I have a soft heart for Hearthstone even if I consider the game to be one of the best designed money traps since the invention of the slot machine. Even with an ever-decreasing likelihood of pulling a rare card, it still makes you want to open more and more packs. The addictive feeling of elation every time you draw a card that you have been waiting for… The surge of hope every time you see the gold glow around the card that you are about to turn over, letting you know that you have drawn a Legendary…
There’s a constant nagging thought in the back of my head: “you could always splash out a little cash to get a chance at some new cards, possibly a Legendary, or at least get the dust from selling duplicates in order to be able to craft that card that will make your new deck work – you know which card, it’s the one that you need, like, like right now.” (Okay, maybe that only goes on in my head.) Blizzard knows what they’re doing. Otherwise they wouldn’t have 20 million registered users.
Given that we now have 2 expansions behind us (1 Adventure and 1 new card set) and Blackrock Mountain, another one coming out in a month’s time, we are also starting to get a clearer picture about the future of Hearthstone and about some features that these expansions have in common. Let’s take a look.
The Future of Hearthstone
It seems clear now that Blizzard will be bringing out new content often and regularly – it’s been a year and we are already getting a third expansion. At the moment, Blizzard is alternating single-player Adventures with larger card sets and I suspect that they will keep this up, as both types of expansions offer a different experience for players and keep things interesting. They both bring in new cards that shake the game up, alter the meta, and keep people engaged with the evolution of the game.
We were also introduced to new mechanics and effects that significantly alter the way that the game is played, making the first week after the release of an expansion an exciting time for the community as everyone is searching for the ultimate way to take advantage of what’s on offer. Each expansion brings in a small number of cards that are more powerful than any card of that type that was previously available, making it necessary to acquire those cards in order to stay competitive against other players. I will look at this in more detail.
How Past Expansions Altered the Game
With the Naxxramas Adventure we were given the Deathrattle effect and a lot of cards that have synergy with it. Deathrattle decks became commonplace, especially for Aggro Hunters and Zoo Warlock. This was an interesting shake up. Added to that, we were also given a few cards that were so strong that they still see use in most decks nowadays – there is the Sludge Belcher, best value taunter in the game, Loatheb, the board protector, and Kel’Thuzad – the poor man’s late game Legendary and an all-round amazing card given its effect. There are a few other cards that still see a lot of use, but even these three cards alone make the purchase of Naxxramas almost necessary.
Then Goblins vs. Gnomes brought us over a hundred new cards. We were given a new effect – an effect that takes place when a card is drawn (Flame Leviathan and Iron Juggernaut). There was a small number of cards using this mechanic and they aren’t seeing much use, mostly due to their unpredictability. I suspect that Blizzard was testing the ground and seeing how the community would react to this kind of RNG (unpredictable outcome).
When it comes to new cards in Goblins vs. Gnomes, the sheer number of game-changing cards is staggering – incredibly strong class-specific 2 mana minions and several other strong cards per class, especially for some characters who were in need of a competitive boost (such as my beloved Paladin who has since become a powerhouse). There is a whole array of incredibly strong mechs that are now in most decks – Piloted Shredder, Piloted Sky Golem (joining Sludge Belcher in proving that a hard-to-remove minion is what a Hearthstone player most wants), as well as the most used Legendary – Dr. Boom.
What’s Ahead? – What To Expect From Blackrock Mountain
Blackrock Mountain is around the corner and we have a month before it’s scheduled to arrive, during which time we are probably going to hear all about the new cards that we can look forward to. We know already that the theme of the expansion will be about Dragons and cards synergizing with them.
This sounds fun, but it’s also incredibly smart, as it will have the community crafting Legendaries that have gone out of use since Naxxramas. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ysera as much as the next guy, but 1600 is a lot of dust to accumulate for players who choose not to pay real money – most only just managed to get enough dust to craft Dr. Boom!
This move seems like an attempt to bring in something new, as well as reintroducing something old to get people to spend some dust. It will probably have people crafting Ysera and Alexstrasza (if they don’t have them already), while possibly bring in some Dragons that have become obsolete – I am thinking Onyxia and Malygos.
As of yet, we don’t know whether we will have any new effects – something like Deathrattle in Naxxramas. However, I suspect that it will be the case even if it’s something small like the new draw effect in Goblins vs. Gnomes. I am also certain that the expansion will introduce a small number of cards that will be as necessary as the Sludge Belchers, Loathebs, Piloted Shredders and Dr. Booms of the previous expansions. This is the way to both change the game and get the player population to spend some hard-earned cash.
It seems to me that Blizzard will stick to this formula of regular new content with a small but significant number of new cards that are stronger than what came before. It keeps the game interesting and it keeps it evolving, while necessitating people to spend if they want to keep on having a chance at Legend rank. Or fifth rank. Or tenth rank, in all honesty, if you don’t have a lot of cards already. Unless you are willing to wait 2 or more months to collect enough gold and dust to get those cards for free, or you are simply happy to run a cheap aggro deck.
Editor’s Note: Due to this, I wonder if accusations of “power creep” (that the overall power level of new cards makes older ones obsolete, forcing players to spend more to keep up with the meta-game) are just around the corner for Hearthstone? Watch this space…
I, for one, don’t mind – I love the game and I have spent more money on it than on any other game I have played before. I am happy to give something back to a game that has given me so much. I have played this game more than any other. I am impatient and I like to have the chance to play several characters and if not all, most of the available and possible types of decks. I like to be able to compete against others and for my skill to be the deciding factor in my success on the Ladder, rather than the state of my card library.
I worry about newcomers, though, as right now there is no way that a new player can catch up to a veteran without spending money – there are 2 types of decks available (well over 300 cards), an expansion which costs 3500 gold to unlock and another expansion coming. That’s a lot of cards to collect and a lot of gold and dust to acquire, which gives a huge advantage to a player who has been collecting cards for a year already. Aggro decks (which tend to be very cheap to craft) may be the answer to a new player if he wants to be competitive on the Ladder. And, of course, there is still the Arena.
But I digress – we are not here to talk about Hearthstone being free-to play (it is), or pay-to-win (it is to some extent, even if skill is still by far the most important factor). We are here to talk about what awaits us in the future. I suspect that what we have to look forward to is a minimum of 2 new expansions a year – a single-player campaign bringing in new cards, and a new larger collection of cards like Goblins vs. Gnomes. I predict that with each, we will have a new mechanic, a new minion type (or an addition to an existing one) and new synergies that come from that. There will also be a number of cards that it will be necessary to own in order to be able to compete successfully against others.
You know what? The future of the game sounds like fun. Hearthstone will keep on being what it is: a constantly fresh and changing experience due to regular new content, with Blizzard making a buck (or two… billion, that is) off of us for the effort. And maybe that’s how it should be.
Let us know what you think about all this – feel free to leave a comment and tell us what you think about the Blackrock Expansion, the future of Hearthstone and the role that money plays in it all.