Hearthstone devs talk about the latest expansion and how it’s the perfect time to get back in the game

The latest Hearthstone expansion, United in Stormwind, is set to release on August 4. With 135 new cards, a new “Tradeable” keyword, and other updates including Battlegrounds cosmetics and the return of the Fire Festival, this expansion is looking to spice up your Hearthstone experience even further.

Ahead of its release, select Southeast Asian media outfits got to chat with veteran Designer Chadd Nervig and Senior Game Designer / Narrative Designer Matthew London to share their thoughts on the latest Hearthstone expansion, the rise of the Shadow Priest, and how United in Stormwind is the perfect time to get back into Hearthstone.

Adding an expansion into the game, or any game for that matter, is always tough. It is especially tough for a game like Hearthstone, where the competitiveness of the new additions and how it enhances the meta will always be in question. What would the most challenging part of the United in Stormwind expansion be?

Chadd Nervig (CN): I guess I’d say this is a very different flavor of expansion for most of what we’ve done before. We started this year off with ‘Forged in the Barrens’, which was very much a ‘you’ve got to constantly fight to survive’ sort of flavor.

Now, our main characters have leveled up, and they’ve returned to the big city, so this is our first city set that is focused on day to day life, and not so much an active conflict, as the activities you go through in a big city – you’re leveled up and now you want to buy your mount, you want to trade all the goods you’ve gotten on the Auction House, you want to pick up a profession, you want to dance on a mailbox. This is a much less active war conflict sort of setting than anything we’ve done before and so we looked at a bunch of mechanics that while you’re still having a deck battle against your opponent, it’s a bit more civilized, in that regard.

Matthew London (ML): One of the things that we really wanted to approach with this expansion was this idea of growth or progression.

So, in the year of the Griffin, this sort of three expansion sequence, we’re telling the story of these 10 mercenaries and watching their journey from sort of the lowest levels of adventure just starting out all the way up to sort of like your max level super powered heroes. And here in the middle chapter, we’re trying to represent that moment when you’ve gone on a few quests, you’ve slain a few monsters, and now you’re ready to sort of like dust off your boots and take a break, spend some of that treasure that you’ve acquired, maybe pick up a new profession or learn to trade or buy a mount, which is a very important kind of mid-level moment for player characters in World of Warcraft and sort of represent that that middle part, sort of like coming into your own as a hero. So a bunch of the things that we did flavor-wise as well as mechanically in United in Stormwind sort of representing that theme.

hearthstone united in stormwind

Both in theme and execution, it sounds like the expansion is a great time to get jump into the game, whether you’re a newcomer or a lapsed veteran that has missed a number of updates. I’ve personally missed out on a couple of years worth of Hearthstone updates and tried getting my feet wet again starting with Forged in the Barrens early this year, which was also pretty fun.

CN: Yeah, I think this is an excellent time to get involved with Hearthstone, or to return to Hearthstone if you’ve been gone a while. I think we focus on making sure our standard deck battling mode is very approachable to players. At the start of this year we introduced the core set, which makes a huge, like hundreds of cards, free, and provides a foundation for everybody to build deck upon. So you just start out at a great advantage that way, and this is also a fun time especially if you’re a fan of World of Warcraft. So you get to follow the story here of Year of the Griffin and follow these main 10 characters, these mercenaries, and see where their journeys take them throughout the year.

The United in Stormwind expansion is set to introduce a new keyword – Tradeable. At first, you might think that you’ll be able to trade cards with other players, but that’s a misconception, because what it does is add another layer of strategy for when to employ certain effects based on how lucky your pulls are. What was the design philosophy behind this new keyword?

CN: So tradable is our new keyword for the set. This is emphasizing that fantasy of you’re getting to the big city and you’re trading goods on in the market, the auction house, that sort of thing.

So tradable is a keyword that means you can play this card as normal, or you can drag it from your hand to your deck to shuffle it back in and draw a new card in its place. It still has tradable, you’ll draw it again later, and you can trade it again if you want, you could trade a card numerous times if you really wanted to. it costs one mana each time you trade it in, but it creates a lot of flexibility to these cards.

Take Fire Sale for example – it’s a Mage card that costs four mana to deal three damage to all minions. Well, maybe right now the opponent doesn’t have a lot of minions on the board and an AoE like this isn’t very valuable, isn’t very useful. You can trade it back into your deck, and hopefully draw something else that you might need to play that term. So it’s a great option if you need a different card this turn.

