Ashes of Outland - Hearthstone goes Burning Crusade
The Year of the Phoenix comes to Hearthstone, and with it its first expansion,
Ashes of Outland
In a content-packed announcement stream on March 17th
, Team 5 downright swamped the Hearthstone community with news about a ranking system overhaul, severe class and economic changes including duplicate protection as well as free cards for returning players, heavy card rotations, and - most importantly - extended news about the upcoming expansion, including a look at Hearthstone’s first new class, the Demon Hunter.
Over the course of the Year of the Dragon, 2019's connected storyline, we were able to witness Hearthstone-exclusive character development as well as what most would call heavy Warcraft lore interpretation. With the upcoming Year of the Phoenix and its first expansion, Ashes of Outland, a phoenix called Hearthstone once again rises from the nutritious ashes that are the roots of the Warcraft universe.
I'm Tharid, a writer for Wowhead's sister site Hearthstone Top Decks, and I'll be explaining the happenings around Hearthstone's upcoming expansion called Ashes of Outland. If you want to check out the most recent news about the expansion as well as the new upcoming Standard year, head over to
Old Illidan, New Enemy
After a first look at the crazy announcement trailer featuring everybody's favorite Lead Mission Designer and Warcraft veteran storyteller Dave Kosak, players got a general feeling for the fantasy of 2020's first Hearthstone expansion.
However, the current stage is mainly set through the official information, the Demon Hunter prologue and - of course - the complete list of Ashes of Outland's cards available for play.
The main plot is told as followed: The Rusted Legion, an organisation that serves as an homage to the Burning Legion on first sight, seeks to take over the wastelands of Outland with the help of its mechanically enhanced monstrosities. We don't know much about the Rusted Legion yet - and that is totally fine, because all we have to know for now is that Illidan, self-proclaimed Lord of Outland, and his fellow demons will try to take back his dominion, using the Black Temple as his base of operations.
On April 2nd, the so-called
prologue to Ashes of Outland
has been released in advance to the expansion release on April 7th. Many players expected to see the story of the Rusted Legion unfold, but Team 5 decided to tell the story of
instead. But how is a limited medium like Hearthstone supposed to deliver the epic of Warcraft's most controversial personas?
The answer is simple: It's impossible. It's impossible for a digital card game to recite a tale that has been told over the course of a
real-time strategy game
book trilogy of over 1100 pages
multiple World of Warcraft expansions
But the prologue is not made to summarize a lifetime of stories about Illidan Stormrage.
Dave Kosak and the whole Mission Design team wanted one thing and one thing only: To convey how Illidan had become who he is in current lore: A polarizing story character. No crazy Hearthstone turnarounds, no funny character customization.
Four campaign missions featuring
showcase the beginnings of the Betrayer. With
the love triangle
between Illidan, his brother
, the everlasting affection to demonic powers and the betrayal of his own kin, Team 5 covered the most important lore bases. Driven by envy, rage and thirst for power - the picture of a character in conflict painted through Ashes of Outland's story prologue is crystal-clear.
Now back to the digital card game: Similar to conflicts in other Warcraft and Hearthstone storylines, Team 5 uses two mechanics for each faction to highlight the battle against what seems to be good and bad in the story of Ashes of Outland.
One of the two is called the Prime mechanic: Prime cards shuffle more powerful versions of them back into the deck as a Deathrattle effect:
As you can see, the Prime mechanic is used to highlight prominent members of Burning Crusade's lore. Besides showcasing all-time favorites like
, Team 5 doesn't hesitate to introduce supporting roles like
, leader of the Sporeggar, or community favorite raid bosses like
Reliquary of Souls
High Astromancer Solarian
By the looks of it, Prime cards are the mechanical work of the Rusted Legion and their involvement with the different regions of Outland. What sounds like a mostly nostalgia-driven name pattern based on the legendary Transformers franchise could turn the most prominent antagonists of the Burning Crusade into even more maleficent creatures, causing all sorts of Hearthstone-esk story plots.
