In case anyone missed it, Iksar, Hearthstone's final design team lead, recently made this tweet asking "If Hearthstone used to be your main game but isn't anymore, what would get you back?". I thought maybe some people here might be interested in my response as well so I figured I'd post it 'cause why not?
I’m sure you get a whole bunch of direct messages on Reddit and you likely don’t see, let alone read, them all but I saw your tweet asking, “If Hearthstone used to be your main game but isn’t anymore, what would get you back?”. I figured I would pass along my two cents regardless of if you actually see it or not, since, I have a lot to say.
I’ve been playing Hearthstone since it was released almost 5 years ago. In that time, I’ve played tens of thousands of games, reached legend in both standard and wild, talked about new cards for countless hours outside of the game with friends I made strictly because of our shared interest in hearthstone, and so so much more. It’s a game I genuinely love, but now, every time I log in, I just get disappointed and quite frankly frustrated.
Honestly, I’m not certain where the frustration comes from exactly. It’s possible that it stems from the sheer amount of time I’ve put into the game and that I’m simply burnt out on it, but I don’t think that’s the case. I still want to want to play Hearthstone, but whenever I log in, I find it hard to get excited to actually play a game. When I do play, usually to grind ladder for end of season rewards or to complete dailies to save for the next set where maybe things will be different, I often get frustrated by the match itself. This frustration could come from a few places.
Deck matchups have gotten more polarizing as the game has gone on. Now, many decks have matchups where they are extremely favoured or unfavoured; games frequently feel decided by the end of the mulligan. That’s not fun. What’s the point of playing a game if the winner is determined at the start? This is obviously hyperbolic. It’s certainly possible an Odd Warrior can beat a Mecha’thun Priest or Miracle Druid can beat an Evenlock, but it happens so infrequently that I often want to just concede and not waste my time. Vicious Syndicate wrote an article about polarization back in October of last year that you and the rest of the team have likely read, so I’m sure that this is nothing you haven’t heard before.
It’s not just polarization that can lead to this feeling of helplessness in a game. Some cards are so powerful, that the game can come down to if a player has drawn x card by turn y. If they did, cool they won, if not, oh well, better luck next game, I guess. Barnes and Prince Keleseth are likely the first that spring to mind, since their impact on a game is obvious. Summoning a 1/1 Y’Shaarj that pulls an 8-drop on turn 3 will make anyone throw their hands in the air, regardless of how experienced they are with a matchup. However, these are not the only cards that fall into this category, there are numerous other cards that are just as swingy but are a little more inconspicuous, i.e. Ziliax.
I understand that card games like Hearthstone need to have inherent randomness and that randomness is not directly opposed to player skill; a game can be both random and skill intensive. However, if cards exist that are so powerful that a majority of the deck’s power budget is spent on one card, then the game devolves into drawing/not drawing those cards. Agency is taken out of the player’s hands and the core of the game ceases to exist.
Some of the most common types of these cards are those that have the ability to generate an insane or infinite amount of resources/value. Cards like Frost Lich Jaina, Deathstalker Rexxar, and Jade Idol. Cards that work as a win condition on their own warp the game. Playing for value and trying to manage your resources better than your opponent doesn’t matter anymore since there’s nothing you can do to out value them. However, it seems like you guys are aware of the problem and are working to address it by pulling back the power level of the sets.
I think, perhaps, the most frustrating thing about Hearthstone is the feeling of wasted potential. I don’t want to say that the game hasn’t changed since it was first released, it certainly has, but outside of new cards and the occasional nerf nothing ever really changes. In the 5 years since the game was released, the only things that stand out to me as new are the introduction of tavern brawls, the creation of set rotation and standard/wild, and the occasional PvE content.
There are things that I, and many others, feel should have been added years ago. The ability to spectate a friend’s arena draft, stat tracking/achievements, support for in-client tournaments, a better spectate feature, and the ability to save replays, to name a few. I’m not saying that these features not existing in the game is what is causing me to play Hearthstone less frequently, because, admittedly, I think in the grand scheme of the game a lot of these things don’t really matter and are not important to the core gameplay. Rather, the lack of these things has led to a feeling of stagnation. That nothing is ever really going to change, and that Hearthstone will forever be the game that it is today, even if the cards that are in the game are different. This feeling of stagnation is aided by the team’s reluctance to change some cards. It’s inexcusable for a card like patches to go unchanged for as long as it did.
Something like a new format/ladder, similar to the brawl at the start of the year “Brawl Block: Old and New”, where sets rotate in and out monthly or bi-monthly would go a long way to address this feeling. To me, Hearthstone is a game about innovation. It is at its best at the beginning of a rotation, when everything about the previous meta is thrown out, and decks have to be built from the ground up. Having this kind of shake up happen multiple times a year would give me something to look forward to outside of a new set or rotation.
I think a lot of the issues people are having with the game stem from the cards that were printed in 2017. Their power level has forced the meta to remain relatively unchanged over the last year as you work to bring the power level of cards back in check. To prevent this from happening again, Genn and Baku must be changed but, based on your comments on ValueTown recently, you already know that.
In conclusion, what would make me return to the frequency I used to play Hearthstone? I think the game needs to be less frustrating and more agency needs to be placed in the player’s hands. Cards that let you interact with and outplay your opponent need to exist. Make player’s decisions feel like they matter by decreasing matchup polarization and removing swing cards like Barnes and Keleseth. Make resources matter again by removing cards that provide infinite value and address the feeling of stagnation that’s been created by introducing new features or by giving players more ways to play. Thankfully, a lot of this is already on the team’s radar, and I’m looking forward to what’s in store with the next rotation.
P.S. – Hot take: Divine Spirit should be HoFed.
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