It’s safe to say Hearthstone’s new adventure hasn’t received the warmest of welcomes from the community, at least as far as the actual single-player content is concerned. Though the difficulty levels are certainly below what we expected, especially on Heroic, the fact that the game’s content cycle has radically changed since the old days means many of the concerns should be viewed in a different light: even if it isn’t your cup of tea, an Adventure release means something different than it used to in the days of Naxx.
If you go on Reddit or check out your favorite streamers, you’d be forgiven for getting a poor impression of the new PvE experience. It’s simple, it’s short, it’s repetitive, they say, and though none of these statements are wrong, there are enough conditionals and little asterisks to each and every one of them which warrant a more positive look at the content overall.
The subtle renaming of Normal to Story says a lot about how the devs are looking at this piece of content: the conclusion of the year-long storyline, itself an innovation for Hearthstone in the Year of the Dragon, coupled with the card releases of the old Adventure format. Much like the Medivh prologue from One Night in Karazhan, it provides players with an opportunity to play around with overpowered stuff in a controlled environment.
Speaking of which, easy Heroic adventure content is nothing new either. Remember how the aforementioned adventure was often jokingly referred to as One Night in Development? Its Heroic encounters were also quite straightforward, and Team 5 didn’t even have the avalanche of Wild sets to contend with at the time. The overall number of encounters is actually higher than it’s been in the past, with six per week to mess around with – and say what you will about the relative simplicity of the Heroic encounters, the fact that you don’t play with your own decks in the Story mode does make them a fundamentally different gameplay experience.
Also despite it’s very Hearthstone-y take, Galakrond’s Awakening also serves as a deeper dive into WoW lore than anything that came before it: the alternative versions and art styles of heroes, plus the appearance of characters like Alexstrasza in human form also serves to flesh out the world just a little bit more to those of us who never played the Hearthstone MMO or the previous RTS titles.
It could be that Adventures and scripted PvE encounters are simply not your thing in Hearthstone – well, fans of the Dungeon Run formula have also received the most expansive version of the format earlier this Hearthstone year with the Dalaran Heist (and then again later with Tombs of Terror). There was also that little thing called Battlegrounds? In fact, it’s the holistic look which explains away so many of the perceived issues with Galakrond’s Awakening: the adventure content is a much smaller portion of the overall content pool than it used to be.
In fact, with a bit of hindsight and a different kind of marketing approach, Team 5 could have likely garnered much more positive press by announcing that there will be different mid-expansion events way back at the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. In fact, even a confirmation that these new adventures are only planned for a single occasion per year, slated for the latest possible period before the rotation, I’m sure many would take less of a dim view of the proceedings. Again, it’s not knowing for sure how much added burden F2P players are looking at which makes an otherwise excellent value proposition (remember how much we liked guaranteed copies of cards for a set amount of gold in the past?) so frustrating for some.
In fact, many of the concerns about Galakrond’s Awakening relate to the many uncertainties about the direction of Hearthstone as a whole. Though we won’t see any meaningful effect of any directional change due to the departure of Mike Donais and Peter Whalen for around a year (as evidenced when Ben Brode called it quits, there’s quite a lot in the pipeline far in advance for a game like this), we have basically no idea what to expect in the upcoming Year of the not-Dragon.
We got a brand new game mode, a much faster update regimen, small quality of life improvements and mid-expansion events in 2019, albeit at the price of a non-negligible tech debt and creeping little bugs. Is this the pace and balancing attitude we should be expecting going forward? Should we account for back-to-back emergency patches at the release of a set and a growing overall power level in 2020 as well? Will Arena remain an afterthought? (Does anyone even care at this point?)
I’m sure many in the Blizzard marketing department would beg to differ (if there’s anyone still left there after all that’s gone wrong in the last 6-9 months), but I’d say most of this year’s changes and developments would have been received much more positively had we had a comprehensive roadmap ahead of us. Imagine if we were told before the release of Rise of Shadows about the details of the Dalaran Heist, Rise of Mechs, Tombs of Terror, Battlegrounds and Galakrond’s Awakening. People would have gone nuts, and rightly so. Even if the execution has not always been on par (or certain content elements no longer play the same outsized role in the release cycle), there can be no doubt that we’ve seen more done to Hearthstone in the last twelve months than throughout basically its entire existence.
This is also a part of why there’s a segment of the community which adamantly argues that Hearthstone is in a terminal decline why others see the same changes and honestly think it’s the best state the game has ever been in. For the first time in a long time, the developers opted for revolution instead of evolution – and a proper judgment of their output requires a long-term perspective, which includes a better idea of whether they intend it to be a permanent one all the way through the new Hearthstone year.