A Hearthstone expansion just isn’t complete without its own Solo Adventure, and in the lead-up to the release of Ashes of Outland’s single-player content, we were given much to look forward to in the recent Felfire Festival announcement (which you can read more about here). And as if a new Solo Adventure wasn’t enough for us to get excited about, we also got a large surprise update to Hearthstone Battlegrounds last June 10, featuring the addition of the Pirate minion tribe as well as some new playable heroes.
With so much new Hearthstone content having been released in such a short period of time, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover here, so let’s not waste any time and get to our review of the Hearthstone 17.4 Patch Update, as well as the fantastic new Solo Adventure, Trial by Felfire.
If you haven’t yet played Hearthstone Battlegrounds since the addition of the new heroes and Pirates, I recommend that you first read the 17.4 patch notes and the just-released follow-up 17.4.1 patch notes to make sure that you’re all caught up with the current state of Battlegrounds.
To put it briefly: I love where Battlegrounds is at right now. The 17.4 patch update was promising enough with just the news of the removal of the all-powerful and some would say “toxic” (no Poisonous puns intended) Holy Mackerel, but there’s much more to the update than just a Divine Shield-clad Murloc being made to walk the plank.
In the 17.4 patch update, the addition of the new Pirate tribe was accompanied by a system of shifting minion pools, meaning only five of the six minion tribes (Murlocs, Beasts, Mechs, Demons, Dragons, and Pirates) are available in each game. This allows players to form strategies based on which tribe is not included in the minion pools, so you can confidently build your all-Beast warband if the Murlocs are absent, because you know you won’t get crushed by the good ol’ reliable Divine Shield/Poisonous Murloc build. If there are no Mechs or Beasts, you’d know better than to push for a Deathrattle build with Baron Rivendare. The shifting minion pools add another dimension to Battlegrounds’ strategic play, and it factors even at the very start of the game when you’re made to decide on which hero you’d like to play as.
Speaking of playable heroes, the 17.4 patch comes with four new heroes (Captain Eudora, Captain Hooktusk, Skycap’n Kragg, and Aranna Starseeker), and one updated hero from previous versions of Battlegrounds (Patches the Pirate). These five heroes are now playable for players who have a Tavern Pass, with the four pirates set to be made playable for everyone on June 23, to be followed by Aranna on June 30.
With my trusty Tavern Pass, I got to try these heroes ahead of time, and what I’ve found is that they each offer new and unique ways to play Battlegrounds. Strategies we’d never heard of are now viable playstyles for these heroes: Skycap’n Kragg can let you double-level your Tavern in a single turn, while Captain Hooktusk can turn your tokens into more tokens (meaning more Gold!). Captain Eudora will have you managing your economy in order to get those hero power charges in for a golden minion payoff, while Patches will have you buying every pirate in Bob’s Tavern. As for Aranna, I’ve yet to come up with an ideal way to utilize her hero power, but so far I’ve seen some Top 4 success staying on Tavern Tier 2 and putting together a Saurolisk-Weaver-Deathrattle build.
Aside from the new heroes, I also got to try playing the current heroes Lord Jaraxxus, Millificient Manastorm, Reno Jackson, and Maiev Shadowsong with their recent buffs from the 17.4.1 patch. Although I had varying success with them (my best result being with Jaraxxus at 1st place with a 39/244 Annihilan Battlemaster), their overall play experience has improved and made them more viable as hero choices against some of the higher tier heroes like Nozdormu and Rafaam.
New heroes aside, we’ve also got 17 new minions in Battlegrounds, with most of them belonging to the Pirate minion tribe. While the shifting of minion pools is currently being implemented in Battlegrounds, Pirates are currently excluded from the ban pool, meaning every game you play will include Pirates, giving you plenty of opportunities to try them out.
The Pirate minions’ three key mechanics are in-combat buffing, immediate attacks, and greater control over the way you spend and save Gold. Most Pirate stat buffs take place during combat, meaning they get bigger as they attack. This is supplemented by immediate-attack Pirates that ignore your warband order/positioning to attack right away under certain conditions. Warbands made up of mostly Pirates work similarly to Deathrattle builds, in the way that they start small and grow during combat, but there are also in-Tavern buffs for your Pirates so they can start off the combat phase with more Attack and Health.
The disadvantage of Pirates is that they’re vulnerable to being taken down by high-stat minions if your opponent’s warband attacks first, or your positioning and attack order aren’t optimally arranged. To help the player get more Pirate minions, Refreshes, and in-Tavern buffs, certain Pirates like Freedealing Gambler and Cap’n Hoggarr extend your Gold to give you a Tavern economy advantage over other players.
Since Pirates are still quite new to Battlegrounds, I’ve yet to find an optimal or ideal Pirate warband for the game’s final rounds, especially when going up against huge Murlocs or Beasts. But the fun is actually in just trying them out, because an endgame Pirate build can scale just as much as a Dragon build, but you first need to figure out how to make those Hoggars, Salty Looters, and Southsea Strongarms work together, and when you finally get all the Pirate puzzle pieces to fit, it feels like a win in itself.
Battlegrounds’ new Pirates offer a fun mix of putting yourself at the mercy of RNG while giving you more options when it comes to how you save and spend your Gold. Pirates allow for slightly more advanced, calculated playstyles than the usual Murloc or Dragon builds, but even when you decide to embrace the chaos and let your one or two Tide Razors make all your decisions for you, they’re just as fun.
