Let’s Archaeogame! Hearthstone: League of Explorers, Part 4

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At last, here’s the final part of the archaeogaming exploration of Blizzard’s Hearthstone: League of Explorers solo adventure featuring the showdown between the eponymous heroes and Rafaam, the “Supreme Archaeologist”. If you need to catch up, here are parts 1, 2, and 3.

At the end of “The Ruined City” episode, Rafaam steals the completed Staff of Origination, preparing to bring the fight to the Hall of Explorers itself. Unlike the first three wings, the fourth has four boss fights, the final two coming in two parts against Rafaam himself. He deploys the staff’s power to animate the artifacts within the Hall, starting with Skelesaurus Hex.

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While distracted by the fight, Rafaam begins to sack the Hall for its artifacts. As an Ethereal, Rafaam is genetically programmed to seek and take objects of historical and cultural importance, the ultimate hoarder (for the . . . Hoard? . . . ). Rafaam says during the prelude to the fight that he’s not there to take everything, “just the good things.” He spots Arthas‘ signet ring, and notes that it’s in mint condition, something more suitable to a collector than an archaeologist. Rafaam continues the 19th- and early 20th-century trope of archaeologist-as-collector, which is in line with the behavior of the other characters in the game. Not unlike other cultural institutions under siege in the real world now, however, the staff begin to secure the artifacts, with Elise Starseeker leading the way.

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After defeating the reanimated pile of bones, you are rewarded with the Fossilized Devilsaur (minion) card and the Raven Idol card (spell), in effect getting two of the Hall’s artifacts to keep as your own. This is an example of the earlier practice of “partage” when archaeologists and governments came to an agreement where each party got to keep a portion of the finds discovered on excavation. Again we have another example of a 100-year old practice from early archaeological culture. The fight continues while the Hall’s heroes continue to hide things from Rafaam.

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The next boss fight is against the Steel Sentinel, Sir Anduin Lothar‘s reanimated armor. As with the mention of Arthas’ ring above, here is another artifact from canon World of Warcraft lore represented in the Hearthstone card game. It makes sense that these artifacts are here in the hall. Arthas was one of Azeroth’s greatest enemies, ultimately inhabiting the Lich King, while Lothar was one of the world’s greatest heroes, albeit from a different age. Brann Bronzebeard notes as soon as the boss appears that it took him months to find Lothar’s armor, sifting through dragon dung. Lothar died at Blackrock Mountain, which would later become home to the dragon Nefarian (Blackwing).

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The fight takes a while because you can only damage the Steel Sentinel one point at a time. During the fight Rafaam helps himself to a brooch while the heroes scramble to fight off boom bots, flying library books, flying hammers, and animated swords (off-screen of course). Completing the fight, Elise exclaims that the museum is secure. All that’s left to dispatch is Rafaam. Rewards for beating the Steel Sentinel include a Cursed Blade card (cursed weapon) and the Museum Curator card (minion) depicting a dwarf holding an artifact (an idol), with the benefit of a death rattle, implying that curators die in office, reflecting an axiom of the museum profession, namely that curator jobs can be once-in-a-lifetime openings.

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The first part of the Rafaam boss fight has him stealing your deck of cards to use against you. Elise provides you with an older deck of cards, basically giving you another artifact to use against the Supreme Archaeologist. Part one ends with Rafaam declaring the deck he stole as “garbage”, discarding it in favor of something new. The garbology angle is new, and implies a history of use that began with you as the player, then to Rafaam, then back to you, a kind of recycling. Ending part one, you receive the cards Curse of Rafaam (spell) and Wobbling Runts (minion), cards with nothing related to the museum or to archaeology.

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In part two of the boss fight, “Rafaam Unleashed”, you confront Rafaam who has become the “Arch-Thief”, be-turbaned, wielding the “full power of the staff.” The artifact conjures various legendary minions during the fight, but it takes a few turns to recharge, during which you not only place your own minions in preparation for when his shield drops, but also use more artifacts provided by way of crates by Elise and the other heroes.

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The artifacts provide player-buffs and offense, and even include sacred artifacts handed over for immediate use to stop Rafaam’s rampage. Elise gives you Khadgar‘s Pipe, a beloved artifact Brann recovered from one of the greatest human archmages who ever lived. You even get a night elf draught from Elise herself.

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Reno gives you a token. Brann gives you Medivh‘s Locket, Medivh being an ancient mage who ultimately died at the hands of the hero Lothar. Brann also gives you a Benediction Splinter, which he looted from the Molten Core from Majordomo, a flamewalker an Molten Core boss whose death precedes the appearance of Ragnaros in the WoW raid-instance. Heathstone‘s artifacts continue to reference the MMO. The artifacts all belong to elite personages from the lore of the game, too, all special. There are no ordinary things from regular folk here. The Hall is more like a Schachthaus, or a treasury, a 19th-century European private collection.

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As the final showdown continues, Rafaam brags that he has “collected artifacts from hundreds of worlds” continuing the Ethereal race’s predisposition for appropriating cultural heritage, but without context. The behavior hearkens back to the Nazis of Raiders of the Lost Ark who were tasked to find artifacts of occult use to aid the Third Reich’s war effort.

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When Rafaam is defeated, you are rewarded with cards for Eerie Statue (minion) and Desert Camel (minion). You also receive the legendary hero card for Elise Starseeker, which shuffles the “Map to the Golden Monkey” into your deck, which in turn shuffles the “Golden Monkey” card into your deck. The Golden Monkey is an extremely powerful card, replacing the player’s hand with all legendary minions. It also has a 6-attack and taunt, adding insult to injury for the opponent.

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The Arch-Thief Rafaam card is also awarded. Playing him triggers the battlecry of finding one of three “powerful artifacts” that prove devastating to most opponents. Finishing League of Explorers provides excellent cards-as-artifacts, which can be repurposed for standard gameplay.

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The Staff of Origination is returned to its space on the wall of the Hall of Explorers where you can look at it, but cannot use it in future games. Additional card-rewards are available, however, via Class Challenges and through Heroic boss fights. One of the reward cards is the “Tomb Pillager”, which when played adds a Coin to your hand. It’s ironic that after defeating the king of all artifact-thieves that you are rewarded with a tomb robber card that you can play without guilt.

The further corruption of Rafaam from archaeologist to thief mirrors those archaeologists who succumb to various pressures to loot their own sites or sell off artifacts. While rare, the behavior exists, and is reflected in this card game. Although there are tropes aplenty throughout Hearthstone, the darker aspects of archaeology do appear, largely from the discipline’s distant past. Whether these whispers and themes were intended by Blizzard is unknown, but they are eerily prescient when considering the reception of archaeology and of archaeologists past and present.

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-Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming

(All images are screengrabs from my playthrough and are hereby employed as fair use for the purposes of scholarship and research. Hearthstone, Hearthstone: League of Explorers, and World of Warcraft are properties of Blizzard Entertainment.)

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