Since the launch of Saviors of Uldum this summer, Hearthstone’s quest mechanic has been reintroduced, with each quest rewarding heroes with an upgraded hero power once completed. The announcement prompted cries of woe from those who remember Un’Goro quests, and the rewards that never quite landed, as well as curiosity on how it’ll all play out the second time round.
So far, quests have seen a number of devastating decks entering play across the heroes, with numerous tavern brawls taking on the quest mechanic. Saviors of Uldum returns to the explorers and introduces a new keyword, Reborn, into the mix. Reborn minions return to life on one health, with Paladin receiving a number of new Reborn cards, as well as a quest built around these low-cost minions.
We had the chance to chat with Alec Dawson, quest design lead on Saviors of Uldum, to find out why Blizzard chose to revisit this particular mechanic, how it goes about buffing and nerfing cards, and whether you can ever really have an arena quest deck (spoiler: you can’t).
PCGN: What made you want to revisit the quest mechanic in this particular expansion?
Alec Dawson: Coming into Saviors of Uldum, we knew we were going to showcase the explorers. So we were coming back to these amazing characters, and we also wanted to revisit some of the mechanics we’d done previously.
We had some things in mind when it came to quests, and how we wanted to return to them with a different mindset [from Un’Goro]. We wanted to make them easier to complete, and for them to not necessarily end the game immediately – previously, you played rewards and the game would really take a giant turn. With the new quests you get a bit of power, and there are a few more turns left to be more powerful with that. It’s not like you’re playing against Crystal Core, a 4/4 minion coming at you the entire rest of the game.
Some other things we wanted to do was instantly give you the hero power. Some people used to burn their quests by accident, so it’s really sad when you’d do that – like with the Mage quest. So we knew there was a lot of room to explore differently. That was something that really excited the team to come back to. Because we learned so much from the original quests in Un’Goro.
The quest rewards this time upgrade hero powers, which is a departure from the Un’Goro quests. What was the thinking behind that change?
Something we saw with the original quests is you’d do all this work to complete them, then sometimes you didn’t get to play the reward. You’d have to wait ‘til the next turn to actually play the thing that you worked so hard for this entire game, that you’d built your deck around. We wanted to give that burst of power immediately.
Did you look at the hero cards that aren’t played as much when considering the design of the new quests?
We’re looking at how to establish different mechanics in different decks for the quests, and the classes they’re in. For instance, the Paladin quest plays on some of the themes we’ve done previously, but they’re also playing these Reborn minions, which is the new keyword in Saviors for Uldum. We wanted to build a deck that played much differently than you had before. After you complete the Druid quest, Ossirian Tear, you now get both choices when you play a ‘choose one’ card. We wanted to make a deck that really focuses on what that meant to Druid. So we’re looking for things we hadn’t explored before, [that are] unique and really hit on the identity of what the classes do.
What iterations did these new quests go through before becoming the final versions we see today?
Overall, we knew very early on that we wanted to do hero powers, and that we wanted to give them to you instantly. But if we look at the Warlock quest, that’s one we played around with a little bit. At one point, we had it draining your opponent’s health as the hero power, but that wasn’t something you were going to do a lot, so maybe that’s not very good. One of the early inputs was the condition you had to complete, which was having your health below 15 for multiple turns in a row.
Warlocks are pretty good at getting low on health, because they are able to deal damage to themselves with their hero power, and then they have a tiny bit of healing, so they are able to stay below that threshold. So that’s kind of a neat input, but we didn’t find the best output for it. Then we looked at the ‘Plot Twist’ card from Rise of Shadows – that’s one of our favourite cards, and we wanted to expand on it a bit more. That led to the quest where you draw a bunch of cards, and then play Plot Twist, and then you’re able to draw a bunch of cards at once, and that’s how we ended up on the final Warlock quest.
Do some player decks and combos surprise you?
I think the Paladin quest surprised us a little bit. It was one that may have been overlooked when it was revealed, and people were looking for the support of having Reborn minions. It ended up having very good matchups across the board very early on in some of the metas – it’s one of those decks that can really outlast control decks. That was one that surprised us in terms of where it ended up in power, and what matchups it had.
Why did you choose to centre on the Reborn mechanic for Paladin’s quest?
We landed on Reborn because it’s one of the key mechanics in Saviors of Uldum and we wanted to showcase it in a way that felt interesting, and in a way that made Paladin create a new deck. We played on a few other things with Paladin, but ultimately we wanted to focus on this mechanic, and some of the mechs Paladin already has. For example, with the mech Reborn mummy you’re able to have these crossovers, and Paladin has some Reborn minions in their class already.
Was Reborn an established keyword before the quests were designed?
Reborn was the first thing in the deck that was designed. We had Reborn very early on, it played really well, it matched with some of the themes that we wanted to do in Saviors of Uldum. We wanted to return to Uldum and what would be a Hearthstone thing. Mummies stand out as a very Hearthstone thing in Uldum, and Reborn fits that fantasy that we were working for. We had that early on, and when we were messing with the Paladin quest we found the class showcases it rather well, and we ended up having good gameplay with Paladin and that input.
Are quests as successful or used as much in arena mode?
I don’t think quests are really built for arena. When you build a quest deck you really have to design your entire deck around it. I’ve actually seen singleton decks popping up in arena though, that’s something that you can somehow do in arena – that’s been surprising.
Druid, Rogue, and Shaman quests have been popular in the early days of the Uldum meta. Is there a quest you think the community has missed?
Some people have messed around with the Hunter quest, and tried to make that one work. It may get some support later on, we may bring it up a little bit. Paladin is one of the ones that was thrust on early and may have some future potential as new cards are introduced, to support that archetype.
Did you envisage any existing decks that could combat quest decks?
One thing that stands out there is the Druid quest – it takes a few turns to have unspent mana at the end of your turn. So if you’re playing against an aggressive deck or any deck that’s going to stick minions on the board early, that’s very difficult – it’s much harder to remove their minions when you have to save mana.
How do you approach buffing and nerfing cards? Do you react to the community or how quest cards are used when they launch?
When it comes to nerfs in particular, we have a lot of data available that we’re able to look at and sift through. We obviously looked at the feedback from the community, and a lot of that’s from our own decisions as well – how we’re talking to each other, how we’re playtesting with each other, and how we’re feeling about it.
So it’s a combination of a few factors – some are feel-based, some are looking at: hey, this card, it may not be the best card in the deck, something that’s not very fun to play against, something that isn’t the best experience. That’s when we may come in and actually make some changes.
So, with buffs, are there some cards that you think aren’t being used that you might buff?
When it came to buffs, we wanted to see how the community would react to the experiments in [the] Rise of the Mech event. I think it went over quite well, and we wanted to choose cards that may push decks in different directions. Obviously Luna’s Pocket Galaxy makes a deck very, very good, and we buffed it from seven mana to five mana. That made a deck very strong.
Part of our direction there was: ‘let’s see how far we can push things, let’s see how people react, and let’s also see what kind of new decks we can create by making these changes’.