Hearthstone: Book of Heroes – Interview with Senior Narrative Designer Valerie Chu

Hearthstone is one way of expanding the lore of World of Warcraft without having to deal directly with any fallout. It’s a place where storytellers can focus on characters, events and places that are outside the main narrative thread of WoW. Hearthstone allows Blizzard to tell experimental stories, stories from the past and to play around with the format of narrative.

This experimentation is done through Hearthstone’s single-player content. Blizzard has been delivering single-player Adventures to Hearthstone players for years now and has constantly shifted and changed up its approach.

In recent years we’ve seen the likes of Dungeon Run and Monster Hunt, Galkrond’s Awakening’s duel adventures, Tombs of Terror and more. Now, as part of Scholomance Academy, Blizzard has released the first part of the Book of Heroes.

Focusing on Jaina, this first chapter in the Book of Heroes is, yet again, a new way to deliver story and content to Hearthstone players while expanding the lore of WoW and keeping things fresh.

Hearthstone Book of Heroes

We recently spoke to Hearthstone’s Senior Narrative Designer Valerie Chu about Book of Heroes, storytelling in Hearthstone and the evolving nature of solo adventures. Book of Heroes travels back in time to tell stories from each of Hearthstone’s 10 hero’s pasts. Chu says this kind of storytelling comes from Scholomance Academy being very ‘school-themed.’ For the team, it made sense to visit the heroes when they were still learning, before they were who we know them as today.

Chu said, “We’ve done a really high overview of each character’s life. Some of them have appeared in everything from game manuals to older games to World of Warcraft. We’re finding those highlight moments, the epic battles that we can bring to Hearthstone and really show off how these circumstances made them into the characters who are icons of their class.” There’s more to it too. Each of the heroes in Hearthstone are legends in World of Warcraft and Azeroth. Creating stories around each of them, which engages the audience and still delivers something unique is challenging. Which is why Hearthstone’s tone is often lighter and more comedic.

For the Book of Heroes, because the solo adventures are telling stories from early in each hero’s life, Chu said each chapter is “a best of journey through the character’s life.” Deciding which stories to focus on means the Hearthstone team have some freedom and wiggle room to tell these stories their way. “There are so many interesting things to explore. I think people will be surprised if they are experiencing it for the first time, Chu explains, adding, “Maybe a little nostalgic if you’re coming back and hearing the story again.”

Chu tells me that one of Hearthstone’s storytelling techniques is curating the cards in a player’s deck in the solo adventures. It’s not something I’d considered much in the past but it makes a lot of sense. “We’ve done a number of single-player adventures so far and have really learned a lot about the different ways that we can use our Hearthstone mechanics to explain relationships between characters,” Chu said. When it comes to the cards in a player’s deck, they can tell the story of your allies, who you’re working with and who you’re aligned with.

For Jaina, Chu mentioned Archmage Kalec, the human form of the Blue Dragon Kalecgos. “Finding these friendships and adding a little conversation between the characters, really helps smooth things out and it’s been really fun to work with.” Conversations between characters aren’t the only way Chu told me Hearthstone is using dialogue to tell a story in Book of Heroes. Chu explained the team wanted the narration by the heroes to sound like they’re spilling their guts to a close friend, like they’re in a coffee shop, just dishing.

“It’s actually something we even brought up with the voice actors when they were doing their narrations. We said, ‘You’re talking to a close friend. You can be honest with them,” Chu told me with a laugh. “Usually the heroes are in these extraordinary circumstances where it’s hard to be like, “Well, Jaina, how do you actually feel about this?’ So it was nice to see that new side.” 

As players progress through each chapter, it was important for Chu and the Hearthstone team to make them feel as though they’re becoming more powerful. One way to do this is by upgrading the hero power. Jaina begins with a simple hero power before eventually being able to summon Water Elementals, which is a far cry from Fire Blast. “It really changes up the gameplay,” Chu said, “and I think it offers you that experience of growing extremely powerful.”

To make the Book of Heroes feel interconnected with the rest of Hearthstone and World of Warcraft Chu told me that “many heroes have a cameo in each other’s stories. For instance, Garrosh will appear in Jaina’s story, so you’ll probably hear from one of your favourites, even if they haven’t come out right away.”

Book of Heroes, aside from telling new stories and focusing on the heroes of Hearthstone is a very different type of release for Solo Adventures. Instead of four of five chapters released over a number of weeks, Book of Heroes will focus on all 10 heroes with a new chapter released each month. “You’ll have eight missions each month and each story is self-contained about the hero,” Chu explained. “It’s very different in terms of release cadence. We’re excited to see how people respond to it. We’re just kind of happy to experiment and see what works best given the community’s response.”

I asked Chu if alternate heroes like Morgl the Oracle will get a chapter in the Book of Heroes. She told me the team was only focusing on the main 10, but if there’s enough of a player response to the Book of Heroes, the team might consider it. I also asked about the release order for the heroes, but Chu remained tight-lipped, telling me she wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.

Jaina was chosen to be the first hero in the Book of Heroes as she’s “a really important character to Hearthstone,” according to Chu. “She’s featured in the tutorial really memorably, so it was just a natural fit. She’s also very magical, so it was nice to build those decks.” Building the decks for each chapter, mission and hero takes a lot of work, which Chu said involves playing a lot of Hearthstone…sounds tough…

But she also told me building the decks means thinking about existing deck archetypes and the storytelling objective of each mission. “Say for the first mission,” Chu told me, “Jaina is trying to convince Antonidas to teach her magic, so she’s using classic mage spells.” On the flip side, Antonidas’ cards needed to show how powerful he is, without making the battle too difficult. Storytelling again plays a very important role in the Antonidas mission too as Chu explained.

“It’s something that’s always been part of the lore, but the exact exchange between them isn’t something we’ve seen before. It was fun to create that and bring it to life.”

That’s the thing Hearthstone does best in its solo adventures. Explore and expand upon the lore of World of Warcraft in exciting and unexpected ways. It gives fans a chance to see events play out they otherwise wouldn’t have to chance to and it deepens and expands World of Warcraft outside of that core experience.

Each chapter of the Book of Heroes will be free for all players, though the Book of Heroes skin for each hero will be purchasable in the store.

The first chapter of Book of Heroes is available now.

Thanks to Valerie Chu for her time.

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Leo Stevensonhttps://powerup-gaming.com/
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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