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Curse of Naxx review - Our wing-by-wing diary

Seth Barton
30 Jul 2014

It's hard to judge value in a collectible card game, but Naxx is a must have for fans either way

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Specifications

Curse of Naxxramas, or just Naxx for short is the first expansion for the hugely popular Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft card game. It brings a proper single-player campaign to the game for the first time, with themed opponents who wield powerful abilities and cards. Speaking of cards, and I will be a lot, there are also 30 new cards up for grabs by completing Naxx.

With every player getting all these cards, rather than them being dished out at random it marks a huge change of approach for the game, possibly forever, and should practically eliminate all the current favoured deck archetypes, as the Deathrattle mechanic (an effect that occurs when a minion dies) rules over everything.

Our first surprise was to note that you had to unlock all the characters in the original tutorial to access Naxx, that shouldn’t be a problem for most players, but those who are just popping in fresh will have to work through them before picking up the first wing for free, an offer only available this week, so get playing now!

Presentation of the new single-player mode is as slick as you’d expect, with more voice acting before and between bosses than we’d expect. A quick show of the four cards on offer for completing this area and you’re quickly into the first wing.

THE ARACHNID QUARTER

It’s all spiders in this first area, with four arachnid-related cards to be won, and lots of spider-based enemies to defeat in order to do it. For those unfamiliar with Hearthstone we recommend you read our Hearthstone review first.

FIRST BOSS - ANUB'REKHAN

Our first boss fight was both strangely familiar and yet totally disconcerting. Familiar because we choose our fairly-standard Zoolock deck (basically a Warlock with loads of solid low-level minions that all buff each other in flexible ways) and started playing as we’d done a thousand times. The key move was when the boss Anub'Rekhan played a new card, a 2/8 Deathlord with Taunt to slow me down, luckily I’d just drawn a Crazed Alchemist and this flipped his stats to 8/2 making him easy to remove.

The surprise came just after when the boss started flinging frostbolts at me, it was very strange to see a mage card being wielded outside of fighting such an opponent. Despite this he quickly succumbed without using his Skitter power (which summons a 3/1 Nubian for 2 mana), as my numerous minions wiped him out. I can certainly recommend this kind of deck here, though it's hardly a challenge anyway.

The reward for winning was a pair of Haunted Creeper cards that we immediately slotted into our Zoolock deck. At 2 Mana the card fits in nicely as an early drop and though it has no immediate effect, killing it simply spawns a pair of 1/1 Spectral Spiders, which are then ripe for buffing. Not a perfect fit, but we can’t resist a new toy after all this time.

SECOND BOSS - GRAND WIDOW FAERLINA

Full of confidence we start on the second boss - Grand Widow Faerlina - and are dead before we know what’s happened. Her boss ability is to unleash a 1-damage missile for every card in our hand, we draw badly, mulligan disastrously and end up with all our cards bar one in our hand come her second turn. The resulting flurry of hits we take puts us on the back foot, and we never recover.

We fare little better with our second attempt, and so head off to construct a deck specifically to defeat her, which is surely Blizzard's core idea, providing you with deck building challenges that the regular set of competitve decks simply can't prevail in - any deck which builds up a big hand, such as Handlock or Miracle Rogue would be slaughtered here. We create a very fast low mana Murlock druid deck, in the hope that it can get its cards out quickly enough.

It doesn't work, the Grand Widow shows off her over core mechanic, by playing a series of Worshippers, each of which gives her +1 attack on her turn while they live, I can't clear them quick enough, and she's soon striking at 3 attack every turn. It's humbling, but also an exciting reminder of just how many gameplay mechanics are left unexplored in Hearthstone at present.

Back to Warlock and a deck that's designed to gain advantage by discarding cards as well as playing low cost minions, so in go Soulfire and Succubus, but to no avail, my inclusion of Hellfire goes badly wrong, she plays a Nerubian Egg (which spawn a 4/4 when killed) just when I need to get Hellfire out of my hand. She's certainly no one trick pony, and despite having to keep your hand down, you still have to survive what are well orchestrated attacks, with numerous powerful deathrattle minions, most of which have a negative effect upon her when they die, but given on  so on the back foot from the off that doesn't make much odds. A few more attempts  and I'm starting to wonder if I'm really bad at Hearthstone (I'm not great admittedly, around Rank 10 most months) or I'm barking up the wrong tree, so back to the deck builder.

