The year of the Gryphon is upon Hearthstone and the changes are coming in a flurry. BlizzCon 2021, held online and thus given the name BlizzConline by many, was a huge one for Hearthstone and its ardent fans.

Hearthstone reveals Mercenaries game mode, Forged in the Barrens expansion at BlizzCon 2021

Forged in the Barrens Expansion

Hearthstone marked the start of the Year of the Gryphon  and the end of the Year of the Phoenix by announcing the new expansion named Forged in the Barrens. Teased already prior to BlizzCon 2021, the Forged in the Barrens expansion will be an addendum and form part of the new Core set that will replace the Classic and Basic sets that had been there since the inception of the game.

The announcement reads, “ A land of peril and possibility awaits you in the next Hearthstone expansion! This is where legends are made. Perhaps you, too, shall be #ForgedintheBarrens.”

The expansion set is already available for pre-purchase in the game for 49.99 USD while players who want the mega bundle can pre-purchase the same for 79.99 USD. The mega bundle equips the buyers with 20 additional Forged in the Barrens Card Packs, compared to the 60 available as part of the expansion set pre-purchase along with other perks like 5 Golden Card Packs and 2 Golden Legendaries instead of the pure Legendaries that you will be privy to upon pre-purchasing the basic 49.99 USD one.

Hearthstone reveals Mercenaries game mode, Forged in the Barrens expansion at BlizzCon 2021

The Forged in the Barrens expansion welcomes a new trigger or keyword called Frenzy. Cards that have Frenzy as an Action will trigger the effect or action embedded therein the first time they survive after taking some damage once placed on the board. Ranked Spells have been introduced as well. The Card evolves and improves actions that can be taken once you reach 5 or 10 Mana Crystals, irrespective of whether it is in your hand or deck. Another permanent addition in the form of Spell Schools has been introduced that improves and imbues synergy among Spells and Cards. The same will be applied retroactively to all the cards to provide the effect of synergy through your deck.

The Forged in the Barrens expansion also welcomes 10 Legendary Mercenary Minions, all of whom will be highlighted with storylines in a year-long plot in-game as the game ushers into the Year of the Gryphon.

Hearthstone is also offering the Legendary Minion, Shadow Hunter Vol’jin, for free. All you have to do in order to get your hands on the Legendary Card is log into the game. While the Forged in the Barrens expansion set does not have a release date as of yet, historical precedence suggests it might be available for players by the month of April.

Mercenaries Mode

Now, we mentioned the Forged in the Barrens expansion adding 10 Legendary Mercenary Minions in-game. What we did not talk about was an entirely new game mode that is coming to Hearthstone. Given the name Mercenaries, Hearthstone is finally diving into the RPG genre with this game mode.

Hearthstone reveals Mercenaries game mode, Forged in the Barrens expansion at BlizzCon 2021

Mercenaries brings users close to the World of Warcraft realm, with players having to select a team of mercenaries from iconic World of Warcraft characters like Sylvanas Windrunner, Ragnaros the Firelord, Thrall, Gruul and more. Each time a user assembles a team of mercenaries to go on a mercenary run, they will be faced with a randomly generated combination of challenges that will yield them rewards. The challenges will be reset and reshuffled before the start of a new mercenary run.

It will be a turn-based RPG feature with simultaneous actions, wherein players choose actions in situations and see them play out before moving on to the next situation. The mercenaries or characters will have abilities but they will not be mana-based. In fact, the developers have tried a lot to imbibe the RPG experience in this game mode, with the abilities having a cooldown instead and there being no inherent concept of mana at all.

Hearthstone reveals Mercenaries game mode, Forged in the Barrens expansion at BlizzCon 2021

The mercenaries will evolve into more powerful versions of their own selves after the experience they gather from the battles and challenges they conquer, thus bringing in the leveling up part of the experience. There will even be a PvP mode for the game too and that is sure to get the World of Warcraft fans excited.

Game director Ben Lee explained the concept of Mercenaries and their abilities in the said game mode. Lee said,” Mercenaries have their own abilities. So they have three abilities, where they do different things. One might be just a simple attack, so your minion will bash into another minion like you might expect. Another one might be dragon breath, say Alexstrasza, where she doesn’t attack but she deals her damage directly to an enemy unit. Or if you want to, Alexstrasza, because she’s the aspect of life, you choose to cast that dragon breath ability on a friendly minion, it might heal it instead. So there’s a lot of complexity and nuance to it.  We think it’s a very deep mode. We’re trying to make it so that it’s pretty simple to get into but there’s a huge amount of depth if you really want to engage with this mode and master it.”

