It’s week two of the five that will make up the five wings of Hearthstone‘s solo adventure, Naxxramas. The first wing, The Arachnid Quarter, was met with mixed reviews from players. Some have complained that, for all the hype, Naxx is a flat effort that has been over-hyped. I being relatively new to online collectible card games, find that this single players adventure mode is both fun AND less maddening than playing against real players for a change. (Regular players know what I’m talking about…at least AI doesn’t say “Thank you” after every turn.)
Right off, there were some technical issues for me. For one, I was late to the party where Blizzard announced that Hearthstone would unlock Naxx‘s week two at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday (as opposed to Tuesday morning for week one’s Arachnid Quarter.) Speculatively, this could be to avoid issues surrounding high traffic. After all, the game is cool, but not up-late-on-a-school-night cool. I did get on, but like many others, I was booted while attempting to cash in to week two. When I used my in-game credits to unlock the wing, the request timed out. After restarting, I saw that I was down from 900 coins to 180, and also that I had not been granted access. I put in a ticket, went on with my day, and checked back later to see the issue resolved. Not a big deal.
The theme for week two of Curse of Naxxramas was plague and pestilence, as the name suggests. The theme for the AQ was pretty well-defined (a ton of spiders and spider-related cards and abilities is pretty direct, I would have to say). This wing, however, seemed to focus as much on the undead as it did the malady of disease. Is that a huge bone of contention? Hardly. But I felt much more like the minions in the AQ supported the campaign. Considering that this was the first week that access wasn’t free to play, I felt that that slightly unvarnished finish was a little negligent. However, far be it for me to even guess at what kind of work goes into a massive development like this solo adventure. (Or how many plague-themed characters there are to really draw from in WoW, for that matter.) Ghouls, demons and the undead were the focal point of this wing.
For the PQ, the heroes were scourge themed. Noth the Plaugebringer had a passive power, Raise Dead, that summoned a 1/1 skeleton minion for each minion killed (no casting cost). This, to the best of my knowledge, is the first character in Hearthstone to operate with a passive (no cost) ability. This sounds like it would be kind of a bitch to deal with…but it just wasn’t. Noth seemed to lack the cards needed to buff his own minions, making the 1/1 skeletons just not an issue to contend with, in general. Plague (which destroys all non-skeletal minions) for 6 was kind of lame. Those 1/1 skeletons weren’t that big of an inconvenience. I wish that I had more to say about this wing, but it was pretty straightforward, and I think I beat this character on the first try. When you defeat Noth The Plaguebringer, your prize is the Stoneskin Gargoyle card, a 1/4 minion that heals itself at the start of the every turn that is 3 to cast. While this card in and of itself isn’t much of a win, played with sufficient buff cards could make this a really versatile and useful addition to your deck.
Heigan the Unclean is boss number two. Heigan’s hero ability, Eruption, is a spell that does two damage to the left-most minion. This confused me initially, although it’s exactly what it sounds like. What it mean, basically, is to watch where you place your minions, since the minion to your left will always be vulnerable. (Heroes like the Paladin might work well in this instance, in that the Paladin’s hero ability is to summon a 1/1 minion.) Heigan also has a card called Mindpocalypse, which gives he and the player two cards and two extra mana crystals. It’s kind of a cool card, actually, unless Heigan plays this when your hand is full. This can cause players to exceed the ten card limit, which has the potential to destroy some useful cards.When you defeat Heigan, you earn an Unstable Ghoul, a 1/3 taunt minion with deathrattle where that doles out 1 damage to every minion on the board (and which you will recognize from play, as he uses it every game at least once for 3 casting cost).
The PQ’s final boss is kind of intimidating. Loatheb starts off at 75 health, which is 50 more than any other challenger. His ability is a 2 casting cost Necrotic Aura, which deals 3 damage to the opponent. Loatheb also uses a pretty effective spell, Deathbloom, which deals five damage to a minion and creates a 0/1 spore. The spores are the saving grace of this battle; once a 0/1 spore is killed, it gives any minions on your side of the board eight more damage. If you kill two spores, that’s 16 additional attack for each character, and so on. There’s another spore card, too; Sporeburst deals one damage to all minions on the board and creates one spore, not unlike the Unstable Ghoul card you’ll recognize from Heigan. Once you manage to keep enough minions on the board to accrue those lucrative buffs, Loatheb is a quick win. Well, for me it took upwards of five times. But it is notable that in those 5 turns, I lazily did nothing to improve my deck or switch up my strategy. Defeating Loatheb earns players the Sludge Belcher taunt, a 3/5 minion with a deathrattle that creates a 1/2 Sludge minion that also has taunt.
Cards that restore health, buff characters or deflect attacks to the hero were a hot commodity for this wing. In my last review, I used the Priest. I figured a little continuity couldn’t possibly hurt. (Plus I don’t play with my Priest deck enough. Kill two birds, right?) So that’s what I went with. My deck is a little minion-bald and spell heavy, with tons of buffs but not always enough minions to play them on. However, I moved through this wing and its challenges with what I can only call relative ease. One kind of cool thing that Hearthstone seems to be doing? Doling out extra challenges for players who don’t have the coin to play the next wing of Naxx. Online Sunday evening, the game issued three quests at once. Never having seen this before, I can only assume that this is for the benefit of players who don’t want to drop $6.99 to play the next wing. And that’s just damn considerate, if I do say so myself.
The class challenges were fun, with the Hunter in particular being a fun change of pace. For the Hunter, all cards in your hand at the start of the game, as well as each card pulled during the match, will be a 1/1 Webspinner card. Webspinners are a 1 casting cost beast/minion whose deathrattle is to place a random beast into your hand. This means that it’s not difficult to put a number of minions on the board, and the results are unpredictable and often work out in the player’s favor. Players who beat this challenge earn the Webspinner card. The Mage challenge was very secret-oriented. Secret cards are the bane of playing against a Mage, but it was fun to watch move after move from my opponent blocked. Players who win this Mage class challenge will earn a Duplicate card, which places two copies of a friendly minion into the player’s hand when that friendly minion is destroyed…kind of like a tack-on deathrattle. This challenge felt a little preachy to me, as if it were trying to teach players how to make the most of this and future uses of the secret cards. Still, it was fun to play.
The legendary card gained from this wing’s completion in Normal adventure mode is a 5/5 minion for 5 casting cost that makes all enemy spells cost five additional mana the next turn. (Anyone who uses a Shadowstep and Leroy Jenkins card combo with any frequency realizes that this card has obviously useful implications.)