REVIEW: Hearthstone’s Ashes of Outland is a Much-Needed Refresh
Posted by Paolo Arciga April 13, 2020

In the six years since the launch of Hearthstone and prior to Ashes of Outland, there have been a total of 13 expansions, each with their own meta-breaking cards, obvious nerfs, and Hall of Fame-worthy legendaries. Every expansion introduced something new to Hearthstone’s core gameplay mechanics, with some of the more notable additions being the hero cards, Quest cards, and legendary spells.


Adding new features to a game with set rules that everyone expects to be balanced can be a tough task. Every expansion serves to expand the range and depth of Hearthstone’s gameplay experience, but they also place a limit on what the dev team can do later on. Every future card or mechanic has to comply with the standard of balance set by the cards and mechanics created before it.


This is why it’s such big news that after six years of Hearthstone being a card strategy game that revolves around nine class archetypes, they are finally introducing a tenth class: Demon Hunter. The Hearthstone dev team have taken on the challenge of adding a tenth class to an already chaotic set of nine classes and hundreds of cards, and they’re set to make this year one of the biggest in Hearthstone history.


As we’ve previously covered, the Year of the Phoenix marks a new start for Hearthstone full of small tweaks and changes to improve the game’s overall experience. The Year of the Phoenix starts with its first expansion, Ashes of Outland, and it looks to be a sign of great things to come for the rest of the year. 


You are not prepared!

Hide your Tyrandes, hide your Malfurions.

In Ashes of Outland, we finally got a new playable class in the form of Demon Hunter. And who better to represent the class than the OG demon hunter himself, Illidan Stormrage? He was once just an underwhelming neutral legendary card from the classic set, but now Illidan has come with his demon underlings and cool-but-impractical warglaives to liven up the same old nine-class meta. 


It didn’t even take a minute for the meta to be completely broken by a swarm of Demon Hunter players on ranked mode. Demon Hunter emerged to be overwhelmingly powerful in both aggro and control configurations, and cards like Imprisoned Antaen and Skull of Gul’dan were so strong that they had to be nerfed on day 2 of the expansion. Even today, it’s rare to queue into a ranked match with an opponent who isn’t using a Demon Hunter deck.


And yet I don’t feel frustrated or annoyed that so many people are playing Demon Hunter, because anyone who’s tried out the basic Demon Hunter deck (which you can get for free by playing the Ashes of Outland prologue) knows that it’s a fun deck to play. There have been many oppressive and annoying decks to play against in the history of Hearthstone, like Pirate Warrior and Quest Rogue, but the key difference of the basic Demon Hunter deck is that it doesn’t always play the same way every time. It’s the perfect combo of being easy to use and hard to master because you can lay into your enemy as much as you want, but you need to know how to save your resources to find your win condition. 


Playing or playing against a Demon Hunter deck is a completely new experience to Hearthstone that revitalizes the entire game. Just having a new, tenth class will now factor into how you build any other deck for any other class, and especially now with so many Demon Hunters in ranked, you’ll want to have some kind of defensive measures against Illidan’s demons (my personal favorite is Waste Warden). While it might take some time for the Demon Hunter cards to get some much-needed power balancing, it’s nice to play Hearthstone and have it feel like an entirely new game.


And if you’re having difficulty beating Demon Hunter players on ranked, why not join in the fun and play Demon Hunter yourself? As Illidan might say, it doesn’t matter where you get your power, so long as you have it. If you still insist on beating the Demon Hunter decks with another class, I recommend the Galakrond decks, among which my favorite is Galakrond Rogue


Beware the escaped convicts of the Outland

“Coming out of my cage, and I’ve been doing just fine.” – Kael’thas Sunstrider

The key mechanic of Ashes of Outland is the Dormant mechanic, which renders minions unusable and untargetable for a set number of turns. The Dormant mechanic was first introduced in the Journey to Un’goro expansion with the minion Sherazin, Corpse Flower, but it fits thematically with Outland’s baddies-breaking-out-of-prison lore. It’s not just Illidan who’s broken free from his chains, but a whole slew of minions and demons.


The Dormant mechanic has been around for a while, and it’s understandable that Ashes of Outland doesn’t feature an entirely new keyword or mechanic because the spotlight is meant for the arrival of the Demon Hunter class. That said, it was a wise choice for the Dormant mechanic to be featured heavily in the expansion’s new minions as well as the Demon Hunter class cards, as they feel suitable to the concept of Illidan manipulating and commanding unwilling demons to do his bidding. The Hearthstone dev team consistently makes the effort to ensure that new mechanics always function in accordance to the lore, and Dormant is perfect for Ashes of Outland.


In terms of gameplay, the Dormant mechanic is now time-based rather than condition-based. Dormant-mechanic minions from previous expansions like Sherazin, Corpse Flower and The Darkness were activated by fulfilling certain conditions, but Dormant minions in Ashes of Outland are Dormant upon summoning and awaken after a set number of turns. This adds a dimension of preparation and damage control to gameplay, as playing against an opponent who plays a Dormant minion will require you to anticipate and pre-empt any big damage the opposing Dormant minion will do. 


Here’s a tip: if you’re playing against a Demon Hunter and they play Imprisoned Antaen, don’t be afraid to tempo-play some of your minions to give the Antaen more possible targets. It’ll always be better than taking 10 damage to face.


A better sense of class identity

Everybody say “Thank you for your service, Northshire Cleric”.

Prior to the release of Ashes of Outland and the Demon Hunter class, several changes were made to the Priest class’s classic set, and this was done as a soft reboot to the Priest class’s deck archetypes. Due to the Demon Hunter class cards’ similarities with the classic Priest cards, the Priest class was given new cards to suit a new Priest archetype. 


While the Priest class was the only one to receive classic card replacements, Ashes of Outland introduces some old-new archetypes for each of the nine original classes, and they feel like a throwback to classic Hearthstone. The Rogue class now features a Stealth mechanic-centered deck, while the Paladin class is back at it again with zoo-type murloc decks. 


Previous expansions seemed to have muddled every class’s strengths together through out-of-place class cards and neutral cards. Rogues suddenly had the power to heal via Lifesteal weapons, and Priests could do burn damage OTKs with the Death Knight Anduin card. The variety was fun, but each class seemed to have lost their class identity in the Hearthstone dev team’s efforts to make more versatile cards. 


Ashes of Outland is a callback to when Shamans played like Shamans and Mages played like Mages, and I can appreciate the fact that the Demon Hunter class was introduced in the same expansion that the nine classes got their identities back. The subtle but effective realignment of the nine classes encourages players to play to their class-specific strengths.


Overall, Ashes of Outland is among the best Hearthstone expansions we’ve seen so far because of how much it revitalizes the same old Hearthstone that we’ve been playing for years. It seems the dev team is embracing change for the Year of the Phoenix, and if you haven’t played Hearthstone in a while, this would be the perfect time to come back to it. You might not be prepared, but you surely won’t be disappointed.



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