Similar to this whole expansion's flavor, the second mechanic showcased in Ashes of Outland is really just the reimagination of a rarely used keyword: Dormant.
A minion which is Dormant gets into play imprisoned and will wake up two turns after you've played it. There are exceptions to the rule - like
, the former Lord of Outland -, but the basic theme around this reintroduced keyword perfectly fits the fantasy around the demons of the Burning Legion as well as its opponents.
Another exception is
. Once a moon priestess, she turned into Illidan's worst nightmare as the leader of the Watchers and his personal master jailer. Maiev's card text exemplifies Team 5's urge to stay within the boundaries of the Warcraft universe: The ability to jail any minion - friend or foe - couldn't be better off with Tyrande's lieutenant, not last because we know that Maiev would do anything to anyone in order to defeat Illidan once and for all.
Demon Hunter's First Class Fantasy
Hearthstone's loyalty to the lore of World of Warcraft culminates in Ashes of Outland's biggest addition to the game: The new class called Demon Hunter.
Sure, players weren't able to play Demon Hunters during the Burning Crusade expansion. However, Team 5 still decided to double down on a combination of ageless lore fantasy and Legion class design with a particular focus on spells and weapons:
And if that wasn't enough reverence already, Demon Hunter's minions showcase living life as an Illidari: May it be cute demons like Ur'zul Horror, most likely a close relative to
, or important lore companions like
Altruis, the Sufferer
: The unconditional love to lore detail encapsulated within the core design philosophy of Hearthstone's Demon Hunter shows the Warcraft roots of Blizzard's card game.
Love to Detail - From the WoW Developer Heart
Besides the fantastic Warcraft setting itself, Hearthstone as a Blizzard game has been shaped by the developers of World of Warcraft as well, and Ashes of Outland yet again illustrates not only the massive influence but also the ever-living lore -affection of veteran Blizzard employees like
Dave "Fargo" Kosak
The popular theory that Ashes of Outland could point towards the development of the Burning Crusade Classic experience might have been a starting point back when the initial design team around long-time WoW class and systems designer
Chadd "Celestalon" Nervig
started working on 2020's first expansion. But no matter the development of Classic WoW, the fantasy behind Ashes of Outland seems to resonate with Team 5's working force like never before.
Besides lead designer Dean "Iksar" Ayala it is again Celestalon who already
gave incredibly interesting design insight on Twitter
such as the addition of Supreme Abyssal and Coilfang Warlord who depict
High Warlord Naj'entus
, bosses from Burning Crusade's most important raid in terms of storytelling, The Black Temple. The fact that some of these cards were supposed to be legendary minions not only shows how fought for these cards spots were over the course of Ashes of Outland's design process - it also punctuates the passion and drive to convey a true and complete picture of Outland and all of its dungeons, tribes and important characters.
Rising from the Ashes of 2019
After a tumultuous 2019 with numerous scandals around the franchise, the game itself still went strong, not last because of the unique year-long storyline revolving around the conflict between the League of E.V.I.L. and the League of Explorers. Different layers of fantasy storytelling had been applied and appreciated over the course of the Year of the Dragon.
The Year of the Phoenix seeks to continue the level of quality in storytelling and chooses WoW's greatest expansion as a breeding ground. We could go over almost every single one of the
135 new cards
and talk about origin, fantasy and localization within the zones of Zangar Marsh, Nagrand, Shadowmoon Valley, Hellfire Peninsula, Blade's Edge Mountains and Netherstorm - but that would go way beyond the scope of this piece.
We've said this many times, but this time we really mean it: Every World of Warcraft player who loves the lore of the magnificent universe that we choose to spend our free time on should try out Ashes of Outland.
At this point it really doesn't matter that we don't know much about the main storyline of this expansion - just because it can't wash away what's already there: A true and honest homage to the time when we set foot through the Dark Portal - a time of almost scientific curiosity combined with the back-then unique feeling of witnessing the first steps of continuous development of a game, franchise and universe that would redefine the world of gaming as we knew it.
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