In mid-December, a new Hearthstone expansion, Rastakhan's Rumble, was launched, and the excitement was naturally big among Blizzard's card game fans, but now that the dust settled, how is Hearthstone post-Rastakhan's Rumble? Well, the truth is that it's somewhat unbalanced.
Some classes, such as Druid, Shaman, and Warrior, don't have very competitive decks at the moment, especially linked to new cards. Other classes, such as the Paladin, the Mage, and the Hunter, have become viable with a series of powerful new decks. The Hunter, in particular, received a series of impressive cards, which caused a tremendous increase in popularity for the class. At the moment, at least three out of five matches are against Hunters, which speaks volumes of the imbalance brought by the expansion.
There is, however, the potential for Blizzard to tighten things up and improve the situation since the expansion has some good ideas and a series of impressive cards that can make Rastakhan's Rumble more relevant if only the studio can fix a few issues.
One new feature introduced by the expansion is overkill, a mechanic that is present in minions and spells, causing an extra effect if the damage done is greater than necessary to kill a minion. The Hunter's Baited Arrow card, for instance, deals 3 damage, but if it overkills its target, it will also summon a 5/5 minion. For example, if you cast Baited Arrow on a footman with 3 or more life, the card simply deals the damage, since it didn't overkill. However, if you cast the card on an enemy with 2 or 1 life, in addition to killing it, Baited Arrow will also summon a 5/5 minion to the Hunter's side, as it triggered the overkill effect.
There are some interesting overkill cards, but they are mostly used separately. There are not many tactics, and even fewer decks built around overkill, which puts this mechanic below others like magnetic or rush from previous expansions.
Another novelty in Rastakhan's Rumble is the spirits. There is one spirit per class, and they're stealthy minions who, by themselves, aren't extraordinary, but who can reinforce other tactics or minions. Take the Warrior's Spirit of the Rhino, for instance, which grants immunity to all rush minions as they come into play, or the Warlock's Spirit of the Bat, which grants +1/+1 to one random minion in the Warlock's hand, whenever one of their minions on the board dies.
As with overkill, spirits are interesting cards by themselves, but they are not as popular as expected. The effects of the spirits may secure some momentary advantage in one or two turns, but not enough to support a deck, which makes them reasonable but far from essential.
It is also necessary to mention the new animals that each class received, as these are legendary minions with special effects. The most popular is probably the Paladin's Shirvallah, the Tiger, a 7/5 minion sporting a divine shield, rush, and life steal, with a 25 mana cost. The trick is that Shirvallah cost is reduced by each mana the Paladin spends on spells. Another popular animal is the Mage's Jan'alai, the Dragonhawk, a 4/4 minion that costs 7 mana and will summon Ragnaros, the Firelord, if the Mage dealt 8 or more damage with their heroic power during the match.
Again, there are some popular animals but only specific classes. The animals of for the Warlock, Rogue, and Shaman, for example, rarely appear in the game, and there are few decks built around these cards. The expansion has also brought in other legendary minions who have had little or no use, such as Hakkar, the Soulflayer, or Griftah, cards we haven't seen used once. Mojomaster Zihi and Oondasta are legendary neutrals that add something to the game, but not to the extent we saw in other expansions.
Lastly, there's the new single-player content, Rastakhan's Arena. As in previous expansions, the player will face bosses with altered mechanics, and specific decks, in a succession of increasingly difficult fights. If you lose, you have to start it all over again. It's a good distraction for anyone who likes to play solo, but without real rewards, the arena is no more than that - a distraction.
At the moment, Hearthstone: Rastakhan's Rumble is an expansion with good ideas and interesting cards, but considering how it's playing out, it is only really essential for some classes and some very specific types of decks. Blizzard needs to improve the synergy of some cards, and to solve the Hunter's exaggerated popularity if they want Rastakhan's Rumble to equal some of the game's better expansions.
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