Hearthstone: Kobolds and Catacombs Expansion Review
We’re back for another Hearthstone expansion and this time we’re digging deep into the ground to find all manner of brilliant treasures protected by the most foul of creatures.
And better yet, we don’t even have to get our hands dirty. There are plenty of brave and mighty heroes willing to dive head first in the dark caverns below for us. But worry not, they’ll not only be able to enlist some help along the way, they’ll also have some shiny new gear to fight off the nasty kobolds among other enemies. Go forth into the catacombs and discover the lurking dangers and magnificent spoils waiting for you!
As with every major update we’ve got a haul of new mechanics, card types, and a even *gasp* a new game mode?
Starting with the set defining new addition: every class has received a legendary weapon – yes, even Priest, Mage, and Warlock. Although, they don’t exactly use it in the traditional way. In fact, the raw power of every weapon is quite low. Instead, their potency comes from the accompanied effect. For example, each time Warrior attacks, they’ll pull a random minion from their deck. However, a non-melee hero like Mage doesn’t get any attack power at all, rather, they’ll have a passive like draw three cards at the end of their turn.
While somewhat interesting, I gotta admit these weapons are not only weak in general, but don’t exactly serve to push the design space of Hearthstone like expansions gone by. That’s not to say the ante has to be upped every single time, but it’s certainly a bit of let down.
The next big change is in the new keyword recruit: summon a random minion from your deck without activating the battlecry. Sometimes it will be limited with restraints such as only choosing from a pool of cards with a particular mana cost or attack value.
Excitingly this encourages a venture into various deck building strategies to get a consistently high level of value. As it is, there are already many players able to take full advantage of this by only slotting in cards that are guaranteed to be valuable if selected like Y’Shaarj, Deathwing, and Ysera.
Taking a note from loot-em-ups is the Unidentified Treasure: items which gain additional effects upon entering your hand. For example, a base card will bestow five armor and then could obtain one of a number of utilities including gaining a bonus ten armor, dealing five damage, summoning a 5/5 golem, or equipping a 5/2 weapon.
Then we have Spellstones: gems that grant upgradeable bonuses when certain conditions are met, such as taking a certain amount of damage or stacking enough armor.
These ideas seem neat in concept, and maybe a future expansion can take better advantage of them, but as they stand now they are either too weak to be competitive or far too random and inconsistent to be a meta mainstay.
Currently only few are seeing any amount of play whatsoever, and out of those only the single Warlock lifesteal spell is likely to stick around. I mean sure, Spellstones could have a deck crafted around them at an acceptable level of expense, but what are you supposed to do with the wildly differing outcomes on an Unidentified Weapon? It’s ludicrous.
And lastly, Rogue got some secrets for the first time ever. I’m honestly surprised it took this long and that the traps are this bad. They’re like watered versions of what Hunter and Mage already have. It’s pretty disappointing especially considering this is a sneaky stealthy assassin we’re talking about here, why are the introductory options so tame?
One Life to Live
If you’ve been missing the Hearthstone adventures of old, then this new game mode may just fill the hole that’s been left behind. Inspired by the Roguelike genre, you are to go up against a gauntlet of increasingly powerful enemies picking up new equipment and powers being careful not to drop a match or that run will be over.
Starting from the bottom with a measly fifteen HP and a handful of basic cards, your first opponent will either be a fairly easy to beat itty bitty rat or a newly hatched dragon whelp. As the enemies fall, your strength in turn will increase. First, it will be a batch of new cards like four Barnes’, or maybe a slew of dragons and dragons synergies. Then, four times per run, you’ll discover a powerful item that will grant a passive effect like draw an extra two cards on your first turn, or a designed-for-this-game-mode-only artifact like the Rod of Roasting which will cast Fireblasts at random targets until a hero dies.
Each run consists of eight random enemies drawing from a whopping forty-eight unique encounters chalk full of diverse gameplay strategies and goofy personalities resulting in a hilarious, difficult, and endlessly entertaining experience you can play over and over.
In theory anyway. Yeah, it is pretty incredible on the first few go arounds, but it gets old fast. Most of the time I was thinking I either get the strong items or synergies that I need, or I might as well give up since the matches were either pitifully easy or insurmountably difficult. Also, you not only can’t complete quests in the mode, but there aren’t any consistent rewards either. I mean, it could’ve been a minor amount like 10 gold per ten wins capped at 100 per day or something, but you don’t even get that.
Dungeon Run is totally unique and a lot of fun as a result of mashing a couple great genres together, but I think most people, myself included, will bounce on it pretty quickly with no real incentive to keep playing it for an extended period of time.