Finally we get a break on the original card draw, and the first couple of Rain of Fires mainly hit our Warlock, which then lets us breeze through the rest of the round, a bit random at the beginning possibly, but a good little challenge none-the-less. A Necroknight proved a nasty shock, dropping at 4 mana with 5/6, although it destroys adjacent friendly minions when it dies. 


^ The Rain of Fire is deadly and forces you to play cards before you want to


^ A Dark Cultist goes down but it's the Worshippers in the middle providing that 2 attack value on the Widow herself that is really killing me


^ It's a deathrattle zoo, with some nasty minions and value-packed buffs

THIRD BOSS - MAEXNAA

And so onto the third boss, and we're finding things far easier now, maybe it's that last night's server problems have receeded and clicking through games and decks without horrific lag and getting kicked. Maexnaa puts up a fair big fight, but we always feel on top with our typical Zoolock deck. One thing to note is the complete lack of board clears from the Arachnid bosses, and with us lacking them too, things escalate quickly into big boards of minions, and huge trades, with Deathrattles going off all over the place. It's often only after a turn that we realise what happened.

The Web Wrap ability is a 3-cost random Sap, sending a minion back to your hand. You can avoid the worst of it by flooding the board with cheap minions, so that it can't find a decent target. That said the AI doesn't always make the most effort to clear away smaller minions to up its chances.

The AI again got stupid at the end of the game, suiciding itself into a pair of Leper Gnomes and ending the game, when it could have held out for a turn longer if it had left them well alone. For beating him we got a pair of 0/2 Nerubian Eggs, which Deathrattle into 4/4 Nerubians. The possibilities for these are huge and fun, with decks that buff their minions the most obvious candidates, as the eggs can suicide into enemy minions, they should also make some think twice about board clears too.

For clearing the wing you also get Maexnaa. The Legendary 2/8 kills everything in a single hit, but it's vulnerable against certain cards due to its low attack, Stampeding Kodo for instance. As it's a Beast it might find use in Hunter decks we suppose, but it looks a bit slow and a bit of an oddity to see wide play beyond its initial novelty, then again everyone will have a copy, and it only costs six mana, so wide experimentation might turn up something - being played after Tundra Rhino (which gives charge to everything) would be pretty cool, but it's a bit telegraphed.

Hearthstone

^ Blizzard aren't strictly sticking to theme, as the appearance of Mukla and his Bananas shows

CLASS CHALLENGES

We've completed these, and with little fuss, write up coming soon.

^ The humour is pretty good, especially with the excellent voice work

THE PLAGUE QUARTER

The Plague Quarter has less of a strong theme than the Arachnid quarter we think, while the first area was all spiders and spider-related cards, this one seems a little hodge-podge, with various unclean elements thrown in together rather than a simple boils and pustule fest.

Now we know what to expect from a Naxx wing we're straight in, and the bosses provide little challenge before surrendering their cards in Normal mode, we're a little disappointed that Blizzard didn't put in three difficulty levels really, as many of the hero powers could have been tweaked this way.

FIRST BOSS - NOTH THE PLAGUEBRINGER

Noth's power is unusual in that it's a passive power, which functions all the time at no mana cost to him, an interesting idea and one that (with careful balancing) could be used in future playable characters, such as the much-discussed but officially not in development Death Knight. Noth's ability raises a 1/1 Skeletons to fight for him for every enemy minion killed.

It's a good power and would find synergy with many 'token' decks, but Noth doesn't look to have the correct cards to buff these mini minions into something truly dangerous. He does have a unique card called Plague, which kills all non-skeleton minions for 6 mana, but we didn't see it in our couple of games.

We ran out our Crusher Shaman deck with no tweaks and easily overcame him, we held back on playing small minions, such as totems, in the early game and stuck to removal in the main. By the time we hit turn 4 the creation of 1/1 skeletons became a mere nuisance, especially when we had 4/7 injured Blademasters resurrecting thanks to Ancestral Spirit.

The reward here is Stoneskin Gargoyle, a three mana 1/4 who heals back to 4 health at the start of your go. He's pretty tough then and can't be whittled down, not that many players ever choose to whittle a minion unless they're really up against it. His attack is too low to threaten though, and so he'll need a buff of some sort, possibly to a 2/5 using Defender of Argus. There also look to be some good Priest combos such as Inner Fire and Divine Spirit for a possible 8/8 that heals every turn. Still it's not looking to be a big deal in constructed deck play.

