Coming nine months following the last Hearthstone adventure, Blackrock Mountain is set to be released next month. Unfortunately, by all accounts, it will be almost exactly the same as the previous adventure, Curse of Naxxramas. Both adventures have five wings of bosses which can be fought on normal and heroic difficulties, both of which net you a new card back. Both have a class challenge for each class. Both come with a new game board.
There are of course some very minor differences. Curse of Naxxramas brought 30 new cards to the game, while Blackrock Mountain brings 31. Blackrock Mountain has 17 bosses, where Curse of Naxxramas has 15. And of course the cards and the bosses themselves are different.
But it’s hard not to feel like the last “adventure” was a bit light on content. It seemed more a simple vehicle for card delivery than a meaningful single player experience. Completing a wing on both normal and heroic typically took less than two hours, and felt mostly like going through the motions to get the rewards at the end. The class challenges were equally nothing more than the most minor of hurdles to obtain the new class cards. It was all somewhat disappointing and, most importantly, didn’t feel very much like an adventure at all.
And it’s the adventure I hope Blackrock Mountain delivers on. The Kel’Thuzad voice work throughout Curse of Naxxramas was, while occasionally amusing, rather sparse. And it certainly didn’t provide any sense of place or story. At no point was there any attempt at feeling like you were actually travelling through Naxxramas to achieve something other than getting all of the cards. Why are you there? Why does Kel’Thuzad matter? Is he a dark necromancer threatening Azeroth or just a comedic skeletal head, the inferior of both Morte and Murray? Instead, each boss is presented as mere boxes to be checked off as you complete them.
I can’t help but feel that this is a missed opportunity. There’s no reason that these Hearthstone Adventures can’t be actual video game adventures. There’s no reason each wing can’t tell a story within the Warcraft lore. And there’s no one right way to do this. It could be as complex as creating a new exploration interface to as simple as writing more back and forth dialogue, or creating a sort of radio play. Perhaps you can only use one Hero to complete certain wings with, and the story interacts with that Hero. Perhaps you enter as a party of four or five Heroes, and each must defeat one boss. Perhaps there are forks in the road that allow you to choose the order of bosses, with some changes occurring because of it. Perhaps you can unlock new special adventure-only cards or hero powers as you progress.
Any way you choose to do it, these adventures should make you feel like there is an actual adventure to be had. That you’ve entered some foreboding dungeon with sword and spells at the ready, the silence of the long halls broken only by the horrible growls of the monstrosity that awaits around the next bend. They should make you invested in completing them, in defeating the bosses, in doing something other than merely collecting more cards. There’s a complex world there, one which World of Warcraft explores on the epic scale. There’s no reason that Hearthstone can’t do it on a more personal one.
These ideas listed above are just possibilities, but any of them would be better than the Curse of Naxxramas approach. I’m hopeful that Blackrock Mountain will be better, and will do more to make it feel like an adventure. After all, Curse of Naxxramas would have been in development in a time when it was still uncertain how successful Hearthstone was going to be. But with revenues in the top 10 of all online games in 2014, that’s no longer an excuse.
But my cynical side says we’re likely to see more of the same. The problem is, of course, that you need to purchase the adventure to get the new cards, and you need the new cards if you want to continue to play Hearthstone with any intention of winning. And so they have the players over a barrel. Coming in at $24.99 USD, these adventures aren’t trivial to purchase. While it’s possible to buy each wing for 700 gold, this is no small price either, totalling the value of 35 card packs for all five wings.
It’s a lot to ask of players to shell out for these expansions every few months. It’s not a lot to ask to get a little adventure in return.