This year, Blizzard embarked upon an interesting experiment. Instead of just charging people for card expansions, it bundled together an add-on called the Curse of Naxxramas, and released a different "wing" each week. To earn your cards you had to defeat the various denizens of the temple, which in turn unlocked more modes of play and new bosses to fight.
After completing the last wing, I can say that the experiment was definitely worthwhile, an hope Blizzard does it again -- just with a little more flair next time.
Hearthstone: Curse of Naxxramas (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed])
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Released: July 22, 2014 to August 19, 2014 (iOS, Mac, PC) / TBA (Android)
MSRP: Free-to-play (with microtransactions)
Initially I was enamored by the first wing that was given away for free, but in terms of its overall presentation, Naxxramas is fairly bare-bones -- I expected a bit more out of an expansion that costs $24.99 in real money (though if you save up your coins, you can afford it in-game). You're going to get a standard menu with a level-select function, and occasional taunts from big bad Kel'Thuzad, the Archlich. The dialog is cute as it often relies on puns or out-of-character/fourth-wall devices, but it doesn't do much in terms of telling a story or adding to the overall lore of Hearthstone.
No, where Naxx truly shines is by providing more solid gameplay elements, and rewarding you with cards that will likely find their way into most decks. If you want more Hearthstone and are tired of playing online constantly -- this is the way to do it. Be warned though, if you're a veteran player with a great deck, it will likely take you an hour or so to clear everything on normal mode, which may come as a disappointment. As someone with a standard deck, I got at least five hours worth of play.
After completing the standard battle and earning your cards, you'll have a chance to take on both class challenges and heroic battles. These aren't terribly exciting, but they're something else to do, and the former can earn you even more cards. Think of them like re-hashing previous encounters, with the occasional exception (the Hunter class challenge is a fun minion-based battle that causes you to rethink your strategy). Heroic fights on the other hand are often battles of the random-number-generator (RNG), which can get frustrating.
Not every battle is the same test of brute force, thankfully. Patchwerk is one of my favorite encounters in Naxxramas. As an unconventional boss, he doesn't have any cards. Instead, he constantly attacks every turn for five damage and uses an ability that instantly destroys a minion. You can build a deck just for him, or adapt your strategy to quickly knock out his health before he can act. It sounds simple enough, but he was so vastly different from the rest of the game that I enjoyed it.
Instructor Razuvious is another cool fight that involves mind control and taking back enemy minions to do your bidding. Kel'Thuzad himself is actually a "two-phase" fight. There are so many ways Blizzard can theoretically bend the rules to make encounters, although it must be said that Naxxramas doesn't have too many of these unique opponents, and some wings are a bit uneven -- it would be nice if future add-ons had fights that entirely consisted of different mechanics.
Hearthstone: Curse of Naxxramas isn't too exciting for expert players, as they'll likely breeze past the content, but as a delivery system for cards, it's novel -- not to mention that all the same cards are given to every person. The bottom line is I'd love to see more add-ons like this in the future, and hope Blizzard supports Hearthstone for years to come. However you look at it, bare-bones or not, Naxx is a great start.
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