SECOND BOSS – HEIGAN THE UNCLEAN

Heigan also has an interesting ability as he can do 2 damage for one mana, but only to your leftmost minion, a more positional attack than any ability we can think of in Hearthstone, and one that's easy to exploit with a bit of thought.

After bemoaning Noth's lack of token buffing, we thought we'd give our own token buffing Druid a run out, he's designed to spam out lots of 1/1s and then buff them all with Savage Roar for huge damage. After all if we lose one token to his power there's plenty more where they came from. We did tweak the deck to add a couple of Nerubian Eggs, dropping these on the left our other minions meant Heigan had to create, and then kill, 4/4 Nerubians before he could hit our other troops.

Hearthstone naxx boss - Heigan the Unclean

Predictably it all went horribly wrong for him, and despite a strong start where he coined out a pair of 2/3 charge Deathchargers on his first turn, it was all smooth sailing.

For our reward we got a pair of 1/3 Unstable Ghouls. These are like mini Abominations, taunt minions which explode causing damage to all minions upon death. But while the Abomination's two damage is a powerful extra board clear, the one damage from the Ghoul will prove more useful in Warrior decks, pinging the abilities of Acolyte of Pain and Armour Smith, and buffing the like of Frothing Berserker massively. Essentially it's another Whirlwind ability, and should see plenty of play in Warrior decks, possibly tempered by the upcoming Death's Bite weapon, which does the same thing.

THIRD BOSS – LOATHEB

Loatheb hero power is pretty mundane, doing 3 damage to your hero, but this is still a very unusual battle. We started playing for a couple of turns before noticing that he had a whacking great 75 health, we'd wondered if we'd accidentally blundered into Heroic mode somehow and then the first Spore appeared. These 0/1 minions are a side effect of some of Loatheb cards, but when killed they provide all your minions with a massive +8 attack.

That makes the game utterly unlike typical Hearthstone, as you attempt to fill the board with minions and time taking down the Spore in order to hit Loatheb for 30 or 40 damage in a single turn. With such an odd ability we thought we'd craft a quick Zoolock of high health, low attack  minions, who would survive long enough to benefit from the big attack bonus.

Hearthstone naxx boss

Game won we unlocked the 3/5, 5 mana, Sludge Belcher, this hard to remove card has Taunt and then drops a 1/2 with Taunt when he dies, providing a double speed bump. He may prove more popular than Sen'Jin Shieldmasta in the long run, though he has heavy competition at 5 mana in many decks, and you'd want to making the most of that deathrattle as well as the extra minion.

With that done we also unlocked Loatheb himself. The card is another 5-drop with good stats 5/5, but the ability is pretty special, adding five to the cost of all spells in your enemy's next turn, which will hugely reduce many characters ability to remove your minions in unforeseen ways. It's a very tactical card, and a legendary so you can only use one, but it should prove popular at high levels when people are more sure what they're facing, I'm looking at you Miracle Rogue.

CLASS CHALLENGES

We've completed these, again with little fuss, write up coming soon once we get a proper chance to test the cards in constructed play.

CONCLUSION

If we'd paid the one-off £4.99 cost for the content contained within one Wing, we'd feel pretty shortchanged. Yes you get six cards, or actually 11 cards, with five pairs and one Legendary, and if you play a lot of Hearthstone and have most the cards already you'd have to play a lot of games or buy a lot of packs to get that many cards you didn't already have. Although the fact that Hearthstone itself is pricey in time (or cash) hardly excuses the relatively thin content here, with only the darstardly hard Heroic mode providing any longevity.

Thankfully, only a fool would buy each wing in cash one at a time, if you get this first one free, and pay £14 for the rest then £3.50 each isn't bad for such lovingly worked content. Chip in some hard-earned gold and of course you can reduce that further still.

It's far too early to say how much Naxx will effect Hearthstone as a whole, but we're keen to see what next week has in store, and you can't say much more than that.

We’ll be carrying on with this Naxx micro-blog as we play through the heroic level for each boss ... though progress is slow as they are pretty hard and we're not going online to look up decks to defeat them. 

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