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The state of ‘Hearthstone’ in 2019: game review

“Hearthstone” has always been a polarizing experience. On one hand, the game feels perfect with excellent U.I. design, crisp animations and memorable voice work, which all make the experience pleasantly addicting. But on the other hand, when played beyond the very casual level, the game feels poorly designed and lazily balanced with an unhealthy emphasis on swingy random effects, and its strange obsession with over-nerfing cards instead of buffing them. Not to mention the fact that the game is quite unfriendly to new and free-to-play players due to poor implementations of reward systems. These flaws were what stopped me from playing the game back in 2017 when “Mean Streets of Gadgetzan” was the latest expansion. Now, as a returning player, I shall investigate whether these problems still plague the game and determine if it is at all worth recommending.

Randomness, loved by some and hated by many, is one of the most essential mechanics of “Hearthstone’s” gameplay and probably the most controversial. Many of the most powerful cards were ones with random effects and, therefore, most frustrating to lose against. Yogg-Saron’s card text reads, “Battlecry: Cast a random spell for each spell you’ve cast this game (targets chosen randomly)” and is a famous example of that, often ending games the instant it was played, sometimes killing the player who summoned it, other times giving the player an undeserved win over his opponent. Fortunately, I can report that, even though some of these cards still have a sizeable impact on games, they are not as prominent as in previously metas. The top decks currently dominating the standard competitive ladder (which I should clarify now is the main mode I will be basing my review on) like Spell Hunter, OTK Priest and OTK Paladin use far less cards with random effects than meta decks in the past have. While you certainly still can lose horribly to random effects in games, it will happen far less. As a result, playing on ladder should be less frustrating overall.

That doesn’t mean the gameplay is without its problems. Class and card balance are still glaring issues. Certain classes are just not as good as other classes. For example, Hunter, Priest and Paladin are clearly the best classes at the moment, boasting so many good decks like the ones mentioned above, while decks for other classes struggle to keep up the power-plays that the three classes have available to them. And when only three out of a total of nine classes are considered competitive, you know something is wrong with the state of game. This is a step backwards from two years ago, when every class had at least one meta-viable deck. This can be attributed to the fact that the developers seem to exclusively nerf cards instead of buffing them. Funnily enough, just as I was writing this paragraph, they announced a new balance change, which will go live on Feb. 5, nerfing five more cards without any buffs. Whether or not these are good changes does not matter. The point is that by only nerfing cards, the developers run the risk of making certain classes unplayable and making certain classes even better than they already are due to lack of competition, which is what happened a month ago when Druid and Rogue received several nerfs to their key cards, basically nerfing their best decks (Taunt Druid and Kingsbane Rogue) out of the game and left Hunter stomping everyone virtually uncontested. Consequently, the ladder experience, while less frustrating than before, feels stale and boring as you play against the same classes and the same decks the entire time.

But it is difficult to see these problems when new players face a difficult journey towards becoming competitive. Say you are new and do not want to commit yourself to spending real money. You decide to just finish the daily quests, which award you anywhere from 50 to 100 gold (the in-game currency) and get the additional 100 gold per day by grinding and winning 30 games. You will make, at the very best case, 200 gold per day. A pack costs 100 gold, so that is only two packs per day, totaling to ten cards, again, at the best-case scenario. You also have to take into account the fact that not all the cards you pull will be the ones you need, especially so if you are aiming to get a legendary card, which is of the highest rarity. The other alternative would be for you to perform well in Arena Mode, in which players play with decks drafted from a random pool of cards and see how far they go until they lose three games. The rewards get better as players win more games, but the catch is the mode requires an entry fee of 150 gold. Therefore, to get your money back and earn value, you need to win at least four games in a run. You can also “disenchant” cards you do not need to craft cards you want, but the ratio is a dreadful four to one, meaning to craft a card of a certain rarity, you would need the amount of dust (currency you get for disenchanting cards) that is equivalent to four cards of that rarity to do so. You can look forward to a one-pack reward for the Tavern Brawl mode every week, and monthly seasonal chests, but are both too infrequent and insignificant to help. You simply cannot collect cards at a reasonable pace if you do not spend money on packs. The shoddy progression system seems even worse when you compare it to similar games, such as “Magic: The Gathering Arena” which allows you to redeem cards of every rarity for free when you start out.

So, after all this, do I recommend this game? It depends. If you are just looking for an easy to learn, casual card game to kill time, “HS” will be perfect for you. But if you are a “hardcore gamer” like me and are looking into a card game to really sink your teeth into, spending money or not, I would recommend looking elsewhere. Of course, every game has its issues. But the ones holding “HS” back right now, the questionable balancing and the stingy reward system, become difficult to ignore once you seriously get into the game. You’ll find a more consistently fun experience in other games like YuGiOh, Gwent and MTGA, which I highly recommend.

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