The Mercenaries Game Mode will be an interesting battle of wit, anticipation and more, especially in the PvP mode. In the PvE mode, or in battles against the computer, players can expect or anticipate the enemies’ intent or supposed action, which aids their own decision and action. However, in the PvP mode, all will be unclear, making it a battle of wit as both take simultaneous decisions in situations.

Hearthstone reveals Mercenaries game mode, Forged in the Barrens expansion at BlizzCon 2021

The Mercenaries Mode will also see the introduction of a Book of Mercenaries. Like the Book of Heroes, we will be privy to the storylines and backstories of all 10 Legendary Mercenaries that have been released in the Forged in the Barrens expansion pack through the Book of Mercenaries.

The game mode is currently being worked on by a team of 15 people at Hearthstone and while it has just been teased, the Mercenary mode is scheduled for a 2021 release. The developers and the team have promised more revelations and details in the coming months, with the game expected to come out in the first expansion cycle of the Year of the Gryphon.

Hearthstone: Classic

With the advent of the Year of the Gryphon and the introduction of the new Core set along with the Forged in the Barrens expansion, Hearthstone has now pushed the Classic and Basic Decks that were previously available into the Wild category. This means it will no longer be the default set or be eligible to be played in the Ranked meta.

Hearthstone reveals Mercenaries game mode, Forged in the Barrens expansion at BlizzCon 2021

To compensate for the nostalgia that the players will be hit with, Hearthstone has revealed more details about the Classic Mode. The Classic Mode will allow the players to use the Classic and Basic Decks that include the 240 original cards that were introduced with the inception of Hearthstone in 2014.

Players will also be privy to a sweet perk, with Hearthstone offering every user a Golden Classic Card Pack after they log into the game once the patch goes live.

The New Core Set and Shaman Updates

Hearthstone fans also received some more details about the newly revealed Core set that will replace the Classic and Basic Decks in the game. Fan Favourite Cards like Annoy-O-Tron, Tomb Pillager, Tirion Fordring and Fireball will all be returning to the game with the new Core Set while the likes of Assassinate and Menagerie Warden have been updated to some extent to form part of the said set.

Hearthstone reveals Mercenaries game mode, Forged in the Barrens expansion at BlizzCon 2021

The new Core set will introduce 29 completely new Minions into the meta and four of them were revealed at BlizzCon 2021. The likes of Novice Zapper, Felsoul Jailer, Overlord Runthak and Vanessa Vancleef were revealed at the BlizzCon event along with a new Priest Spell named Thrive in the Shadows.

Shaman has received a buff as part of changes that will hit the servers in the latest patch. Staple Shaman cards like Earth Elemental, Lightning Storm and Feral Spirit have all received buffs while Shaman’s Hero Power has been updated with a new Totem known as the Strength Totem. The Strength Totem. when drawn, will equip a friendly minion placed on the Board with a +1 Attack at the end of the turn. The Totem will be replacing the Wrath of Air (Spell Damage) Totem as part of the Random Totems that can be drawn from Shaman’s Hero Power.

Reworks: Legendary Quest Line and Demon Hunter Class Unlock

The Legendary Quest Line will now be overhauled, with fights against Malfurion, Tyrande and Hakkar removed from it and returning players will be privy to 15 expansion card packs from recent expansions as compensation or a token. New players can also receive rewards and card packs by completing quests from the Battlegrounds, with the Legendary Quest Line reworked for them as well and some of the quests shifted to the Battlegrounds.

The Demon Hunter class can now be unlocked like every other class, meaning players just need to beat the Demon Hunter in practice mode or by fighting in Constructed in order to unlock the said class. The Demon Hunter prologue is still available for players that are yet to complete it and they will be rewarded with a Demon Hunter Class Pack upon completing the same for the first time. Also, completing all the missions of a certain class in the Book of Heroes will unlock the said class for the players.

Hearthstone reveals Mercenaries game mode, Forged in the Barrens expansion at BlizzCon 2021

Hearthstone is also commemorating 30 years of Blizzard, wherein players can receive a 30 Years of Blizzard Card Pack from the in-game Store for free until March 2, 2021.

There are other small updates related to Hero Pools, Battlegrounds and more that will be part of the 19.6 patch.