Whispers of the Old Gods, the third expansion for Blizzard’s popular collectible card game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, was released April 26th. Whispers in some ways divides the casual gamer from the hardcore: while Hearthstone is free to play, collecting all of the expansion cards is not. There was a promotional launch event for Whispers during which players received three cards from the expansion packs, but if casual free play gamers want to keep up, they’re probably going to have to shell out.
Forty packs of Whispers cards cost $49.99 in the store. There are smaller packs at cheaper amounts, of course, but if players want to collect the 134 cards in the expansion, the quantity of arcane dust needed to craft all 134 is almost unimaginable. It’s probably a lot less hassle to spend the money to buy packs than it is to hoard arcane dust until the player has enough to craft the entire roster—including the Epic and Legendary cards. There’s probably a fan determined enough to do it, but the process can’t be fun.
That leaves free-to-play gamers who don’t want to shell out fifty dollars (or much, much more) to keep up with other players in the dust, a little. I’m not a hardcore Hearthstone player by any means, and while I love the idea behind Whispers of the Old Gods and might consider purchasing some packs, I’m daunted by the decks I know other gamers must have. Throwing a cursory ten dollars at the game for ten packs isn’t going to measure up to the gamers who have spent hundreds.
Cost considerations aside, the expansion takes Hearthstone to a whole new level. Unlike the previous expansions and adventures, Whispers of the Old Gods is a shift from the game’s somewhat cartoonish vibe—the first expansion, Goblins Vs Gnomes, looks more adorable than anything else, and the voice acting in the game has always skewed over-the-top and hammy to me—and into something much more sinister.
Ancient, evil Old Gods have awoken from millennia of sleep, and despite imprisonment, they spread evil and corruption to their followers and any in their path—to any who might hear their whispers. One of my favorite features is that cards from before the expansion, many of them player favorites, are corrupted and influenced by the Old Gods as well. It shows the peril and malice of the Gods really effectively.
The design of the various gods and creatures is a big shift from the game’s earlier aesthetic: tentacles, corruption, and Lovecraftian creatures are a far cry from the grumpy gnomes, sexy mages, and frankly less than intimidating minions of before. While not all of the Whispers cards come across as spooky (there’s some minions who still might rank as cute), much of the art manages to be unsettling.
While long-time fans of Blizzard games, and their affinity for occasionally apocalyptic, darker mythos, aren’t going to be surprised by the tonal shift in Whispers, I think casual players will be. I just hope the cost of furnishing great, creepy decks isn’t too high for them, because they’d be missing out on a cool experience.