Hearthstone’s New Rastakhan’s Rumble Expansion Rocks
Hearthstone's latest expansion continues a trend of engaging players with new experiences and mechanics and reestablishes a commitment to player feedback.
Hearthstone released back in 2014 and in the four years it’s been around Blizzard have released 15 unique expansions for the game, each looking to add gameplay value in the form of new cards and single-player adventures. Rastakhan’s Rumble is just the latest in a long tradition of creative art design, constant support, and captivating gameplay.
We recently got news that Blizzard has killed off all future support for Heroes of The Storm and it makes me happy to see that this game, having set the bar for online card games, is still marching forward with meaningful additions to the game. When it was unveiled at BlizzCon 2018, I had my doubts. Controversy over Diablo Immortal weighed heavily on my heart and I was reasonably nervous as to whether or not the company knew what fans wanted in each of their franchises. While they certainly didn’t for the Diablo crowd, and they seem to be blundering through World of Warcraft, I’m happy to say that what the company has produced here is a testament to Hearthstone’s staying-power and legacy.
While each expansion has looked to add a new mechanic, like Curse of Naxxramas‘ “Deathrattle,” or “The Boomsday Project‘s “Magnetic,” this expansion’s innovation is “Overkill:” a mechanic that expands on one of the most fundamental gameplay loops.
When you place a minion on the board in Hearthstone, it has an attack value and a health value. It’s always been that if your minion’s attack was greater than the health theirs had remaining, their’s died. With “Overkill,” suddenly the subtle difference in the amount of health something has versus the amount of damage you’re dealing matter and can often sway a game in your favor if you’ve got the card effects to take advantage of it.
I’ve played Hearthstone since it was in beta and the fact that my minion, with eight attack, killing your minion, with one health, always felt bad. It felt like I was wasting power just to get rid of something you had on the board. While that’s technically balanced for the better, it doesn’t always make the player feel like they’re getting enough out of it. Sure you could be saving your own life if that enemy minion has enough attack, but I digress. With Overkill, you can trigger unique effects like Oondasta’s “Overkill: Summon a Beast from your hand.” He’s one of the game’s new legendary cards, but you get the point.
The introduction of this mechanic allows players to perform even more mental math, which raises the skill cap, and rewards those who are willing to manipulate those numbers in their favor. Whereas a card like Blessing of Might (“Give a minion +3 Attack.”) might have only served to trade with or to deal more damage to the enemy’s face, it now allows players to trigger these new effects and gain their respective benefits. To have all the cards in Hearthstone’s history impacted by one new mechanic makes for a revolutionary experience.
There are new “Spirit” cards which add unique gameplay opportunities to each class like the Rogue’s “Spirit of The Shark” which allows your Battlecry and Combo effects to trigger twice. They’re fragile minions on the board but if left unchecked they can allow for some insane turns. We’ve also got a bunch of new class-specific legendaries, some of which have even spawned (or revived) other deck archetypes like the new Bazookadin Paladin deck or the return of Spell Hunter.
In addition to the Rastakhan’s Rumble adding 135 new cards, it also brings a new single-player mode to the game called “Rumble Run.” In it, players choose a shrine and must defeat opposing heroes while adding new cards to their deck after each win. While this is very much in line with previous solo adventure additions, each class has three unique shrines which each focus on a different element of gameplay. Not only is fighting through the mode’s eight enemies hard, but it’s even more difficult to attempt to beat them with everyone. Warlocks get one shrine which summons a random demon every time you discard a card. Another one of their shrines makes it so that damage dealt to yourself by your cards is instead redirected at your opponent. These shrines are there for you to build entire strategies around, and because you’re only presented with three shrines to choose from at the start of each run, you’re promised a varying gameplay experience that is truly challenging.
All in all, I had to take down 131 enemies to finally get a deck that could clear all eight. This deck was based on a completely busted mechanic of “your spells cost (2) less” and a card which upgraded my minions and was repeatable but cost 0 mana because of the shrine. I didn’t really feel like my win was too deserved but I was tired of losing after almost 20 hours in Rumble Run. These shrines, though they’re powerful, can be killed and this meant that you were constantly changing your strategy each turn to try and keep your’s alive and to remove your opponents.
If I had one complaint about Hearthstone’s single-player adventures it is that the rewards being offered are NEVER worth the effort you put in. I found my time playing Rumble Run to be really fun, but being rewarded a card back for all my time just meant that I’ll never go back to that mode again. Sadly, if Blizzard were willing to offer some type of gold reward or even one free pack for a successful run, then I could see a ton of players getting into these solo adventures, but as they stand currently, they’re all sort of one-and-done experiences. As I mentioned before, it would be fun and challenging to try and take on the Rumble Run with each of the 27 unique shrines, but it would not be time well-spent when I can be earning gold for card packs in Play mode against other people.
On the whole, Rastakhan’s Rumble is another successful expansion for Hearthstone. It brought me back to the game and got me to spend more money on card packs and see what kinds of cool decks I could create. The “Overkill” mechanic added a new layer of depth to the game’s simple combat, and the Solo Adventure, while not really rewarding in a physical sense, was enjoyable for what time I spent playing it.
One of the most important aspects to come out of this expansion, however, was a clear attitude shift by the Blizzard development team. The day I am writing this review saw incredible nerfs to a handful of cards. Though they were seemingly insignificant changes at face value, they completely rearranged the meta that had been intact for the past year. Odd Paladin, an aggro deck based on having all your cards be odd-valued to gain a benefit to your hero power, saw a single card changed to six mana “Level Up!” That change alone looks to finally dethrone a deck that hasn’t seen any use out of new cards from the past five expansions. In addition to these nerfs coming out of nowhere, they signal that Blizzard is now willing to make heavy-handed meta changes right when their expansions come out.
If Hearthstone is to continue to succeed, it’s got to keep updating the game like this. Provide players with interesting new cards and mechanics, give them something fun to play when they want to take a break from other players online, and be willing to change the game quickly to keep the meta changing. Games like Konami’s Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links have had trouble growing incredibly stale, which leads to huge player loss. If Blizzard can continue their current trend then Rastakhan’s Rumble serves as a reaffirmation to the commitment the team made when they released the game four years ago: a top-notch card game with excellent attention to detail and an open mind regarding player feedback.