Hearthstone: Blackrock Mountain Review: Whoa, I’m On Fire

Last week, we looked in on the digital card game Hearthstone, as produced by Blizzard Entertainment.

In that review, my feelings were mixed. It’s well put together, but ultimately a little shallow. It left me feeling like I wanted a new Magic: The Gathering experience that had both the monetization options and that wonderful visual and aural flair that Hearthstone possesses in spades.

This week, I’d like to talk a little bit about the solo adventure that released about six weeks ago, now. That solo adventure is based on various raids within Blackrock Mountain, a forbidding, lava strewn area of World of Warcraft that has been the nexus of many a story-telling point in that game.

I love the solo adventures. Part of my inherent problem with Hearthstone is that to make any sort of headway with levelling your avatars, you are almost forced into player versus player territory. Which is a bit of a pity, because the introductory forty five or so minutes against AI enemies – the tutorial part of the game – is one of the most fun parts of picking up Hearthstone.

Once you’re done with the tutorial, of course, the game dumps you in the cold and leaves you to the wolves. “Go PVP,” it says, “and good luck.”

I am not a player versus player sort. There is something inherently unappealing about going to fight other humans. While lots of folks may suggest that this is a “real test of your skill” the problem with player versus player is that – on the internet – it has devolved into being the meanest, baddest dude that ever lived.

And I detest that.

I detest the culture of calling someone a “noob” [slang for “new player,” but used in the most derogatory fashion available] if your opponent don’t like what you’re doing.

In short, as far as I’m concerned, player versus player basically breeds the worst of the worst sort of human.

So, I – for one – am very grateful the player versus environment content exists in this game.

So, let’s talk a little about what happens when you buy Blackrock Mountain.

when you buy a wing of Blackrock Mountain, you gain access to a number of bosses, each of which you must defeat in order to claim the legendary card that is at the end of all the fights.
Wings! And Bosses! And bosswings! Oh my!

You can either buy each wing separately for in-game gold or you can fork out some money. If you’re a free-to-play player that’s going to pay gold, expect to – on average – take about a month to earn the gold, in-game to pay for this particular content. Unless, of course, you’ve gone infinite through the arena, but that’s a different player, entirely.

One problem with Blizzard is that their micro transactions almost always lean toward the macro end of the scale. Do I think $25 is on-par for an “expansion” that adds 31 cards? Not really. If you do a breakdown of packs-to-expansion ratio, you find that you can buy 6 packs [30 cards] for just short of $12. So the extra money – the other $13 – is you paying for assets, testing and coding. And $13 is a bit steep.

Bear in mind, too, that $25? It’s only possible to get if you buy all the wings at once. If you buy them piecemeal, then the expansion is a staggering $35. Yes. Seriously. $35.

Admittedly, there are 5 absolutely guaranteed legendaries going into this mix, but even then, those six packs you bought at the Hearthstone store /might/ [at a very small chance] each have a legendary in them.

So I don’t necessarily agree with the pricing model, here. $7 per wing is just a little /too/ steep.

One of the subthemes for Blackrock Mountain is fire and it comes across most acutely in the new game board, featuring fun pieces from different raids.  And some molten lava, of course.
Everything’s on fire oh God!

What I do like and agree with are the animations and sounds. Once again, Blizzard has absolutely made the game charming and fun to look at and listen to. There are lots of little silly emotes and interesting touches that make the game stand out from nearly all of the other card game products on the market. At one point, as a result of your actions, the game even changes your username to a hilarious new username.

The fights are fairly varied, too, leading to some interesting strategies and thoughtful play, but this assumes you’re playing the matches on normal. For the most part, in fact, normal is pretty well balanced with only one or two bosses being any sort of big issue.

But the heroic modes of each of these encounters? Some of them are just flat-out silly. And remember: you’re doing the heroic modes to unlock a card back! A card back, incidentally, that you paid for and might not be able to get, depending on your temperament, skill set and the cards you own.

I have dabbled in free-to-play experiments with the heroic modes and I’m not sure it’s even possible to approach those modes with that card set. So if you’re fresh to Hearthstone, you’re going to have to wait out doing the heroic modes. Unless you’re completely patient and have a deck that has the slimmest chance of winning.

Class challenges give you a pre-set deck that you have to play with in order to beat a specific boss for a particular card.  It's a little more fun than it sounds, but it can sometimes be /very/ droll.  Unless it's the mage class challenge.  Then it's almost always hilariously awesome.
The mage challenge is A-MAGE-ING. Did you see what I did there?

There are also class challenges – one for each class. While I’m not totally for the “micro” transactions on show, here, I do have to make special note of the mage class challenge. Which is basically randomness personified, but completely the most fun thing the game has offered up in a very long while. Essentially, you’re given a hand of “summon random creature” spells and you have to make the best of whatever comes out of those random portals.

While I enjoyed my time in Blackrock Mountain, one thing has always bothered me about the player-versus-environment aspect of Hearthstone: it’s simply not viable. Almost every quest that you get given only “works out” to your advantage if you do them in player versus player. See, every three wins you achieve in pvp gives you ten gold. Do that in pve because you’re finishing a quest? You get nothing. Also, more experience-per-avatar is doled out in pvp, nudging players – in essence toward that style of play – even if it is not in their comfort zone/their preference.

And I think this is kind of a failure for Blackrock Mountain [and the expansion that went before it, Naxxramas.] – People are going to play through that content exactly once and then forget about it. [It is, of course, a win for Blizzard – playing through once and never again means they’ve “earned their money.”] And I think this is problematic design. There really ought to be incentives for stepping back into pve on a regular basis for those who don’t like pvp.

Do I think Blackrock Mountain is worth it, in the end? Maybe. If you save up 2100 gold and buy the last two wings for $15, I think it about “evens out.” But not if you pay the full [absurd] price.

Having said that: if you’re looking for new challenges and you want to get additional cards for your arsenal [and that’s exactly why you’ll be there, more than anything else] then sure. Put down some money. There are some fun fights, an occasionally fun joke or two and all the style Blizzard can muster.

I did a series of videos with free-to-play decks taking on normal mode for Blackwing Mountain here.

I would not recommend trying this for heroic mode at all.