After countless hours of developer manpower, a reveal event that left many in the Hearthstone community more confused than excited, and months of anticipation, Hearthstone Mercenaries has arrived.
For some, it's the change of pace they've been wanting from the seven-year-old title. Others are waiting (and hoping) Blizzard Entertainment will stumble yet again after the company has been under the spotlight in recent months for a work environment that has been deemed a "frat boy culture."
The roguelike dungeon crawler allows players the ability to customize their own home base; create and craft individual mercenaries to use in single or multiplayer combat, engage in a unique form of combat, and much more.
Prior to release, Inven Global was granted access to the game mode and its' developers to gather intel ahead of Tuesday's launch. After a few hours of exploration on both brand new and end game accounts, here are the author's takeaways.
It's difficult to comprehend the extent to which the Hearthstone development team built out the ability for players to customize and refine not only team compositions but individual mercenaries themselves.
Between skins, abilities, upgrades, a brand new resource system, card packs, enchantments, and more, it can be a little overwhelming, honestly. The amount of new content in the team-building/character customization hub alone is staggering but awe-inspiring.
As players scroll through the different playable characters and their respective abilities, you need to be reminded from time to time that this is part of Hearthstone's base game as opposed to a standalone title that costs $40 and features more content than some AAA titles on launch.
While the development team was not able to provide a firm date or time period they started working on Mercenaries, to say the work they have done to allow players to flex their creative muscles comes across as rushed, half-assed, or sloppy is a serious disservice.
Whether the game mode is deemed a success or everyone's cup of tea is entirely subjective, but it's certainly not for a lack of trying on the development team's end.
Something for everyone
For better or for worse, Mercenaries isn't like the wildly successful, previously-new game mode, Battlegrounds. In the latter, players can open the Hearthstone client, click on the Battlegrounds tab, press Play, and in a matter of seconds get right into a game.
Some love that, others don't.
There's a distinct lack of depth with the auto chess game mode that the development team has been working to improve in recent months with the addition of custom bartenders and unique skins to keep players coming back to try something new.
Mercenaries is an entirely different beast.
Upon jumping into the Mercenaries tab, players are met with an entire work surrounding the game mode that brings it to life. A daily quest hub, team/character customization area, single and multiplayer-hub, tavern, and mailbox all greet those who want to check out what Mercenaries has in store.
There's a great deal to do and players (according to the development team) can expect new streams of content over time to keep them engaged in the game mode outside of just cosmetics which can provide short hits of dopamine that fade away after a few play sessions.
Similar to Battlegrounds, there will be a group of players who log in to Hearthstone just to play Mercenaries due to its' uniqueness and aren't fans of the traditional collectible card game title. With the vast array of options already built-in to the roguelike mode, they'll have plenty to do.
A common complaint with Battlegrounds is one that has followed the auto chess genre since inception: a lack of player agency.
Sure, players can position their units on the battlefield to do things they hope to do but at the end of the day, the element of RNG is, ultimately, the deciding factor.
Mercenaries puts the power back in the hands of the players... for the most part.
At the start of the game, players can choose which trio of Mercenaries they want to start each battle with. The other three begin on the bench and can enter the battlefield when an ally is knocked out or with certain abilities.
When the turn starts, players can order each Mercenary to do a select number of actions. The majority of them are targeted and predictable. A few have the "random" tag in them but in 3v3 combat, the outcome is less volatile.
Once combat has completed, which can, at times, be a bit tricky to follow given the lack of a combat history that the CCG has, as well as a myriad of new abilities, the chain starts again.
Being able to predict what abilities your opponent's Mercenaries have at their disposal, their cooldown timer, and their spell speed add a layer of complexity to combat that will allow players to showcase their skills.
It's unknown as to whether Mercenaries will reach the heights of Battlegrounds achieved in such a short period of time. But, for all intents and purposes, it's not for a lack of trying on the development team's part.
Tim Rizzo is the editor and a reporter for Inven Global. He joined the company back in 2017.