I fecking love a bit of ‘Hearthstone’. I do, really. Tied with my old love Starcraft II, it’s the only game by Blizzard that has consistently held my attention for the past few years without the need for a break, and a big part of that is how the game gets reinvented every four months.
So, what makes each expansion great, and which one reigns supreme? Well, I thought I’d put that to the test- and compare Hearthstone’s nine expansions. Yes, nine- I’m leaving out the shorter adventures, just to make the competition fair (And also because I haven’t finished all the game’s single-player content as of yet). So, that’s a competition between Goblins vs Gnomes, The Grand Tournament, Whispers of the Old Gods, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, Journey to Un’Goro, Knights of the Frozen Throne, Kobolds and Catacombs, the Witchwood, and the Boomsday Project, with Curse of Naxxrammas, Blackrock Mountain, League of Explorers, and One Night in Karazhan taking the bench.
We’ll mark each expansion out of ten on the following three categories: Aesthetic (Meaning the feel and art of the expansion), Cards (As in, the actual cards and how fun they were to play with), and their Single-player component (Those without a single-player component get an automatic 5/10). Ok? Ok.
‘Goblins Vs. Gnomes’ was the first major expansion for Hearthstone, in a stage where Blizzard were still very comfortable in the mold that vanilla Hearthstone had left for them- and as such, the OG expansion is the weakest, not really wanting to experiment with very new ideas. The addition of the Mech keyword is about all I remember from this expansion, with only a few major cards (Including the meme himself, Dr. Boom) really sticking in my mind. Cards like Mimiron’s head and the various Shredder and Bomber cards get some credit for being fun additions but didn’t exactly push the envelope. And what’s more, this expansion lacks any strong identity- it’s just the racial identities of the rival Goblin and Gnome species, and their shared interest in Robots, that acts as the feel for the expansion. It is, essentially, the superior ‘Boomsday project‘s unwanted stepchild.
Aesthetic: 3 | Cards: 4 |Single-player: 5 (no single-player)
Still on a shaky start, but definitely more competently put together than ‘Goblins and Gnomes’. The Grand Tournament acts as the first in a line of expansions that really aim to deliver on a strong, fun theme with each event, both in terms of visual and gameplay aesthetics. Both jousting and ‘Inspire’ were fun new techniques that encouraged really very different decks (And effectively inspired a whole new archetype that would appear in ‘the Witchwood’) compared to past expansions, which had focused too much on trying to import areas of Warcraft in without much thought for overall gameplay themes.
The argent tournament was the loose adaptation for this expansion, but this was more of a guideline than a strict import, which I find works far better in Hearthstone. A step forward, I think.
Aesthetic: 6 | Cards: 5 |Single-player: 5 (no single-player)
Everything ‘The Grand Tournament’ had, just a little better. ‘Whispers’ had a brilliant art direction, centring around the return of the old gods; Lovecraftian horrors that once ruled Azeroth- and becoming some of the best cards in Hearthstone in the process- and, terrifyingly, giving rise to the best Murloc Paladin deck I’ve ever used.
Obviously defined by the insane four-card posse of Y’shaarrj-Rage Unbound, Yogg–Saron, N’zoth the Corruptor, and C’thun, this expansion nonetheless also had some really overlooked cards in Vilefin inquisitor, Evolve, and of course ‘Ragnaros: Lightlord’, quite possibly my favourite card to date.
As such, ‘Whispers’ was the first expansion I have nothing but good things to say about- getting above ‘average’ in every category.
Aesthetic: 7 | Cards: 6 |Single-player: 5 (no single-player)
I’m still not fully settled into ‘The Boomsday project’ as of yet, but it’s still pretty good so far. I really like the aesthetic of Dr. Boom’s laboratory and the various branches of science each class gets to explore- and the idea of revisiting Dr. Boom made me squeal with delight when I first watched the announcement trailer.
So far, there aren’t any massive cards that jump out at me, but the new archetypes are all very fun and unique across classes- my favourite so far being the Astrology archetype mages can build into, with a focus on spell power and a large hand. Magnetic is another fun idea, but I think it’s underused in this expansion- especially for those without many cards, the whole card archetype falls a bit flat for me. That said, if Blizzard chose to include more Magnetic or mech cards in later expansions this year, we stand a chance of some fun decks. For now, Dr. Boom’s warrior deck seems more like a fun idea than a workable strategy. But that said, I am thoroughly enjoying this phase of Hearthstone, and when the single-player puzzle mode opens in 2 weeks, The Boomsday Project is set to move up the list!