Or it might be a different matchup, like for example Rustrot Viper, lets you destroy an opponent weapon. Well if you’re playing against class that’s not using a weapon, maybe Rustrot Viper isn’t especially useful this game, and you can trade it away and get something else in its place.

Apart from Tradeable, another new feature – Questlines – are three-part quests provide a peek into the ongoing stories of Hearthstone’s newest mercenary heroes. This added some complex cards into the game, but there was a growing concern that it may introduce confusion in the game.

CN: When we’ve done cards like hero cards, or the primes from the Ashes of Outland, we have been able to show the the next card or the follow up card to that in the Collection Manager next to it. This is another step forward beyond that. Ultimately, we ensure that the requirements of the first step of the quest are always pointing you in the right direction for what you should build your deck as to make use of it… We try to stay consistent with that so that even if you don’t know everything about all the remaining steps, which you can obviously look up still, but even if you’re just seeing it for the first time in your collection, it gives you a good idea of how to build your deck.

ML: It’s also building off of a mechanic that we’ve done before with quests. So for many players who know and love quests as a mechanic, this is sort of an extension of that, so a lot of the groundwork of understanding how these cards function is known by most players.

hearthstone tiki rag

So… Tiki Lord Ragnaros, huh? What’s the deal with him and these updates to Battlegrounds? Could you tell us more about it?

CN: The biggest thing coming up in the near future for Battlegrounds is the release of new Battlegrounds cosmetics, new bartender skins and new hero skins, the Bartenders being fully voiced replacements for Bob, and so those are coming out alongside United in Stormwind. There’s also new heroes coming out with each patch, but we did talk about the very significant changes to the minions involved in many or most of the minion types… We’re not ready to talk details about that, but I guess I’d tease that I’m really excited for the beast cards personally.

ML: I’ll just add one thing, which is that the new bartenders are just substitutes for Bob. There is no replacing Bob. There’s only one Bob.

CN: That is fair, but you can’t take Tiki Lord Ragnaros away from me, he’s my new bro.

hearthstone darkbishop benedictus

A lot of people have been clamoring for a change in the way Priests plays, and dark Bishop Benedictus is looking to be the answer to that. We know Shadow Priests is pretty important in WoW, so can you share with us how you develop this iteration of Shadow Priests for United in Stormwind?

CN: I’m super excited for dark Bishop Benedictus, I’m looking to play a Shadow Priest archetype. One of the things that we have talked about in the past is our class’ identities – what things they should be good at, what things they should be bad at, and what things they should have limited access to. One of the things that we’ve said in the past for Priests when we revamped Priests back in Ashes of Outland, was that they shouldn’t do much face damage. Starting at the beginning of this year, we recognize that we wanted to revise that a little bit.

Shadow Priests are a very integral part of Priests in World of Warcraft and previously in Hearthstone, and we felt like we lost something there, and and so we wanted to explore how we could do Shadow Priests here… Here’s where we think we have a good solution for it. The addition of spell types helped us really solidify the idea that Priests can be shadowy and that can be a very dark aggressive power, including mechanically doing a fair bit of face damage, but they have to give something up to do that… Benedictus is taking that into a much stronger route, you have to give up all of your non shadow spells in order to start in shadow for him so you can just be a Shadow Priest from the start of the game, and that’s pretty powerful.

hearthstone stormwind board

Given that this new expansion is looking to enhance the game in so many ways, even just by adding a new keyword, a peek into the card design process is something not many know of, but would be an interesting topic especially for Hearthstone players.

CN: Yeah, sure. We, we make a lot of cards. We start with brainstorming what like themes we want to explore for the set, what sort of deck archetypes that we want to play with, and we try out a ton of designs. We ship a set of 135 cards but along the way we probably make nearly 1000, and these 135 are the ones that we’ve narrowed it down to and refined and iterated on to get to where we’re at.

We try, dozens of different keywords and mechanics every time, and different variations on them. All of the cards go through numerous rounds of changing the designs up, changing the numbers up, and changing the flavor up before we settle on these final designs. Even once we’ve got the card texts that we want, there’s still the whole process of balance and tuning them that our final design team goes through, redesigning a few things if need be. And then the whole process of all the art and VFX and voiceover and any other sound effects attached to it. Like, there’s many many steps to this process.

The latest Hearthstone expansion, United in Stormwind, launches on August 4.

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