Something big is coming to Hearthstone, in both the literal and metaphorical senses of the word. Not only is there a new major expansion, known as Titans, on the horizon, but said expansion will also contain some of the biggest, most powerful minions that the game has seen yet. As the community waits with bated breath for this bold new era to begin, we sit down with Lead Designer Cora Georgiou and VFX Artist Luke Mason to discuss Titans as a set, what it means for Hearthstone, and how it plumbs the depths of World of Warcraft’s rich lore for inspiration.
Mason sets the stage: “Set in the distant past, Titans lets us see Ulduar at the beginning of civilization itself. The Titans are these massive God-like beings who have been traveling the cosmos, seeding the foundations of life, and in this set we get to see them when they’re hard at work.” Narratively, this is a major step for Hearthstone, tackling what is effectively the origin story of life in the World of Warcraft universe, and doing so in a manner that seems fairly serious at first glance, especially compared with the musical mayhem of Festival of Legends.
This ability to masterfully juggle wildly different narrative tones should be no surprise to long-time Hearthstone fans at this point, but the new and returning mechanics Titans brings to the table just might be. First and foremost among these are the Titans themselves: new legendary minions so unique that they come with their own keyword. As Georgiou notes: “The Titans were a really exciting opportunity to explore this larger-than-life type of character from World of Warcraft: How do we translate that into Hearthstone, and how do we do justice to these God-like beings? We’ve done spins on minions in the past with Primes, and Colossals very recently in Sunken City, and with Titans we wanted to go a step further.”
And what a step it is. Titans, unlike normal minions in Hearthstone, trade the ability to attack for the option to use one of three different activated abilities. Each ability can only be used once, and you can use an ability once per turn. Provided your Titan survives, of course: In a surprising twist, Titans, despite their God-like nature, don’t actually come with any innate protection. “These are powerful minions with powerful abilities, but they can still die, they can be attacked, they can be targeted by spells or Hero Powers.” Georgiou notes, though the sneaky addition of “…unless they say otherwise.” implies that some Titans will be more easily dispatched than others.
“It was very important to us that each of the 11 Titans were very unique to their class, and that their abilities were fitting for the Titans and their lore specifically,” Georgiou adds. “In the case of Norgannon, the Mage Titan, after you use one of his abilities his passive ability will double the power of his remaining abilities, then if you use a second one it will double the third one again. One of his abilities just says ‘Deal 5 damage’: if you power it up, it’ll deal 10, and if you power it up again, it’ll deal 20.” The ability to deal with what is, in most cases, 2/3 of your opponent’s health in a single blow is an exciting introduction to the Titans as a group, but such power doesn’t come freely or easily. “There’s a lot of potential here if you can keep these Titans around on the board, but they are still Minions at heart, so you’re gonna have to do some work to protect them.”
Titans look set to introduce a new layer of strategy to the game, similar to the dynamic Planeswalkers brought to Magic: the Gathering, but potentially richer due to the tactile, interactive nature of Minions as a card type. Creating such powerful minions was a challenge for Hearthstone’s Design team, but one that they welcomed with open arms. “Colossals were the first time we tried to go a step further with what a traditional Minion is, and we learned that doing so was a really exciting process, and that it’s something that players really enjoy.” Georgiou muses. “It’s also quite a scary process, because the power level of Colossals and Titans is quite high. With the Colossal Minions, however, we learned that this isn’t necessarily something that will warp a meta, so we wanted to take a lot of inspiration from that process, of trying to make a version of a Minion that’s a little bit extra, a little bit cooler, a little more exciting, that does something a little bit different. There are definitely a lot of awesome design learnings and practices when we’re making types of cards like this.”
Forged in the Barrens
Though the Titans are the biggest new addition coming in the upcoming expansion, they’re not the only one. Forge, a new keyword ability, is being also introduced, bringing with it some interesting strategic decisions and flashy VFX.
It functions similarly to Tradeable, the now-evergreen mechanic introduced in United in Stormwind, in that it involves dragging cards with Forge from your hand to the top of your deck. Doing so, and paying the two mana required, will grant you an upgraded version of the Forge card in question. “Forge is, at its heart, a sort of Kicker mechanic,” Georgiou notes, referencing a long-standing mechanic in Magic: the Gathering “where you can spend a little bit more to get a little bit of a bonus. We’ve found that, with cards like Locations for instance, If you can frontload the cost for that, it just makes it a little bit more flexible, and lets players plan out their turns better. It lets players feel really smart, since they can Forge their cards well ahead of time, so they’re ready to go when their opponent plays a big Minion, for example.”
