This review was originally intended for the IHEARTHU.com website. After making some suggested refinements and being assured that the article would be published, I watched the days tick by until the release of the second Naxxramas wing made this review old news. Disappointed to not see it published, I can at least post it here in my blog for consumption by the Intertron.
Does anything ever live up to the hype? Well, now that I think about it, I suppose the Lord of the Rings trilogy accomplished that feat.
Spoiler alert: Peter Jackson and an army of 10,000 CGI Uruk-hai do not await you in the Arachnid Quarter.
I will start positively by saying that this first wing of Naxxramas, like the rest of Hearthstone, has a gorgeous media presentation. [please pause here and wait 10 seconds before reading the next sentence]. I love the new board, the new sound effects, the voice acting, the card art – all of that lives up to the Blizzard standard. [again, please stop reading and stare into space for 10 seconds before moving to the next sentence]. The new cards look like a lot of fun and I think there is great potential to disrupt the current Ranked meta. [one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand…]
Oh, and there was some lag.
While the influx of new cards was sorely needed, my excitement about Hearthstone’s first “solo adventure” stemmed from the new single player mode. Blizzard had stoked my appetite for months with previews and teaser content, leaving me ravenous to dig into the first of the Naxxramas wings. Wings in mind, I carried a plate of them dripping with teriyaki and honey mustard to my desk on the evening of the release. And with my left hand covered in dipping sauce, and my pristine right hand firmly on my trackball, I began to feed.
In Normal mode you can use any deck to defeat the three enemy heroes offered up in the Arachnid Quarter. This mode shines not because of the gameplay, but because you are transfixed by the sheen of newly minted content. I was so busy clicking around the new board, listening to the enemy emotes, and analyzing the new cards that I blew through Normal mode without much thought to the actual duel. Given how Hearthstone tries to be accessible to everyone, I suppose it makes sense for these enemies to be pushovers. Most Rank 20 decks should plow through the Normal opponents with little difficulty. For the hardcore player, I would recommend turning off your competitive drive and just soaking in the new material.
The Class Challenge mode was what I had anticipated the most. Here was where I hoped to be solving an innovative series Hearthstone puzzles. Instead I was assigned a hero with a pretty solid pre-built deck, and given the task of dominating a lackluster AI enemy. Clearly these pre-built decks had been designed to give you big combos, but you won’t need them against these sorry opponents.
This was disappointing because a challenge mode has such great potential. For example, the pre-built deck concept could have been made more interesting by giving you incrementally weaker decks. Maybe after the first win, Kel’Thuzad pops up and replaces your Stampeding Kodos with Haunted Creepers. “Can you still win after you’ve been NERFED, mortal?”
A checkmate-in-X-moves mode would also have made an interesting challenge. You’re given a starting board scenario, certain cards in your hand, certain draws over the next few turns, and told you have to kill the enemy hero in X turns. But as it was, this mode is rather vanilla and not really much of a “challenge”.
After reading the dire warnings about high degrees of difficulty, I steeled myself for what I assumed would be the Herculean trial of Heroic mode. And here I made a mistake. I analyzed the enemy’s OP hero power, and then quickly matched up the netdeck that would nullify that power. You can summon 4/4’s for 2 mana? Handlock beat Anub’Rekhan on the first try. You can punish me for having cards in my hand? Zoolock rushed the Grand Widow Faerlina down in two tries. You can Sap two minions for free every turn? I ran out of dust when trying to craft the Freeze Mage that would have undoubtedly owned Maexxna. And that was when I realized my mistake:
Netdecking these Heroics just isn’t much fun.
I had a great time customizing a Paladin deck to beat Maexxna, though it only took me two tries. For replay value maybe I’ll go back and make custom decks for the first two enemies as well. If you are a more serious Hearthstone player who wants to enjoy Heroic, I strongly advise shelving the netdecks.
Aside from netdecks being able to crush these Heroics, I was also disappointed in the AI. Maexxna blindly used its hero power every turn, sending my Novice Engineer back to my hand for infinite card draw. Artificial Intelligence is a difficult computing problem, but it speaks to a very weak implementation that can’t figure out that killing the Novice Engineer is better value than returning it to my hand.
Defeating all three Heroics ends unceremoniously with… nothing. You need to do some research to learn that after you defeat all Heroics over the entire course of Naxxramas, then you will receive a card back. That dubious reward plus 150 gold will buy you an Arena run.
Despite my gripes, I enjoyed Heathstone’s new adventure and will certainly have no qualms about spending imaginary gold on the other wings. In terms of meeting the hype, think more along the lines of the Star Wars prequels rather than LOTR. The presentation is great, it’s a fun time, and as an added benefit you don’t have to contend with midi-chlorians or Jar Jar Binks.