Hearthstone has always been something that has fascinated me. As a World of Warcraft spinoff, it’s steeped in the lore and characters that I grew up with and condensed it into a fun card game. I had a solid go of it when it first came out; I built my decks, constructed my cards, and even climbed the ranks of Hearthstone’s ladder. However, like most games, I eventually stopped playing. It could have been out of frustration or because I found a different game to focus on — I honestly don’t remember because it was years ago. I did want to get back into it, but as the days turned to months, months to years, and one expansion to various expansions, I felt like I could not catch up.
This is why Hearthstone’s new Mercenaries mode really intrigued me. This game mode gave me a second chance to get back into the game, to find a new foothold I can build upon once again. However, while there is plenty of fun to be had in the new Mercenaries mode, it is still weighed down by the standard mode of Hearthstone.
Not completely a stand-alone game
Mercenaries, for the most part, is a stand-alone mode in Hearthstone, where the player builds a team of mercenaries who go off to fulfill bounties and earn some loot. A game of Mercenaries takes place on a board with branching paths that represent what kind of match the player will face. If you are familiar with Slay the Spire, you will understand what I’m talking about. Each team the player creates is filled with six mercenaries. Every mercenary has their own unique abilities and they can play off each other, meaning synergy is vital for success. If one of the mercenaries dies in the game, they cannot be used until a run is complete. Once the game is finished, the player is rewarded with mercenary coins that can be used to upgrade or construct troops.
Mercenaries blends together normal Hearthstone gameplay with many ideas from deck-builder roguelikes. While there is progression and leveling system for mercenaries, each run is somewhat fresh — a tabula rasa-lite, if you’ll allow me to make up words. Building a team of mercenaries can be a thrill. Examining the characters and seeing what kind of “decks” will synergize well made me remember how much I enjoy deck-building games. The roster is still rather low, especially compared to the gargantuan size the normal mode of Hearthstone has. I, however, consider this a blessing as it is extremely easy to wrap my head around a couple of mercs instead of sifting through hundreds of pages of characters.
Once gold becomes an issue, and the bounty board runs dry, the glaring problems of this mode become apparent: It can only stand with the help of the standard game of Hearthstone. The progression in Mercenaries is borderline nonexistent on its own. I do not have years of gold hoarded up in my purse like most Hearthstone players. After a couple of upgrades and Mercenary packs, I was looking at my empty coffers and pondering on how to remedy this. There is no way to earn gold in Mercenaries outside the lucky Daily Quests. Experience for the Season Pass also comes in at a snail’s crawl. The only way I could earn gold was to jump into a normal match of Hearthstone.
Like a foreign language
I looked at my old decks with absolute confusion. I have no memory of making half of them. All of them were unusable in the Standard mode of play. I had to go into Wild mode like a fool with only C’thun to back me up. I don’t even know if he is still a good card to have. It clearly didn’t help me as I lost painfully in each match I played. Everyone had cards with mechanics that were completely foreign to me but are probably old hat at this point in the game’s life span. Nothing is more miserable than sitting in a Hearthstone match knowing full well you will lose, and having your opponent drag out the match like a sadistic cat playing with a cornered mouse.
I did not let it bother me too much, I rolled with the punches, got some gold, and headed straight back to Mercenaries. The real gut punch was the realization that I am going to have to do this again and again in order to earn a steady stream of gold. All I want to do is play this mode, a mode that got me excited about the Hearthstone brand, and not touch the part that I no longer consider fun.
Mercenaries is a well-crafted mode that is incredibly inviting to players of all skill levels. There is enough complexity to make you think about it even when you are not playing it, but is easy enough that you can slap a team together and still have plenty of fun. Things only turn sour when you exit this mode and trek through the normal mode of play to hunt for gold like a desperate miner. People who have been playing Hearthstone, have up-to-date decks and understand the current meta will not have an issue with this. But players like me who no longer understand this language of play will have a frustrating time.