We often criticise the things we love. It is precisely because we love them that we are their biggest critics. We want to see them flourish and fulfil their potential. The odds are that if you’re reading this, you love Hearthstone. Hell, I’m the one writing this and I feel as affectionate towards this property as I did when I first started playing almost two years ago. The future excites me, but at the same time it pays to be cautious and take some time out to reflect on how Blizzard’s premier digital CCG can reach new heights in 2016.
Collected here are five ways Blizzard can refine the Hearthstone player experience, as well as a particularly radical alternative suggestion for each, subject to the development team’s sense of ambition and/or level of crazy.
Add Value for New Players
Hearthstone’s infiltration of smartphone devices in April 2015 saw a surge in its popularity, with user accounts numbering in excess of 40 million by November. However, new player retention could become a serious issue if Blizzard fails to lower the barrier of entry, namely finding ways of reducing the amount of time and money needed to build a decent, competitive card collection. I have attempted to talk many of my friends into playing Hearthstone, but have found that very few have taken to it for this very reason. The problem is also growing exponentially with each expansion and adventure released. It boggles my mind that Blizzard has never implemented a sale on older content, Curse of Naxxramas is the same price it was when it launched. This is doubly confusing as sister Blizzard title Heroes of the Storm consistently finds new ways to bundle and discount its array of premium cosmetic items. Would it be so hard to pair an adventure or two with some assorted card packs from each set at a competitive price to give newbies a fighting chance at solidifying their collection? It could be the very thing that turns their curiosity into a commitment. The recent Winterveil promotion of 50 Classic packs for the price of 40 is a start, but far more needs to be done in this area.
Not Going To Happen: Hearthstone ditches its free-to-play model entirely. New players now pay a reasonable flat fee to unlock ALL Classic cards, with expansions and adventures following the same pattern. Crafting is done away with. Card packs can still be bought, but now only contain golden cards.
Change Up the Constructed Grind
Between the large time-commitment, the tendency to play worse after a loss, and the realistic need to eat, sleep, work and do other normal human things, reaching Legend rank in Constructed remains a pipe-dream for the majority of players (including myself). You’d be within your rights to argue that this is the way it should be, ensuring that only the most persistent get their due at the end of each season. Variance and RNG can easily lead to a “one more match” mentality, but are just as likely to bring about swift discouragement. Implementing ranked rewards has shown that Blizzard is slowly coming around on issues of player motivation, but it’s time for another shake up. Popular Hearthstone personality Kripparian posted a recent video suggesting the addition of Treasure Goblin encounters to ranked mode. These AI opponents would crop up at certain intervals while queueing for ranked matches and function much like an adventure boss, with the added benefit of bestowing free cards and other goodies if beaten. It’s an unrefined idea, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already set tongues wagging and keyboards clicking at Hearthstone HQ.
Talking A Big Game: In constructed, it is no longer possible to lose stars at any rank below Legend. To compensate, bonus star win streaks are no longer present. As a result, players can complete the (still significant) grind to Legend using practically any deck they want.
Ah, RNG. Our dear old rage-inducing friend loved and hated in equal measure and immortalised in countless Youtube highlight reels. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a first time player, it seems impossible to escape the grasp of the many random elements that Hearthstone proudly wears on its sleeve. For better or worse, RNG has come to represent a large part of the game’s identity, adding excitement, variance and unpredictability to proceedings. In other words, RNG will continue to have its detractors, but it’s not going anywhere soon. Rather than stem the tide, a potential avenue for the next 12 months may lie in the continual exploration of different types of RNG. It has been particularly interesting to see how well the new Discover mechanic introduced in League of Explorers has been received by the playing community after some initial scepticism. The jury is somewhat still out, but Discover cards have started to become staples in everything from Zoolock to Control Priest decks. Not only do they provide additional resources for the player to use, but they act as something of an RNG-modifier, offering more choice and interaction than standard random events. I don’t know what the next evolution of this kind of mechanic is, but I’m eager to see Hearthstone move in its direction.
You Can’t Be Serious: Players can now choose what type of card pack they receive at the end of an Arena run, rather than relying on RNG.
One of the ways that Hearthstone is arguably seeing its potential wasted is its reluctance to take full advantage of its digital format. While physical card games struggle with enforcing card bans or restrictions, in the digital world making adjustments to problem cards is a relatively straight forward thing to do. So why do we not see more regular changes to overpowered cards? Your guess is as good as mine, perhaps it’s because card tweaking in Hearthstone has proven to be something of an inexact art. The near obliteration of Patron Warrior via the nerf of Warsong Commander in October was a disaster, but perhaps a necessary one. Senior game designer Ben Brode gave voice to the change, commenting that the card’s original design was hampering what could be achieved with future expansions. Blizzard might want to think about introducing a separate mode where the community can play test potential changes to cards. Mad Scientist, Doctor Boom, Mysterious Challenger, Piloted Shredder, Divine Favour and more are standing by to be scapegoated and have new iterations put through their paces. So why not give it a go? It might be the key to unlocking a more balanced and exciting meta.
Keep Dreaming: Magma Rager and Booty Bay Bodyguard are permanently phased out of the card collection. Also, Warrior somehow becomes relevant in Arena again.
More Deck Slots
All jokes about Blizzard labelling it “too confusing” aside, additional deck slots have been on the wish lists of many players for a considerable amount of time. While initially welcoming and intuitive, Hearthstone’s interface is running into a myriad of legacy issues as its roster of content expands rapidly. This is not to mention the inconsistencies in deathrattle/battlecry resolution steps brought about by irregular card programming. Further deck slots would encourage greater experimentation with a wider variety of classes and deck styles within each class. Other positive UI changes could be the option to select premade decks in relevant Tavern Brawls (currently you can only construct and keep one deck within the Tavern Brawl menu), a faster way to make quick changes to decks without exiting from the play menu and the ability to “stack” the display of normal and golden cards together, thus streamlining the card collection screen. More deck slots may be the resolution most likely to be honoured in 2016, as the development team are slowly hinting at it being a point of interest going forward.
Go Home, You’re Drunk: The Hearthstone mobile app is optimised so it no longer takes up 4.5GB on Android devices. YAY!