Let’s Archaeogame! Hearthstone: League of Explorers, Part 3

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When we last left our heroes (of Warcraft), we had fought for and secured the rod and headpiece of the Staff of Origination. The mission in Part 3 is to secure the Pearl of the Tides, which fits inside the headpiece, completing the staff. It is found in the “Ruined City” in Stranglethorn Jungle.

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There is no overt (or even pretend) archaeology in this chapter. Or is there? Sir Finley Mrrgglton, famed explorer, has gone missing, and it’s our job to rescue him, and of course kill the bosses and loot the pearl along the way.

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Upon entering the Ruined City, the first boss, Lord Slitherspear, challenges us, demanding why we’re here. Instead of replying with words, we do what’s expected at clobberin’ time.

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But first, introductions. Sir Finley is dressed as the prototypical jungle explorer, complete with pith helmet, khaki shorts, backpack, and machete. He’s also wearing a monocle, and when he speaks, he uses Colonial-era British English affectations. As with Brann in Part 2, we are faced with helping the Imperial conqueror. And we really have to help him. In order to proceed, you must first rescue him from a boiling cauldron. He’s being turned into soup.

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As with other sets in this adventure, Stranglethorn Jungle has everything one might expect for a Colonial jungle expedition: leafy greenery, a camp, a waterfall, overgrown architecture, and a stone idol with a jewel eye. And as with previous sets, what we see also reminds of of the larger settings within World of Warcraft itself with similar art and architecture. This is perhaps the most interesting thing to notice when looking at this archaeologically: people unfamiliar with WoW and the world of Azeroth, will recognize the jungle tableau only on a superficial level. Knowing the history of the design that underlies it adds additional context to the gameplay and to understanding more about where this episode is taking place within the world of the MMO.

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Escaping the Ruined City brings its own rewards, namely the cards for Huge Toad and Gorillabot A-3. When thinking about the rewards, the card-artifacts do belong within the context of the adventures, in this case things you might actually encounter in Stranglethorn itself. We also get the offer (we cannot refuse) by Sir Finley to travel on, farther into the Ruined City, to confront the boss, Giantfin, a Murloc.

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Murlocs are original citizens of Azeroth, a race of amphibious creatures with a distinct language consisting of burbles and gargles, which in this fight are deployed for ridicule by Sir Finley. It’s institutional racism: Sir Finley is an “educated” Murloc fighting against the “savages” of his race, willing to kill those “inferior” to him to get what he wants. This is made completely clear after we dispatch Giantfin.

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“A shame,” Sir Finley says. “With a better upbringing he could have been a decent sort.” One of our rewards is a card for Murloc Tinyfin, a baby Murloc who can be turned into a child-warrior in future games, sent to the slaughter. Adding additional insult: the minion costs the player nothing to play. The Colonial theme continues.

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Our final encounter in the Ruined City is Lady Naz’jar, who is a sea witch in World of Warcraft, part of Azeroth’s lore. The naga are descended from night elves, but are amphibious and excel at sorcery. Both of these come into play during the boss fight, this game taking its cues from it MMO parent. In this case, there are no ethnic slurs or Colonial undertones. It’s a straigh-ahead boss fight.


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During the confrontation, Sir Finley and Elise Starseeker talk. Sir Finley learns that the other two pieces have been recovered, and that the pearl is the final part needed to complete the staff.

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Upon defeating the final boss, we are rewarded more cards (including one of Sir Finley himself), and return to the Hall of Explorers to assemble and activate the Staff of Origination where it will presumably remain, not unlike the curious finds that have made their way to the real-world Explorers’ Club’s headquarters in New York City.

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As soon as the staff is assembled, however, we receive a surprise visit.

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It is Rafaam, the Supreme Archaeologist, who claims the staff is his. Rafaam is interesting in a couple of ways. First, he is a completely invented character for this Hearthstone adventure, and does not appear in the MMO. Secondly, here we see an archaeologist reclaiming his staff from those whom had taken it. One anticipates the fourth and final adventure then where the League of Explorers must decline Rafaam’s desire for repatriation of the staff, and will instead beat him down via the Pain Train. It is unclear if Rafaam is himself actually evil, although he is an Etheral, a WoW faction known for its unquenchable desire to acquire arcana and artifacts for their own purposes.

So in this third of four chapters of the League of Explorers adventure, we encounter the issues of repatriation, colonialism, and racism, all of which are themes of 19th and (many would argue) 20th century archaeology. Archaeology can (and has) been used to forward political goals, and here in humble Hearthstone we see it again. It’s fun to play of course, to collect those cards. But there is not a little darkness at the heart of the theme.

-Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming

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