At BlizzConline, Blizzard introduced Forged in the Barrens, the newest expansion for Hearthstone. We talked to Ben Lee, Nathan Lyons-Smith and Chadd Nervig about what's new.
Disclaimer: Answers given by the Hearthstone devs have been edited to keep things brief. The article was conducted in English, so we’ve decided to publish it like that. A Dutch version may be available at a later time.
- New Core Set cards might rotate to Wild after a year.
- All Forged in the Barrens characters are Hearthstone exclusive.
- The next mini set will see extra focus on Spell Schools.
- Hearthstone has a very loyal player base.
- Certain skins will make a comeback.
- Cosmetics for Battlegrounds are being worked on.
- The next Tavern Pass will get something extra added to it.
About the Core Set
Why is now a great time to join Hearthstone?
Chadd Nervig: The introduction of the Core Set means you can quickly unlock a foundation of 235 free cards which represents the experience you’ll see in constructed play and prepares you for it. In addition you’ll also get to experience Classic, which many new players haven’t experienced first hand.
Nathan Lyons-Smith: The new dragon aspects are great examples of what Chadd mentioned. They are awesome and powerful legendaries you can earn right away, something that wasn’t possible in the past. You can jump right in, which is really fun.
Are both versions of the new dragons playable in Wild?
Chadd Nervig: Yes. Both Malygos and Malygos, the Spellweaver will be playable.
Will Ysera’s Dream Cards see changes to prevent her from going infinite?
Chadd Nervig: Yes. A few of the Dream Cards have been changed. For example, you can only return enemy minions.
What do you look for when designing the new cards for the Core Set? Do you plan them around the current year or do you want to keep most around for a longer time?
Chadd Nervig: Our priority is on designing cards for The Year of the Gryphon, but we also want them to fulfill that class’ fantasy. Like Vanessa VanCleef for example, who is a simple and exciting legendary. The new cards are designed to fill in holes. It’s possible they will stick around, and if they rotate they will probably end up in Wild, but that’s not sure yet.
About “Forged in the Barrens”
How do you decide on a theme for an expansion?
Chadd Nervig: When designing a new set we brainstorm with the entire team. That’s how we came up with things like Karazhan or the good versus E.V.I.L. storyline from Year of the Dragon. Within Hearthstone’s history we have done very well theming expansions after places, but this time we wanted to focus on the leveling experience from World of Warcraft. It’s an exciting journey and we’re telling it through the lens of 10 Hearthstone-exclusive characters and is also represented in the Ranked Spells. The Barrens is an iconic setting and great for an expansion with focus on the Horde. There’s Alliance characters as well but we’ll focus on those later.
What do the new spell schools enable you to do that you couldn’t before?
Chadd Nervig: Spell Schools are similar to minion types. The key element is the synergies you can create with other cards. For example “When you cast a Holy spell…” or “Nature spell damage +3”. They touch on class fantasy and create more fun gameplay possibilities. We start off slowly with these but will be leaning into them a lot more in the upcoming miniset for Forged in the Barrens.
With Frenzy we get another delayed Battlecry type of effect like spellburst. While spells are widely available, dealing damage to your own minion is a lot harder for some classes than others. How do you make sure this new keyword (or any keyword really) fits all classes?
Chadd Nervig: Spellburst was a lot of fun. Frenzy is about the horde and their fury, so we wanted to accentuate that in our card set. As a one-time effect we don’t have to balance it around triggering multiple times, meaning we can make it more impactful.
We keep in mind how classes can trigger an effect. We can balance class-specific Frenzy cards quite easily, while with neutral cards we have to be a bit safer. There are however a lot of ways to trigger a Frenzy outside of Hero Powers and class specific cards. For example Taunt, Rush,..
About Hearthstone: Mercenaries
How do you make sure that Hearthstone Mercenaries appeals to both fans of Hearthstone and fans of single player card games who haven’t necessarily played Hearthstone before?
Ben Lee: We have a very loyal fanbase, with around 75 percent of our player base having played for more than four years. When we introduce new things, we keep their favorite game active. So as far as existing players go, we expect it to be something they want to experience and form their own opinion of. It can become their new main mode, or their second one, but it’s also okay if they don’t like it at all.
Hearthstone has become more of a platform for card games than it originally was. Playing through a classic Hearthstone tutorial as a new player when you expected Battlegrounds gameplay can be confusing. So we are working on ways to make the flow into the game fit the type of player you are better.
How many combinations can we expect in Mercenaries?
Ben Lee: The available amount of Mercenaries at the start is somewhere around 40. You have a team that you start with, but it quickly gets expanded with characters like Ragnaros, Sylvanas, King Krush, King Mukla,… Each of them has a few abilities and equipment that enhances those abilities, so the possibilities are immense. There’s a lot of depth and strategic gameplay in Mercenaries.
Is there a way to turn off PvP?
Ben Lee: PvP is optional. It’s there for you if you want to compete.
About the Hearthstone economy
You mentioned that the team has grown significantly recently, including the artists. This is also visible in the increase in skins. A lot of them are available for a limited time. You used to be able to easily get all the skins, but that has become harder. Do you still want people to collect all of them or are we moving more to a system where you want players to just get their favorites?
Ben Lee: The amount of available vanity options has increased a lot, but having them all displayed is a bit overwhelming. We do want to give players another chance though by bringing them back from the vault, like we are doing with the Thunder King and Sylvanas for example.
As for the future we talk a lot about the ability to craft card backs and hero skins. We have no details to share about that yet, but we lean towards wanting to do this.
Any plans on cosmetics for Battlegrounds?
Ben Lee: We have also discussed this and like the idea, but it comes with some difficulties. There are so many characters so you might not end up using skins that often, which can make you feel bad. Prioritizing champions you have skins for is also not an option. We actively have projects and people working on it, but there’s nothing to reveal just yet.
The rewards track has seen some improvements since the introduction and is in a better place, but how do you feel about the Tavern Pass? It adds an extra cost to the start of an expansion and the xp gain has a slow ramp-up time. Any plans on making it more impactful?
Ben Lee: We get this feedback a lot. The Tavern Pass is meant to be light on functionality and more aimed at giving you vanity options. It doesn’t affect your gameplay outside of the small impact it has on XP gain. Many players have already made it to level 50 without. If you like skins though, you actually get quite a lot for the 20 euros it costs, including one for the coin. There’s also some new vanity options coming to the Tavern Pass for Forged in the Barrens that we haven’t revealed yet, but think players will be very excited about. We will not be adding more economy to the pass, because we don’t want it to become something that you have to purchase. The fact that we get this feedback though, means that we have to think about how we communicate about the Tavern Pass. It is very much meant as a way to support the game in return for vanity options.
About Hearthstone and COVID-19
How did the pandemic affect Hearthstone?
Nathan Lyons-Smith: On a Tuesday at the start of the pandemic we decided to try and work from home for a day. The next day we told everyone to come get their stuff and started working that way full time. I’m proud of the team for adapting because It’s not something that Blizzard supported in the past. To get through it we invested heavily on activities to boost morale. As time went on we started looking for new ways to communicate and get together. We are still learning every month and put extra focus on awareness about what was going on. It’s also important for individual teams to have events and have fun together outside of building the game. Last week for example, I beat Ben in our Directors Battlegrounds Throwdown (laughs).