Aesthetic: 7 | Cards: 6 |Single-player: 5 (no single-player as of yet)
5 and 4 on this list are tied- keep that in mind.
Journey to Un’goro has my favourite collection of cards in Hearthstone, period. Between the ‘Adapt’ mechanic, the quests, and the elemental keyword, Un’Goro is just full of new secrets.
The quest system is one of my favourite additions since launch; limiting the way you play throughout a match for a massive payout at the end of the game- this isn’t a new twist on the gameplay, it’s a reinvention of it. It’s a massive shift in how to play ‘Hearthstone’ and I love it.
Aesthetic: 7 | Cards: 9 |Single-player: 5
“Welcome to the big time, pal!”
I Love ‘Mean Streets of Gadgetzan’. The whole Aesthetic of a 1920s mob war is just so ripe for campy fun, and that’s exactly what this expansion delivered on. The Grimy Goons, the Kabal, and the Jade Lotus all came with their own flavour, and each said flavour was fun and colourful in its own way.
Personally, I was a fan of the Jade Lotus. Fight me.
The idea of tri-class cards was a fun one, allowing you to build a deck around a neutral card and then have three different sets of cards to choose between- and I really liked how each crime family had their own gameplay gimmick, too- be it Jade Giants for the Jade Lotus, Hand-buffing for the Grimy Goons, or Unique-deck and potions for the Kabal, each tri-class felt carried a mechanic that could have carried an expansion all by itself.
Aesthetic: 9 | Cards: 7 |Single-player: 5
Quite possibly the expansion closest to my heart for finally making the extended game accessible to Free-to-play and low-paying players like myself, Kobolds and Catacombs pioneered my personal favourite way to play the game- Dungeon Run, which has been expanded on in some way in every expansion since- with the excellent ‘Monster Hunt’ in ‘The Witchwood’ and a Puzzle mode in ‘The Boomsday Project’.
As an expansion, ‘Kobolds and Catacombs’ is as core hearthstone as they get, with a somewhat vanilla hearthstone vibe given off by most of its gameplay- the expansion simply offers up old ideas in a new way, resulting in new twists like the Carnivorous Cube and Master Oakheart. New cards like the Spellstones, the Darkness, and Fal’dorei strider offer miniature quests in themselves, adding some minigames that are played within the game itself. It’s not a reinvention, it’s just new twists that present the core of Hearthstone in the best light.
Aesthetic: 6 | Cards: 7 |Single-player: 9
And it comes to this. A two-way tie. On one hand, the hidden horrors of the Gilnean woods, perhaps the most engaging starting zone in WoW- on the other, the Hearthstone adaptation of possibly the best World of Warcraft expansion of all time, adapted to fit the card game perfectly.
Both expansions have a tremendous art style, focusing on two of my favourite areas of WoW lore (those being Icecrown Citadel and Gilneas), with both fun cards like the Lich King and Baku/Genn. However, for me, ‘Knights’ gains the advantage in the card department, thanks to the Death Knight hero cards. As fun as Hagatha is, she is just an offshoot of these cards- whilst Shadowreaper Anduin may have been the dominant one in the meta at the time, I nonetheless love each and every one- yes, including Scourgelord Garrosh. I will criticise ‘frozen throne’, however, for its single-player. Docking one point off the bat for being not nearly as creative (it is a copy of a WoW raid, after all), the Icecrown adventure suffers from being absolutely hard as nails unless you can build a good deck from your own collection- in essence, it isn’t nearly as accessible for people like me who don’t have too much spare money to pour into packs. Since ‘The Witchwood’s single-player mode is both more creative and more accessible than ‘Frozen throne’s, it is the superior mode, easily making back what ground it loses with the slightly less revolutionary Echo and Rush mechanics. (Still fun mechanics, mind.)
In essence, it comes down to a strength and a weakness on each side- while ‘Knights’ had better cards overall, its single-player campaign is still dwarfed by ‘Monster hunt’ mode. That’s the choice, here. So, who takes the win?
Aesthetic: 8 | Cards: 7 |Single-player: 9
Congratulations, Arthas. You did it again.
The tie-break, and therefore the win, goes to ‘Knights of the Frozen Throne’ because it didn’t have a Shudderwock in it, and therefore didn’t make Ben Brode leave Blizzard. We still miss you, Ben.
Aesthetic: 8 | Cards: 9 |Single-player: 7
And there we have it. How did you rank the expansions? Let us know below, or on the thread on our facebook page here!