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Hearthstone Developers on Year of the Phoenix Phase 2: “Expect a new game mode!”

01:14 PM July 05, 2020

Esports Inquirer got in contact with Hearthstone Game Designer Liv Breeden and Senior Game Designer Chadd Nervig to talk about Demon Hunters, the magic of Zephyris the Great, and upcoming Hearthstone content.

Both Liv and Chadd are members of Blizzard Entertainment’s Team 5, the Hearthstone development team in charge of all ongoing game design.

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Esports Inquirer: The Ashes of Outland main story campaign, Trial by Felfire, was quite a challenging solo adventure. I particularly enjoyed the rhyming dialogue between Illidan, Aranna, and the rest of the outcasts. Could you share with us the creative process you underwent to bring such an interesting story to life?

Chadd: Yeah, the process of bringing this story to life has been epic! We knew we wanted to introduce a new Demon Hunter hero, to complement the existing character of Illidan, but we still wanted to involve Illidan heavily in the story. The story being heavily in rhyming verse was born out of finding a way to add our Hearthstone whimsy and charm while staying true to who Illidan’s character is, very grave and serious.

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Trial by Felfire succeeded in telling Aranna’s tale, giving Illidan some character development, and enhancing…

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Demon Hunter has been the most dominant class in Hearthstone since its addition to the game. This made the class the target of multiple nerfs, with the nerf to Twin Slice in the most recent balance update significantly hampering the aggression Tempo Demon Hunter can dish out in the early game. What does this mean for the future of the class?

Chadd: A new class is a huge step for us and is unlike any challenge we’ve undertaken before. Without the benefit of a history of how a class plays, we knew that we’d need to be able to react quickly to live balance, and so prepared for that. We’ve quickly and repeatedly tweaked live balance to get it in the right place. We intend Demon Hunter to be an extremely fun and competitively viable class, just like the others.

Liv: Our philosophy on live balance has changed throughout the years. We’ve experimented with different frequencies to balance patches and with Demon Hunter we thought it was a great time to try out a more aggressive approach to changing cards. We’re always experimenting and seeing what the feedback is from the community.

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The most recent card change to the Demon Hunter class, an increase in the mana cost of Twin Slice.

Paladin and Shaman, two of the most underplayed classes right now, saw some faint hints of hope in the past few updates. Can we expect another round of buffs to the two classes that may boost their viability in the current metagame?

Chadd: We don’t use buffs as a meta balancing tool, especially when buffing 1-2 cards in very low power archetypes. Generally, when we buff a card, it’s because we think we think it is fun or was meant to play a specific role for a class, but it just ended up at a lower power level than we intended.

An update from last month highlighted a number of improvements to Zephrys the Great’s card suggestions. Could you share with us some of the challenges the development team has faced while creating and improving Zephrys’ card suggestion algorithm?

Chadd: The biggest challenge is just how complex Zephrys is. We handle this by establishing a clear scope of what things are Zephrys’ responsibility to consider, and what aren’t (ie, not reading card text, not reading what cards are in hand, etc.). Then we try to help him be as smart as possible, within those bounds.

Year of the Phoenix Complete Roadmap from hearthstone

It seems like most people will still be forced to stay home for quite a while as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. With this much time on their hands, what can Hearthstone players look forward to in the coming months?

Chadd: Yeah, there’s a whole ton of new stuff coming to Hearthstone! We’re not quite ready to share details yet, but earlier this year, we posted our Year of the Phoenix Roadmap, where you can see the exciting things coming in Phase 2 of the year, like a new card expansion, and a new game mode! Additionally, since Fireside Gatherings aren’t a safe activity right now, given what’s going on in the world, we temporarily added Nemsy Necrofizzle to the shop for everyone for free, without having to visit a Fireside Gathering.

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