Hearthstone's first expansion for 2016, Whispers of the Old Gods, launches late April to early May, Blizzard has announced.
Whispers of the Old Gods adds 134 new cards to the game, themed around the four titular Old Gods of the WarCraft universe: C'Thun - the only God to be shown off so far - Y'Shaarj, Yogg-Saron, and N'Zoth. Try rattling those off after a couple of pints.
As well as a fresh batch of cards, the expansion heralds the arrival of two new Ranked gameplay modes: Standard and Wild. The former phases out cards from Hearthstone's first two expansions - Naxxramus and Goblins vs Gnomes - while the latter is an anything-goes affair, much as things are at present.
C'Thun's gameplay mechanic allows him to be buffed by new Cultist cards like Beckoner of Evil and Twilight Elder, and regardless of where he happens to be at the time they're played - in your hand, somewhere in your deck, or out on the board. When you play C'Thun himself, his damage will be randomly doled out between all enemy characters.
As part of the launch for Whispers of the Old Gods, anyone logging into the Inn during a yet-to-be-detailed promotional period will receive three of the new card packs for free. When you open any of these packs, you'll receive C'Thun and two of his supporting Cultists as an extra bonus.
"As soon as we had C'Thun and cards that related directly to him, we decided we needed to give it away," said senior game designer Yong Woo at a press event attended by Eurogamer earlier this week. "We wanted it to feel awesome when you open packs, and it wouldn't be the same if you were opening Cultists and being reminded you didn't have this one card that they all affect."
The general theme of corruption is served by a few familiar cards making a twisted return. Existing cards such as Antique Healbot find new use as Corrupted Healbot, for example. This previously rather weak minion has been boosted up to a 6/6, but now heals your opponent on play, rather than your own Hero. "It's kind of the Wario to the Mario," explained Woo.
Players can pre-purchase a Whispers of the Old Gods bundle of 50 card packs for $49.99 (UK pricing has yet to be confirmed) and will also receive a special C'Thun-inspired card back which will be made available before the April/May release window. After release, packs will also be awarded to Arena victors and those completing new quests for playing Ranked games in Standard mode.
Little more is known about Standard than the details already revealed, and the team in Irvine remains tight-lipped about upcoming nerfs to Classic cards. In an interview with our sister site MetaBomb, however, lead designer Ben Brode elaborated a little more on the ultimate goal for Standard.
"Standard should be a place where we can release new cards without power-creep in those cards making everything else obsolete," he explained. "A lot of the cards we've seen in the Druid decks at the top of those meta reports have been at the top for years. That can be cool, but I'm excited about a metagame that shifts more frequently than that."
Two cards in particular were mentioned multiple times by the pro players and streamers invited out to see Whispers of the Old Gods this week: Force of Nature and Savage Roar. The Druid combo, dealing 14 damage in a single turn, has often been cited as a play in need of a nerf. Brode is determined, however, not to give specific details on who's getting the chop and how until much closer to the deadline.
"Nerfed cards feel extra bad to lose to," he said. "I know what cards are being nerfed before everyone else, obviously, so when I lose to them it makes me feel extra salty. So we try to bury the reveal of those nerfed cards closer to their change date to avoid people feeling like that while playing."
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