Hearthstone March of the Lich King is available today and represents the biggest shakeup to the CCG since the introduction of Illidan Stormrage and the Demon Hunter class. From today, players can play as Arthas Menethil, the Lich King and Hearthstone’s latest class; Death Knight.
With the introduction of 203 new cards, a new keyword, a new minion type and a new playable class, there’s a lot going on in March of the Lich King.
Ahead of the launch, we were fortunate enough to speak with Cora Georgiou, Senior Game Designer and Leo Robles Gonzalez, Game Designer about March of the Lich King.
Hearthstone March of the Lich King
Right off the bat Georgiou and Robles Gonzalez describe the Death Knight as “multifaceted.” However, it was a challenge to design the Death Knight, without making them too OP. Robles Gonzalez explains;
“Chad Nervig told us Death Knights in World of Warcraft, they’re multifaceted. They excel at all sorts of different things, and we really wanted to translate that into Hearthstone. Obviously the issue there is that if you’re good at a bunch of stuff, where are your weaknesses? So, from there we worked a lot on how we exactly make Death Knights feel as powerful as they do in WoW, without, giving them access to control tools, agro tools, and everything in between all at once.
“We wanted to find out how to implement Runes and what that means in Hearthstone. From the very beginning, we iterated a bunch, and the version we ended up on is, you know, answering that problem of, well, Death Knights can do everything.”
In addition to the Death Knight, March of the Lich King sees Undead finally added as a minion type in Hearthstone. It’s been a long time coming and it’s something that the Hearthstone team recognise. “I think it’s almost a direct quote from Chad that when we add Death Knight, we’re adding Undead, “Robles Gonzalez laughs. “It just didn’t feel right bringing in, you know, the guy that leads the scourge and all the undead without actually being able to directly hook into undead. I think there was a brief period where the super, super early on in the set’s development and it wasn’t really a question of like, ‘Oh, should we?’ it was just like, ‘Yeah, yeah, let’s do undead.’ I think minion types are, are always something that’s really fun, to explore and design for.”
An interesting side effect of adding Undead as a minion type is the need for dual-minion types. As Georgiou told us, “Murlocs are murlocs and Naga are Naga. An elemental is made of fire, but undead can be an amalgam of things. You can have an undead Murloc or undead pirates and we figured that when we would bring in Undead, there would be a larger amount of work to do and that we would probably end up doing dual minion types. And that’s exactly what we did.”
With March of the Lich King, players are going to find dual-minion types which opens up a whole other avenue for deck creation and synergy. Adding dual minion types for Undead minions has meant a tonne of work for the Hearthstone team as they’ve needed to go back and give dual minion status to some older cards. Robles Gonzalez offers up Patches the Pirate as an example.”Up until now has always been a pirate, and then people are like ‘Wait, but he’s a demon, so shouldn’t he be a demon?’ It’s like, ‘No, he’s a pirate.’ Now, he’s both.
“There’s gonna be, a huge update to every valid minion if I’ve done my job, that if they are two minion types, they’ll be updated to be both. It just so happens that a lot of them happen to be blank and undead.”
Having already added the Demon Hunter to Hearthstone, I was interested in how the process of creating and implementing the Death Knight was different. “I think the big takeaways in my mind were the Demon Hunter hero power creation and just, in general, the time that we had allotted to spend on Demon Hunter versus us going into Death Knight and knowing just how much of an undertaking it would be,” Georgiou explained. Even with an experienced team of people, even with, Chad Nervig at the helm, having led the creation of Demon Hunter as well, he knew what it meant now to make a new class and, that was something that all of us were undertaking for the first time with Demon Hunter. So with Death Night, immediately we went in saying, we want to give ourselves more breathing room and more time to explore and play around and just dream really big with it.”
Having now seen Death Knight in action, its three rune types and its use of corpses, it’s clear that the Hearthstone team went all out in the class’s creation. It’s a much more complex and in-depth class than any we’ve seen before, which has the potential to alienate more casual players. This is something the team considered when designing the Death Knight, according to Georgiou and Robles Gonzalez.
“It’s absolutely something that we asked ourselves. Is this the right way to go? Death Knight with the Rune system and the death building requirements, you know, and, and corpses and undead, everything encompassing is far and away our most complex class. I think it’s something that because Hearthstone has been out for eight years now, and we do have a really wonderful established player base, we felt more comfortable with introducing complexity in the form of a new class, ” Georgiou told us. “We did not want the complexity to be so high and so alienating that new and returning players couldn’t also enjoy the class as well. And so that meant that we had to wherever possible, simplify things so they were as accessible as they can possibly be.”
With the complexity of Death Knight is bringing to Hearthstone, I wondered how the team had managed to balance and create a defined identity and archetype for the class. With three Rune types and a huge number of potential decks, surely it was a struggle to create the Death Knight identity. Robles Gonzalez disagreed, “I don’t see it being too different in terms of archetype management from a design standpoint. With Death Knight, early on we actually made a chart being like, ‘Okay, here’s what single blood can do, Double blood, triple blood,’ and then the same for all three rune types.
And obviously, Death Knight has a lot of stuff that they can do, but, but they can’t do everything and they have very unique things that they can do. I think the one thing that I’m personally most excited about for Death Knights is Blood Death Knights doing health manipulation. I think that’s a very unique thing about a control deck that we just haven’t seen before.
“They’re able to increase their own maximum health and just take control of the board and heal back to full. And it’s a lot of fun. You look at control decks in Hearthstone before Death Knight and you’ve got Warrior building a tonne of armour, which is a little bit similar, but you can’t heal back armour, right? You’ve got control Priests that just heal. They don’t have health gain or armour and they’ve just got bombs that they drop one after another in the late game. I think for archetypes it’s just identifying what the specific Rune types can do and then just leaning into what makes it special.”
Georgiou added that a Triple Blood Deck and a Triple Frost Deck feel completely different. “You don’t so much compare them to each other as much as you say, ‘Oh, well, you know, this, this triple frost Death Knight, how does this feel versus a frost Shaman deck, and how does this triple blood deck Knight feel versus a control Warrior deck or a control Shaman deck.
“It’s not so much about balancing the Death Knight decks against each other. It’s against the other archetypes against other classes that they may even have more similarities with because they are so different from each other as archetypes.”
Players are now able to find out for themselves just how complex and different the Death Knight is with Hearthstone March of the Lich King now available.
Thanks to Cora Georgiou and Leo Robles Gonzalez for their time.