How 'Hearthstone' Developers Gave 'Saviors of Uldum' An Identity

The latest Hearthstone expansion Saviors of Uldum continues the misadventures of the League of E.V.I.L. as they fly the city of Dalaran (thanks to a pair of rockets strapped to its bottom.) It's one of the most ridiculously strange sets Blizzard has ever released for their massively successful card game, adding new mechanics and revisiting old ones.

saviors of uldum hearthstone
The four explorers leading the Saviors of Uldum Blizzard

Quests were first introduced in the League of Explorers expansion alongside the adventurers Brann Bronzebeard, Reno Jackson, Elise Starseeker and Sir Finley. As an homage to where Hearthstone has been, both the team of explorers and Quests will be making their return in Saviors of Uldum, but with a twist.

"Quests are being done in a totally different way," Final Designer for Hearthstone Dean Ayala told Newsweek. "Before you'd complete Quests and you'd get something so powerful that you would either complete it and win or you wouldn't complete it. Now, we expect you to complete your Quest and be able to utilize what that Quest brings you with the rest of your deck. It's a new way to interact with a mechanic from the past."

These Quests are meant to add to the flavor of your deck rather than just a be a major win condition. The development team wanted to include past mechanics while making sure they felt fresh and exciting for players who already knew what to expect. "When we release a new expansion, we want it to feel like you are doing something different than what you've done before," Ayala said. "Even people who experienced Quests in the past, these are going to feel fresh."

One of the biggest problems Quest decks had was early game boredom. On turn one, you had very few options outside of playing the Quest, limiting your play style. Cards like Questing Explorer were added to give these decks a bit more balance in the early game. "We don't want you to feel like you are playing from behind on turn two," said Liv Bredeen, an initial designer on Hearthstone.

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Supreme Archaeology, the new Warlock Quest Blizzard

The goal with expansions is to give players something new to come back to while also building on past concepts and themes. An archetype like Battlecry Shaman might receive a few new cards over multiple expansions because the developers think it's a "really fun deck" Ayala said. With Saviors of Uldum, the developers allowed themselves to build on the foundation they laid with Rise of Shadows. For example, a new Lackey is being added with this expansion that adds even more creative potential to deck building.

There's also a new card in the set that hasn't been revealed yet that Ayala claims "took the most engineering and design time of any card we've ever made." Though he wouldn't say which card it was, he did tease that "it's the most exciting card for the team" and "you'll know it when you see it."

In order to add these new play styles to older decks and archetypes, the Hearthstone developers have had to ground their approach to design. Complexity was a problem in past sets like Kobolds and Catacombs that added more powerful mechanics that limited the meta and it's growth. Voidlord and Bloodreaver Gul'dan were nearly impossible to counter during the height of the K&C cycle. "We wanted to pull back from where we were at K&C to give us more room to breathe," Bredeen said. "So more of those mechanics have more of a space within that set."

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Untapped Potential gives Druid a new twist on an old classic Blizzard

Ayala and the rest of the developers want to avoid "power creep" which to them means "taking a stronger card and making a stronger version, not taking cards that aren't really being played and making more powerful versions." He points to Deathstalker Rexxar as a card they want to avoid creating again. "You can play a Midrange deck and be able to play against Control decks because you included this one card," he said. "That's not a huge sacrifice to make to compete with all these decks."

In June, Hearthstone released a blog post detailing what the developers wanted each class identity to be. Saviors of Uldum is the first set that strictly follows those guidelines, even if the developers sometimes wish they had more wiggle room. Ideas like a Hunter that heals or uses control cards sounds fun for a designer to create, but it would "make the classes feel to similar," Ayala said. "It would have long term downsides just to make something cool for one set."

"We try to stick as close as we can to it," Bredeen said. "It's fun to break the rules but we do want to keep it pretty close." There were even cards that were reworked in the initial and final design phase because they didn't fit the classes' defined identity.

Saviors of Uldum releases on August 6 on mobile and PC.