Blizzard tends to be at their best when they cut loose and have some fun. Witness Hearthstone's solo adventures, which usually offer some decent rewards, but are more about playing with the standard CCG formula while poking fun at WarCraft's sprawling lore.
The League of Explorers, which launched last week, is Hearthstone's third adventure, following on from Curse of Naxxramas and Blackrock Mountain. As in the first two adventures, Blizzard is releasing a series of boss battles and class challenges, with the reward for completion being new cards. For this adventure, Blizzard has taken on more of an adventure theme, so many of the challenges are based on the theme of Indiana Jones (World of WarCraft even has its own Indiana Jones-like character, named Harrison Jones).
The challenges set the tone early with a battle against a genie named Zinaar - a classic Arabian Knights-style foe who fits well in the adventuresome mold of League of Explorers. Zinaar's ability allows him to draw a card (he also gets a mana crystal in the Heroic version of the challenge), but at the expense of granting you a wish. Naturally, the first thing the hero wishes is for is more wishes, which he is granted. The wishes take the form of a zero-mana card that take the form of spells or creatures. It's cute, but in many ways, Blizzard is just warming up.
The best challenge by far in the opening wing is "Temple Escape," which plays out almost like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel. Unlike in other challenges, there is no boss to kill. Instead, your only goal is to survive until the very end, which gets tricky when boulder cards are killing your minions while you're trying to deal with the enemies in front of you. The kicker is that you're periodically presented with choices: Do nothing or burn an extra turn at the expense of having to deal with a 7/7 War Golem? Wade through the glowing pool and gain a mana crystal, or drink deeply and draw a card? Depending on your deck and your playstyle, your choices can make a huge difference on your odds of winning.
For those who don't really care to play on the ladder, the solo adventures are a fun alternative at $19.99 (a total of $7 per wing or 700 gold). They require you to think differently about how to build up your decks, particularly when you're taking on the Heroic challenges, which are much more difficult variants of the vanilla fights.
In all honesty, Blizzard could probably get away with not focusing on a single-player component at all. Hearthstone was extremely popular even before Naxxramas. But the solo adventures substantially broaden Hearthstone's appeal for casual fans intimidated by its sprawling competitive metagame, and they offer a nice base of cards for those who are just starting out. In that sense, League of Explorers is more of the same, which is to say that it's a lot of fun.
What about the cards?
As with the adventure itself, the new cards that can be earned by playing League of Explorers display a certain flair for the creative. The initial mix includes the likes of the Djinni of Zephyrs, which has the text, "Whenever you cast a spell on another friendly minion, cast a copy of it on this one" - perfect for a buff-happy and cure-happy class like the Priest.
The rest of the cards are up and down. The Obsidian Destroyer is an okay Dr. Boom replacement for those who can't afford to craft the real thing - not ideal, but nice if you're just starting out. The Forgotten Torch, which does three damage while shuffling a six damage card into your deck, is interesting because it gives you a chance to do very powerful face damage down the line at the expense of sacrificing some early tempo.
Thus far, though, the most talked about card is Reno Jackson - the hero of the adventure and a card with the potential to fully heal your character. Decried by some as gimmicky - Reno Jackson is only 4/6, which is quite weak for a card that costs six mana - it seems to have caught on with the general public. Brian Kibler's Finding Reno deck is currently quite popular.
Time will tell how the rest of the cards ultimately shake out. So far, Naxxramas has had by far the best cards, beating out Blackrock Mountain by a considerable margin, with even the infamous Grim Patron combo getting nerfed into oblivion. We likely won't know just how popular some cards prove until the full adventure is out.
The rest of League of Explorers will be released over the coming weeks, injecting additional cards into the metagame and generally shaking things up. It should prove to be a refreshing change for competitive players, but even if you want nothing to do with the ladder, it's worth checking out. Reno Jackson's adventures are already proving themselves quite enjoyable.