes in Demon Hunter until they feel like they have clear strengths and weaknesses while still being a fun and powerful class choice. As far as the rest of the classes go, there are a number of things we’re monitoring for possible change.
Druid tends to have draw-randomness because ramp as a mechanic is rather feast-or-famine depending on what point in the game you ramp. Cards like Fungal Fortunes and Glowfly Swarm help Druid have powerful archetypes but also emphasize more of that draw randomness; something we are keeping in mind going into the next expansion. Rogue is a tempo-based class and as a result, is prone to swing turns, but we think even for Rogue there are so many slam-dunk feeling turns that the rest of the game can feel less meaningful. Warrior is powerful, but in a way that we think is fun and skill-testing. If the Warrior population grows out of control, it’s something we’d likely address, but if they are the most populous and highest win-rate class in the short term we don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. For Mage, Puzzlebox is probably the appropriate power level in a vacuum but with Dragoncaster it’s coming out a little earlier than we’d like in highly competitive decks. We’ll likely look to address that in an upcoming patch. The rest of the classes will undergo quite a bit of change during the next expansion and we’ll look to do a late week 1 or week 2 balance patch if the need arises.
Liv Breeden: Class identity is something we’re always evaluating. If we find that something is inherently not fun about a class, we might change how we view their strengths and weaknesses. Are there any Warcraft characters that are still not in Hearthstone that you would like to include in future expansions?
Chadd Nervig: The Warcraft universe is incredibly rich in amazing characters and lore. There are still tons that we’re super excited to explore in future content.
Liv Breeden: One of my favorite stories in the Warcraft universe is Arthas’ fall from holy Paladin to Death Knight to Lich King. And we got to tell some of that story in Knights of the Frozen Throne, but there’s so much more to him than just his time as the Lich King. Illidan is another character with a heavily detailed past that we recently touched on in Ashes of Outland. There are so many characters that have just as epic stories to tell, we just need to find the appropriate space to tell it within.
On Hearthstone Battlegrounds
The interview questions were done prior to the Felfire Festival and the arrival of the minion type rotation in Battlegrounds. Even so, we wanted to ask whether our favorite Battlegrounds minion would return in the future.
Will there be a rotation of minions and heroes alike in Battlegrounds?
Chadd Nervig: We have been adding and removing minions and heroes from the pool in Battlegrounds over time and expect to continue to do so.
Speaking of Battlegrounds, will Nightmare Amalgam be making a future return? I’ve always had a great time causing havoc in my lobbies with two or three Amalgams with divine shield and poison.
Chadd Nervig: Amalgams were fun in many ways. While we have no current plans to bring back Nightmare Amalgam specifically, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see similar minions or gameplay at some point in the future, but it’s still too early to talk about that yet.
Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE July 2020 Issue
Words by Gabriel Pe