THERE AND BACK AGAIN…
Back in middle school I had a ton of nerdy hobbies. Whether it was my obsession with Time Splitters 2, my propensity for staying up all night playing Guardian Heroes or my desire to form my own paintballing “team,” my activities of choice were goofy to say the least. While my time spent on console games was definitely at an all-time high, there was another hobby that continued to sap away my weekly allowance for years. That hobby was Magic: The Gathering. For the most part, my Friday afternoons consisted of getting my $5 weekly allowance, buying one or two booster packs and playing Magic for the next four hours with my friend, Dan. I’m not going to dive too deeply into the intricacies of Magic right now, but what’s important is the desire to constantly open new cards and build new decks never went away, it just got sidelined until a new game could satiate it. This is where we que in Blizzard’s massively popular, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.
Of course, Hearthstone is nothing new; I played and reviewed it close to its release, but I landed on the excuse of not having enough time to fully devote to it. Over the last month or so, one of my good friends started getting into Hearthstone. I eventually started to develop a desire to play the game again. Naturally, the game was re-downloaded and I was back to my old ways. With the game’s newly released second expansion, titled Whispers of the Old Gods, now seemed like the perfect time to jump back in. Boy was I in for a treat.
By and large the game has changed significantly in the years following its release. Of course the same structure of accruing booster packs with rarer and rarer cards is still intact. (This mechanic makes up the basis of what Hearthstone is: a game of collecting.) What changed drastically in my two-year absence was the sheer number of cards available. Since its release, the game has had two major expansions—The Grand Tournament and Whispers of the Old Gods—a slew of solo adventures and some changes to daily quests. And here’s the catch, like most games with large player bases, there is a meta game. If you’re refusing to buy the expansions or solo adventures, you can say goodbye to your chances of winning. For a game with a free-to-play model, it’s surprisingly punishing for players who refuse to invest too much into it.
Don’t confuse my disdain for pay-to-win models as actual contempt for Hearthstone or the expansions themselves. Both of the larger card expansions and single-player adventures Blizzard added over recent years do a great job of bringing more content to players. One of the byproducts of all these new cards, however, was the devaluing of the booster packs in game. Back in 2014 when I was playing with a limited number of cards, getting five cards in a booster pack seemed like an okay deal. The problem is that with the addition of so many new cards, getting only five in a pack makes it incredibly difficult to catch up. While this does streamline the process for players aiming to acquire specific cards, it hampers the player’s ability to have a breadth of different types of playing experiences.
One of the most recent additions to Hearthstone is the distinction between Wild and Standard forms of play. Wild play means that players are allowed to use cards from any of the sets and expansions so far in Hearthstone’s history. Nothing is off limits, it’s the wild west, gunslinger version of the game where decks can be both incredibly creative and brutally unfair. Standard play allows players to use only the basic cards from each champion set, as well as the cards from the newer expansions including Whispers of the Old Gods. For new players looking to jump in, Standard is a godsend. It means that instead of worrying about year’s worth of cards, they simply have to worry about one expansion at a time. This helps new players not only acclimate to the game quicker by learning the meta game, but also makes it easier for them to grow their collection. This distinction between Wild and Standard is yet another thing that Blizzard has adopted from Magic: The Gathering, a game which has been employing the Wild/Standard distinction for years in its competitive play.
What I would say looking forward is that changes need to be made to allow players to acquire the cards they want quicker. Crafting cards in-game requires the use of a resource called ‘essence,’ which you are granted a measly 20 of per booster pack. For context, ‘legendary’ cards (required in order to rank up on the competitive ladder) costs 1600 essence. This is nothing short of ridiculous, especially when you consider that you can’t buy essence from the in-game store. The allowance would solve this issue and streamline the whole process. Hearthstone in many ways takes its competitive beats from Magic: The Gathering, but in this area, Hearthstone is way behind.
So what’s changed in Hearthstone over the last two years? Truthfully, not as much as you would think, which is both good and bad. The good news here is that Hearthstone has expanded its catalogue, added new narrative and competitive content to the game and included more items in the in-game store. The bad news is that Hearthstone’s store policies and methods of collecting cards haven’t caught up with their newly expanded catalogue. I hope that some day soon Blizzard will address these issues and begin to get rid of the barriers that many new players to the game face.
Have you played ‘Hearthstone’ since the expansions? What type of deck are you running with the new god cards? Tweet me @Flagcap. And be sure to follow us @YouNerded.
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