While Forge seems like a fairly generic mechanic at a base level, the flavor surrounding it cements it firmly as part of the Titans expansion. “They’re forging weaponry, they’re forging architecture, they’re forging people!” Georgiou says, referencing the residents of Ulduar. “They’re basically forging the entire city of Ulduar on Azeroth, and you’ll see that notion of creation, of forging, of building, throughout a lot of the different Titans and cards across the set.”
You’ll also see it in the VFX for the Forge mechanic, described beautifully by Mason: “Much like Tradeable, you grab your Forge card and hover it over your deck. You’ll see the head of an anvil, etched in these kind of star-mapped cosmic runes. Once you release the Forge card, down comes this massive hammer, emanating this celestial star magic, then the hammer lifts up, revealing the newly-Forged card, and returning it to your hand.” If Forge is as stunning in practice as it is in theory, then it’ll be worth using in your deck for the spectacle alone. Thankfully, it promises a great deal of gameplay potential as well.
The final major feature of Titans is the return of Magnetic, a mechanic that allows you to attach a Mech in your hand to one on the board rather than play it out alone, combining the stats and abilities of the two. “Magnetic was a mechanic we knew we wanted to bring back for this expansion, since there’s a lot of technology and technological advancement in Ulduar at this time.” Georgiou notes, “And that’s something we actually seeded in the Core set for the year, with cards like Zilliax returning. We wanted to make sure that some of the more basic Magnetic cards were in Core, so that people would already have the expectation that Magnetic was going to be a part of Standard for the Year of the Wolf.”
Magnetic certainly seems like a great fit for Titans both flavorfully and mechanically, but just how it will manifest itself in the set remains unclear. One thing we do know is that the mechanic will be taking cues from its Battlegrounds counterpart when it comes to rulings, specifically around playing Magnetic Minions onto a full board. Previously, you needed an empty board space in order to magnetize onto a Minion, but now you can do so even when you have seven Minions in play.
This is a big change for the mechanic, and one that makes it much more powerful and user-friendly. While the original lineup of Magnetic designs seen in The Boomsday Project were mostly just stat modifiers with keywords attached, recent Battlegrounds updates have dabbled with adding extra passive abilities and once-per-turn effects as well, meaning we’ll likely see more complex uses for Magnetic in the full Titans set.
Lore to explore
All of these new additions are driven by the underlying lore of the game’s source material: World of Warcraft. While one could easily forget, given how far it sometimes strays from it, Hearthstone is still largely based on World of Warcraft, and Titans looks to adapt one of the most hotly-demanded settings from that game in Ulduar. According to Georgiou, “People have suspected we’d do (an expansion about Ulduar) for quite a long time, and they were right.”
As mentioned above, Titans is set far back in the World of Warcraft timeline, at a time when most life was artificial, formed of metal and earth, before the Curse of Flesh arrived and changed everything. “There’s this whole expansive Warcraft lore surrounding the Titans and their creations in Ulduar and their disciples, but we took inspiration from all different kinds of mythology, which was really fun for me!” Georgiou notes. “I was a very firm Percy Jackson kid, so getting to come in here and play around again with stuff that I’ve loved since I was very young was really cool.”
Beyond the narrative aspects, the pre-existing lore for Titans informed a lot of the set’s artistic direction as well, as Mason notes: “From the art side in particular, none of the Titans came out of the box with class identities attached, so it was really fun getting to grind down the likes of Eonar the Life-Binder into a Druid class legendary. She’s the Titan that oversees life magic, and has a sort of nurturing domain, so her Titan abilities all focus on that idea of restoration, and seeding out life.”
It’s heartening to see such a strong emphasis placed on the narrative side of a game that could likely get by without it, and it’s a testament to the craftsmanship of the Hearthstone team that so much effort goes into respecting and honoring the groundwork laid by World of Warcraft. As Gerogiou puts it: “Every time we do an expansion like this that calls back significantly to WoW lore, digging into it and learning about all the incredible narrative work that that team does, and being able to expand upon that in a way that really brings it to life for an audience that isn’t necessarily familiar with it at all is really cool and fun.”
Whichever angle you view it from, Titans is set to be a monumental expansion, bringing new mechanics and intriguing lore to the Hearthstone universe. It will be released in early August this year, so start saving your gold now if you want to harness the power of the Gods come launch day.