When Ashes of Outland opens the store on April 7th, Hearthstone celebrates more than just the arrival of a new expansion and a new standard year – it will bring the first new class of Blizzard Entertainment digital card game since the launch of a beta test in 2014.
The Demon Hunter is the marquee attraction for Ashes of Outland, Hearthstone's 17th new set of cards. It ripples on The Burning Crusade, the first expansion of the long history of World of Warcraft. This new class is somewhat shaped by some of the other Hearthstone heroes – the warlock's demons, Rogue's 1-damage ping attack, and the druid, paladin, or shaman token-style. Throw in new mechanics like "Ejected" (which grants bonuses depending on whether they are on the far left or far right of your hand) and "Dormant", along with the previous update of Priest and the 2020 Hall of Fame class (I don't miss you, Mind Control Tech!) And Hearthstone looks so different from 201
And that should be a good thing. Digital card games like Hearthstone depend on committed players buying packs of cards, bundles, and other in-game extras. By making these changes, adding modes like Battlegrounds, releasing frequent updates, and creating new classes, Blizzard makes a good case for gamers whether they are lapsed from old regulars or new ones to keep playing (and spending money). This is especially important for Blizzard as Magic: The Gathering – Arena continues to challenge Hearthstone to supremacy in the card game.
During the Hearthstone summit in February, Blizzard informed me about the demon hunter and Ashes of Outland. I played a few matches on the deck and it took me a while to set the rhythm of the class. I enjoyed how active it feels because you often go straight to your opponent's face or do big turns for the next round. I interviewed Hearthstone FX artist Hadidjah Chamberlin and game designer Stephen Chang about the team's approach to creating the demon hunter and its mechanics.
This is an edited transcript of my interview.
Demon Hunter Workshop
GamesBeat: Six years have passed Hearthstone. Why add a class now? In the early years of Hearthstone, people talked about having new classes, but that subsided and many players had given up new classes.
Hadidjah Chamberlin: Much has to do with the fact that Hearthstone has existed for six years. We had six years to learn what players enjoyed in the nine classes, to really refine what each identity should look like for those classes. As part of that, we saw where there was room for another class identity, cool things that we could do with it and that would blend in well with all other classes. This has led us to build a class that feels unique and exciting. It brings something new to Hearthstone, but everyone else feels special.
GamesBeat: When did work on demon hunters start?
Stephen Chang: About a year ago, something a year ago, about? Our expansion production runs for about a year, and we had been talking about it around that time. We wanted to see if there was any excitement in the team, if we could normally do it. There are many things to consider when adding a new class. We had all of these conversations. Everyone was super excited. We thought it was something exciting that we could take to Hearthstone.
GamesBeat: When you design a new class, what do you see first?
Chang: The first thing we looked at as we approached the design of the class was that we wanted to make sure that we captured the class's imagination, which people did think, when you think of demon hunters, how to capture that feeling of being a demon hunter: this fast, aggressive, agile style. From there we started to iterate and experiment with the types of archetypes that would make sense in Hearthstone and the types of archetypes that class would have. From then on we started to repeat the mechanics for the class. We gave him a new keyword, outcast, and part of it was both thematic, these are the outcasts of society. People are not entirely sure whether they are good or bad. They do their own thing. We wanted a mechanic to grasp that. The word goes well with the mechanics of taking care of the edges of your cards and how you manipulate the cards in your hand to get the most out of them. We also spent a lot of time repeating the hero card. That determines a lot of how the heroes will develop. We researched a variety of heroic powers that we went through continuously, and finally came across the one-mana heroic power that is very unique to the demon hunter class. All original classes have two mana powers. We wanted to capture this fast play style, the idea that demon hunters are always on the attack. We have lots of cards playing around to take turns and get bonuses from them.
Chamberlin: One of the coolest things for me about demon hunters that I've had so much fun playing tests is that it gives you tons of these interesting little decisions all the time. [The new mechanic] Outcast is a great example of this because sometimes when you draw an Outcast card you may want to play it right away, but you may want to hold onto it. It is important to get the rest of your hand out of the way. You also have a kit that focuses very much on soul magic where it is – some of your cards benefit from how many of your own minions died that turn. It's another thing where the game order matters. How you deal with your minions, whether you want to go far with a small board so that you cut off many things and let many minions die in one round to get a powerful version of this card in your hand, there are many cool decisions like this . You always feel pretty smart about things like that. It's really fun to play.
GamesBeat: And the order in which you attack also plays a role.  Chamberlin: Yes.
GamesBeat: When did an attack by your hero crystallize and then playing card effects from this attack as part of the demon hunter kit?
Chang: Much of it was just that we wanted to live out the fantasy of the demon hunter who led the charge against the armies that followed. We wanted to make sure that the class was very active. By attacking and receiving many bonuses, it promotes a very proactive style of play. That was one of the things we definitely wanted to keep with the demon hunter. They attack a lot at the front, but they also jump into the back line to attack. We wanted to capture everything mechanically in Hearthstone. But we also want – there is also the archetype of soul magic, but there is also a great archetype of demons. Demon hunters value power. There are demons out there who really respect power. The demon hunters have recruited some of these great demons to fight alongside them, and as a demon hunter you can play a very controlled style of play with very large demons that you can summon.
GamesBeat: Like the locked-in Antaen, who rests for two rounds and then deals 10 damage.
Chang: Yes, and also the Pit Commander, who will recruit another demon. They have all of these giant demons that you can activate that have more control style if you are not the type of player who likes an aggressive style. There is also this style of play that demon hunters have, and it still fits the imagination to control these large, powerful armies.
GamesBeat: Why did you choose to give a hero power that is only 1 mana?
Chang: We initially iterated a ton. Heroic power was 2 mana and we tried many different types with 2 mana. But we knew we wanted a heroic force to grant an attack because of all the attack triggers that are important to all the cards we made. We tried to ignore taunt plus 1 attack, immune to plus +1 attack. We tried to activate it twice. They all didn't exactly match what we wanted for demon hunters. This should be a very reliable and quick way to activate, attack and deploy demon hunters. After all the iteration, someone suggested what if we only made 1 mana out of it? Can we do that? It's scary, but we tried it.
We started testing it. We tried the different cards that worked with it and it just felt right. It felt quick and felt like you were easily accessible to activate the things you had. You had a lot of interesting options. There have been many decision points where you may have a card that you want to play on a curve, or a card that is slightly off the curve, but you get heroic power. There were all these tiny decisions that you had to make, lots of interesting decisions. Everything felt right when we started exploring this heroic power. We adjusted all the cards so that they had 1 mana hero power so that they were at the right level and then everything just flowed from there. It was a lot of iteration. We worked a lot on the hero power. But when we got to that point and tested it, it felt right and fun.
Chamberlin: It is one of the things that really fascinate me to see all the iterations in heroic power. When the 1-mana version came in, it suddenly felt right. You felt like a demon hunter because … you feel fast. You feel like you can weave it anywhere. It really adds to all the flood of attacks you have. It is aggressive. It's a bit messy. This is something that we wanted to support on all sides, on design, art, everywhere. That was one of the things it went into and yes, now you feel like a demon hunter. It was really cool.
Chang: Other iterations, something just didn't feel good. We couldn't explain it. I don't think that's right. All right, back to the drawing board and let's try another one. Finally we tried that and it just worked. You know that it works when all eyes light up. It feels right. This is how this hero should feel when you play him. It really suited this fantasy to be a demon hunter.