Didn’t Dig Deep Enough
The overall theme is exactly as the title implies. As the main focal point, the little ratty runts from World of Warcraft have carved out their place as generally disrupting, scavenging, or otherwise aggressive in their swiping of advantages with little concern of the consequences.
Alongside these candle-headed pests are tunnels filled with all manner of monsters, dragons, elementals, oozes, traps, and of course, unimaginable treasure. And it goes without saying, but behind every piece of glittering gold is some adventurer looking to snag it for themselves.
In short I am not a fan of the theme. Not only is it generally bland, it’s also quite similar to League of Explorers, but without everything that made that set great. Where’s the recognizable Reno Jackson figure we all know and love even years later? There’s all these legendary weapons, but none of them seem particularly noteworthy or awe-inspiring in the slightest!
What’s even more annoying about this is that you have the entirety of the WoW lore at your disposal, surely it can’t be too difficult to pick out something cool and excitable. It’s like, they had these cool gameplay ideas and just went with whatever skin was the easiest to slap on top of it. Admittedly this typically wouldn’t be that big of a deal, it’s just that Knights of the Frozen Throne set the bar so high that falling from it has become painful.
The Prohibitive Cost of Free
But let’s get down to brass tacks: what exactly can I get for free? Well, you will be pleased to hear you’ll get 3 easy packs and a legendary weapon upon log-in, as well as 3 more packs from participating in the Dungeon Run. And hey, if you’ve got the time and the skill you could even get a card back from beating the Dungeon Run with all 9 classes! Now get out of here you scamp, open up them 6 packs to get a couple dozen commons, a handful of rares, and maybe an epic if you’re lucky. Alright, sarcasm aside you get some free stuff in a already free-to-play game, can’t really complain right? Wrong. Expect more from your games.
Blizzard has been able to get away with their business practices up to this point because for the longest time they were not only the biggest and best, but just about the only legitimately good CCG on the market. Nowadays, the competition has caught up and it is fierce. Just how long do they think they’ll be able to get away with a dollar fifty a pack for a digital collection that takes a significant amount of time and/or money to fill up? Hopefully not for long as this may very well be my final season Hearthstone before fully moving on to something better.
The competitive scene never really took off in satisfying way, the pricing and rewards for playing is terribly low compared to like games, and as the final nail in the coffin, this latest expansion is a far cry from greatness. Hearthstone, while enjoyable, is flat out too expensive to keep up with, and this latest set only manages to shine a spotlight on that fact.
Tidal Wave of Tempo
Regardless, there’s still some fun to be had so let’s take a look at some new decks, archetypes, and noteworthy cards to watch out for.
You will likely see and curse Tempo Mage a million times over before the year is over and done with. Or, at least, I will. Sporting a new spell and weapon, this revamped Mage iteration crashes into the scene with a relatively cheap deck that combines efficient board control and effortless damage to the face.
It’s by far one of the most frustrating matchups I’ve gone up against because it seems like they never have to make a compromise. Typically you pick between getting control of the board or doing damage, Tempo Mage gets to do both by playing minions that allow them to cast spells for free, which in turn destroys both your minions and your life total. And when they start to run out of fuel, they simply equip their new legendary weapon and draw a stomach churning three cards a turn. While it may not be the most powerful deck in the game currently, its cheapness and ease of play will make it a mainstay at every elo.
Like a less good version of the previous deck, Tempo Rogue occupies a similar win condition just with a slightly different way of going about it. Instead of spells, you’ll be using minions like Prince Keleseth, the Pirate Package, and Corridor Creeper to get quick and efficient value. While feeling like you’re always one step ahead can feel intoxicating, getting optimal card draw is vitally important to keep the engine going. If RNG dictates you get a bricked hand of combo cards, then you will literally be passing on even turns 4~7 with absolutely nothing to do. And since the current decklist runs very little to no card draw, a solid pickup every turn becomes excruciatingly important.
The rough and tumble Big Archetype wants to get highly-stated strong-effect minions on the board as fast and as cheaply as possible. Funnily enough, it actually becomes pretty easy once you realize most of the pieces were there all along, you just needed a little something to stitch it all together. Typically you’ll use the likes of control and healing/armor gain to survive the early game while ramping, recruiting, dropping Barnes, or pulling Y’Shaarj and company to eventual suffocate the opponent with never ending unanswerable threats.
