Hey guys, did you hear that it was E3? E3 you guys! E3!
Yeah, it’s was just game news week and I’ve spent it hyping myself up for Animal Crossing: New Horizons and fantasizing about forming a crime-fighting team with Keanu Reeves and Ikumi Nakamura… But I’ve also been playing some video games this week (Who woulda thunk it?), despite the fact that my trusty old PC has finally bitten the dust. So, armed with only my trusty laptop, I hopped back into my old prison, Hearthstone.
The ‘Rise of Shadows’ expansion launched over a month ago, but this was finally the time for me to hop into the new single-player experience, ‘The Great Dalaran Heist’. For a £20 entry fee, I was treated to some of the most engaging card-slinging action I’ve ever played.
The story goes as follows; The Arch-Villain Rafaam has assembled a league of Azeroth’s greatest villains, from Dr. Boom to Hagatha the witch, and they’ve set their sights on Dalaran, the floating city of mages. The whole thing. They’re going to steal it.
For those not down with the deep Hearthstone lore, this is a big deal. The league of EVIL is comprised of villains from throughout Hearthstone’s five-year history – Rafaam first appeared in 2015’s ‘League of Explorers’ story, King Togwaggle is the antagonist of ‘Kobolds and Catacombs’, Hearthstone’s 2018 take on dungeons and dragons. Dr. Boom was a miniboss in World of Warcraft that was made into a dangerously overpowered card in 2016’s ‘Goblins and Gnomes’ expansion, and Madame Lazul had previously appeared only as a singing narrator in a trailer for 2016’s ‘Whispers of the Old Gods’. The League of EVIL is comprised of a hodge-podge of hearthstone’s most charming characters, and it’s a joy to see them all return.
This is, simply put, Hearthstone’s ‘Avengers’ moment; and if you know Hearthstone, you’ll know that that comes with a wickedly wacky sense of humour, a charmingly chirpy tone, and a warm childlike innocence throughout. Playing through the Great Dalaran Heist feels like you’re experiencing the best kind of Saturday morning cartoon – Noble heroes, wacky villains, jokes and puns galore, and it’s all presented through the medium of Hearthstone, one of the most well-crafted and digital games around.
The game plays like a strange hybrid of all the different solo game modes Hearthstone has experimented with over the years; there are five chapters to complete in sequence, and each one is its own roguelike experience. As you play, you’ll grow your deck from a few mediocre cards to an unstoppable mix of random cards, with you getting the chance to empower, add and remove cards at certain points.
Your playable characters have been changed, too; gone are the classic Warcraft characters, such as Jaina Proudmoore or Maiev Shadowsong. Instead, you play as one of nine brand-new characters, each oozing more unique Hearthstone charm than the entire original cast put together. We’ve got a talking fireball, a panda bodyguards, and an imbecile cat with sniper rifles. These characters alone are a joy, but they’re but a fraction of the experience; the league’s leaders often chit-chat with their underlings, as they fight against a host of dozens of charismatic and oftentimes hilarious bosses. From the Archmage Khadgar reminding you how to concede to a sadistic barber threatening to give you a cut, each boss is equal parts unique gameplay challenge and genuinely enjoyable character, a testament to the skill of the writers, artists, and designers who created them.
This structure makes the game-mode arguably more repayable than the main game itself; with nine classes, each with three different hero powers and four different starting decks, across five different chapters and dozens of boss fights, there is enough cumulative content to put all of Hearthstone’s previous solo expansions to shame. And that’s not even getting started on the ‘Anomaly’ twists one can apply to make a run more random, or the fact that there’s a separate, harder version of each chapter for those who breeze through the regular difficulty.
It’s clear why the ‘Rumble Run’ content from the previous expansion was so barebones- because there has clearly been a massive amount of time and effort put into developing every aspect of this sub-game. In fact, in earlier drafts of this review I dared to call it a brand new game all in itself- the Dalaran Heist is collectable card games taken to the next level, demonstrating the brilliance of this method of storytelling to developers willing to put in the effort.
And you know the best part? It’s only the first act of a three-part story to be unravelled as the year goes on. And, since each chapter gives you free card packs upon completion, it basically pays for itself.
Oh, and chapter 1 is, like the game itself, completely free. Happy pillaging!