With all the new Pirates in this update, you’d be surprised to find out that one of the favorites among the new minions is a parrot: the Monstrous Macaw. Previously a Tavern Tier 2 minion, this little birdy had to be nerfed to Tavern Tier 3 because of how well it worked in the early game with Spawn of N’Zoth, and in the endgame in a Beast build with Baron Rivendare and Goldrinn. Having the Macaw on Tavern Tier 2 meant there were more copies of it in the minion pool, so getting a Golden copy of it made for way-too-easy pickings.
If you see a Monstrous Macaw and you’re aiming for a Beast or Deathrattle build, pick it up right away because these birds will fly off the Tavern shelf fast. Macaw, alongside the Pirates rely heavily on attack order, so even the once-low tier hero Illidan is getting his day in the sun because of how well Macaws and Pirates work with his Hero Power. You’ll be surprised how big a difference a single Macaw can make in the right warband, and alongside the new Pirate builds, a Macaw Beast build should be on your list of new Battlegrounds strategies to try out now.
Overall, the 17.4 and 17.4.1 updates have made Battlegrounds much more fun to play. The new heroes and minions provide players with plenty of other outs in the endgame, and they’re designed to encourage players to play more to the strengths of their Hero Power and build. Instead of heroes and minions being adjusted to simply even out the playing field against higher tier heroes and builds, they’re meant to favor their own unique playstyles, providing players with more variety in the gameplay experience as well as a greater sense of risk and reward.
Starting up a game of Battlegrounds and choosing your hero feels like choosing a weapon for battle: your chances at winning will always be fair, so long as you know how to properly wield it (though some good RNG would help, too). If you’re like me and your idea of fun is knowing and learning how to play each hero to their full potential, you’re gonna have a blast playing the new and updated Battlegrounds.
Are you still with me? Still reading? Congratulations: you’ve passed the test, and you’re now prepared for your Demon Hunter training. Come pick up your warglaives in the new Ashes of Outland Solo Adventure, Trial by Felfire. Oh, and don’t worry about bringing any gold, because in this expansion, the Solo Adventure is completely free.
In Trial by Felfire, you play as Aranna Starseeker, Elise’s badass goth little sister, as you fight to liberate the Outcasts of Outland and ally with Illidan Stormrage (goth buddies!) in order to defeat the Rusted Legion, led by Mecha-Jaraxxus. Across five chapters of the Solo Adventure, you’ll be following Aranna’s “hero’s journey” as she and her Outcast buddies learn the ways of the Demon Hunter in order to obtain the power they’d need to protect Outland.
Without giving too much away about the story, I can tell you that in your progression throughout the Solo Adventure, you’ll be playing a different, premade deck each battle, despite playing as Aranna Starseeker for most of them. Her decks are a combination of mostly Hunter, Rogue, and Demon Hunter cards, which fits thematically with the story as well as Aranna as a character. The type of deck you get in a certain match is meant to steer you in the direction you should take in order to overcome particular bosses and their Hero Powers, so it’s important to know how the usual Rogue, Hunter, and Demon Hunter playstyles work.
Throughout Aranna’s journey, she’ll also come across the Rusted Legion’s captives, called Outcasts: powerful allies who’ll be playable in most matches as minions. These Outcasts are powerful swing minions that can turn the tide in a losing battle, and appropriately enough, they work best when you play them with their Outcast abilities activated.
So how do Aranna and the Outcasts cross paths with Illidan? Will their Demon Hunter training be enough to defeat Mecha-Jaraxxus? And what does Illidan have hiding under his sleeve? I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so find out for yourself by playing Trial by Felfire!
Okay, so maybe poetry isn’t my strong suit, but even a commoner can tell you that the character dialogue in Trial by Felfire is pretty neat. If your Hearthstone app or Battle.net client is still downloading assets for the update and the Solo Adventure, wait for the download to finish first, so you don’t miss out on the great voice acting.
The story of Trial by Felfire is told mostly through the narration of Aranna and Illidan, and before each battle, they speak in rhymes, much like in a Shakespearean play. It’s a nice dramatic touch to highlight the doom and gloom that pervades Outland at the hands of the Rusted Legion and having the lines alternate between Aranna and Illidan also emphasizes their student-and-mentor dynamic (you’ll see where this goes eventually).
We’ve seen the Hearthstone dev team step up in terms of storytelling in the past few expansions with the large overarching epic that we got in the Year of the Dragon, and with Ashes of Outland’s Trial by Felfire, they’ve continued to enhance not only the gameplay but also the unique lore of the Hearthstone universe. It’s another sign of great things to come in future expansions this Year of the Phoenix.
Trial by Felfire as a Solo Adventure is pretty vanilla when it comes to its linear progression and gameplay. It doesn’t offer as much replayability as the previous Solo Adventures with multiple hero choices and/or roguelike deckbuilding gameplay, but it’s a great showcase of the Demon Hunter class that serves to further flesh out the lore of Ashes of Outland. If you think about how big a part the Dormant and Outcast mechanics play in this expansion, you can look at Trial by Felfire as the story behind how these key mechanics thematically came to be.
In just the past week, we’ve seen so much new content come out for an expansion that’s already two months into release, and I can’t help but have even greater expectations for everything that’s coming next. I mean, just how is the Hearthstone dev team going to top this?
As we look forward to whatever comes next for Hearthstone, in the meantime there’s a lot to keep us busy. There are still a few main attractions coming in the Felfire Festival this month, and some open seats at Bob’s Tavern while we wait. Whichever you feel like visiting today, I’ll see you there!
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