Blizzard is releasing Hearthstone’s “Saviors of Uldum” expansion soon, and to get ready the company released a patch to tidy up before the new content drops. The patch does typical stuff like removing from the game some older cards from Standard mode and adding some cards to Classic, but it also changed the art of eight old card faces without explanation.
According to Kotaku’s report on the Hearthstone update, it looks like Blizzard changed these card faces to make them less adult-oriented, either by making them less sexual or less violent. Kotaku shared comparison images of some of the old and new card faces in their report, showing how the artwork was reworked and no that balance changes were made.
The Eviscerate card is a stand-out example of a card that’s played a lot that has been altered in a minor but very noticeable way. The new artwork removes the blood that, well, probably happens when a man gets eviscerated by a dagger-wielding Undead.
The Succubus card art has ben completely reworked, with a new name to go along with the entirely new artwork. The card’s mechanics are the same as before, just a lot less sexy.
Whenever something like this happens in a game with the popularity of Hearthstone, there are memes and there are Reddit posts. Since Blizzard hadn’t given a reason why these cards were altered in the recent patch, players speculated that Blizzard was either making a proactive move to appeal to people who find this kind of imagery offensive, or to fit Hearthstone into the confines of China’s storied censorship restrictions. Blizzard mega-hit World of Warcraft has several differences between its Chinese and Western versions of the game, which does not allow for (most) blood, skulls, bones, or gore. Dead enemies are automatically tombstones, and bones become bread.
Kotaku asked Blizzard to comment on the possibly censored card faces, and this was the company’s response. “When Hearthstone first launched, we brought in a lot of artwork from the physical World of Warcraft trading card game. In the years since, Hearthstone has developed a look, feel, and personality of its own that distinguishes it from that of Warcraft—though we still love being a part of that universe. We’ll always be looking for ways to deliver on the game’s unique style, charm, and personality.”
The recent changes were applied to make those cards more visually cohesive and consistent with the art style of Hearthstone today.
Blizzard wants Hearthstone to be its own thing, independent of the Warcraft-specific brand, and it makes sense that a cohesive and unified art style would help them achieve that. Kotaku points out in their report that Hearthstone has been available for five years, and it isn’t unheard of for a game that age to get a bit of a makeover. Hearthstone also aims to appeal to a very wide audience, including younger players or families.
Speaking to PC Gamer, Lead Mission Designer Dave Kosak said that after reviewing the all the available cards as a set, Blizzard decided that some art was simply not up to snuff, saying they “wouldn’t print those same cards today.”
It wasn’t because we were looking at ratings, or international [regulations], or anything like that. We really just wanted our artists to feel good about everything in the set.
Kosak did say that some of the changes were aimed at toning down the sexual or violent tone, though designer Liv Breeden told PC Gamer that the Headcrack card was revamped because it was too dark and hard to read. Kosak clarified that the changes were driven not by external forces, but “just kind of bringing it up to the standards we felt really good about today.”
Video game censorship is currently a hot-button issue, and Nintendo (of all companies) recently confirmed it will not be censoring third-party titles on its platform. Hearthstone however is a Blizzard property, and even if sprucing up some card faces smacks of “censorship,” they have creative license to do what they see fit to further the health (and marketability) of their game. Even with the artistic changes, the spirit of all the cards is still the same and captures that iconic Blizzard feeling, and maybe it captures a uniquely Hearthstone vibe too.
Hearthstone’s latest content expansion “Secrets of Uldum” is scheduled to release on August 6th. The 50-pack bundle is $49.99, and the 80-pack Mega Bundle is $79.99.