Although a laughing stock of a card pre-launch, To My Side is the catalyst of something entirely unique: a deck that uses no minions. Primarily due to its novelty, Spell Hunter has been pretty big on the lower end of the ladder and has caused quite the ruckus across social media both to make fun of it and to praise the ingenuity. It’s certainly viable to a certain extent, but since it’s so reactive the opponent can easily dictate the pace of the match never letting that poor Hunter get their secrets off in a timely manner. In essence, a fun pub stomper for a more casual ranked experience, but not much more than that.
I actually almost forgot to include this bad to the bone Orc due to it’s overall lack of fanfare, but certainly not for lack of strength. Thing is, they’re pretty much doing the exact same thing they’ve been doing for a while, just with stronger alternative options across the board. With bigger, better, and more taunts, additional lifesteal spells, and even more demons for Bloodreaver Gul’Dan to hit, Control Warlock is perfectly capable of holding their own against nearly every other deck in the meta.
There are some strong cards in this set, but Corridor Creeper blows all of them out of the water. This sleeper hit serpent flew under the radar during the initial card reveals/reviews, but is quickly making a name for itself in practice. Make sure not to misread it like I and so many others have, it’s not discounted just from your minions that die, it’s all of them including your opponent’s. No joke you can get a 5/5 on turn two without much trouble, or otherwise a zero cost bonus minion just from clearing or having your board cleared. Potentially a must have two-of in nearly any conceivable deck, but especially in anything Aggro or Tempo since they likely have a lot of minions killing or being killed.
Expect to see this monster rapidly increase both in overall popularity and in usage as you go further up the ladder as more and more players start to put it in their decks – if they can afford the dust, that is. Wouldn’t shock me at all to see a nerf heading its way to change which side of the board minions dying on counts, or maybe it will only reduce the cost on the turn the minions actually die. Either way, craft this card immediately and put it in everything.
As far as the overall meta impact goes, I don’t think a whole lot will change. It’s more or less slotting in a few new cards here and there in already existing archetypes.
‘Daily quester’ ranks of fifteen and above will have a bunch of fun experimenting with new decks, pub stomping with strong ones, or getting lucky with gimmicks. It’s truly a diverse deck meta wonderland up there! But it pretty much always has been and always will be.
However, as you get lower into fifteen~five you start to see more frequent netdecking which will initially consist of Tempo Mage, because it’s cheap and easy to play; an assortment of ‘Big’ decks because it’s powerful and exceptionally difficult to mess up once you survive the early game; in your face Aggro and Tempo abusing Corridor Creeper and the enabling Pirate Package (I’m guilty as charged); maybe some Control Warlock here and there; and the occasional No Minions Hunter that somehow managed to slip their way through the cracks.
And finally, Legend ranks, and by extension pro play, will mostly likely be on a rotation of some kind of Tempo deck, Big/Jade Druid, one of the many Mage variants, Raza Priest, Control Warlock, and Murloc Paladin in addition to what’s already tried and true (needless to say). Basically, anything that can effortlessly run Corridor Creeper will be top tier, no doubt about it. What’s kinda silly is that in mirror match ups, it becomes less about strategically outplaying your opponent and more about who drew/played their Corridor Creeper first. Oh, they played their zero mana 5/5 and I don’t have an immediate answer? Game over.
A Fall From Heaven
While certain parts of Kobolds and Catacombs are pretty interesting, I can say without a second’s hesitation of doubt this expansion is significantly worse than the previous one. In fact, it’s probably the worst in Hearthstone’s history.
Dungeon Run is cool, but the novelty wears off quickly especially with no rewards; the legendary weapons for each class are pushing the boundaries of the design space a tiny bit, but it’s nowhere near what Death Knights did for the game; and the various other new mechanics such as Rogue Secrets, Unidentified Treasures, and Spellstones are boring and derivative or far too weak and inconsistent to be worth playing. Which is strange considering Corridor Creeper is outright busted evident from just a game or two of playing with or against it. Adding insult to injury, the theme is by far the least interesting and identifiable in recent memory.
All this accumulates to realizing, oh yeah, this game is getting pretty old, and its business practices haven’t really improved over the years. Why am I playing this when there’s an abundance of other titles rapidly approaching the quality Hearthstone lorded over the competition for so long, while being significantly more consumer friendly?
Blowing Out the Candles [2/5]
While Knights of the Frozen Throne was one of my all time favorite expansions to any game ever, Kobolds and Catacombs is undeniably worse in literally every aspect. There are some cute new concepts, but as a whole there’s not much here to get excited about.
If you’ve been out of the Hearthstone loop, or just generally wondering if this expansion is worth getting into, I think for the first time in a long while this is a Hearthstone update worth skipping.
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