I’ll start the way I usually do, by summarizing my opinion of Hearthstone in general to help you understand where I am coming from. All you need to know is that it is my bad habit game that I play frequently even though it fills me with negative emotions. Here it goes…
I was drawn to Hearthstone because it was the first time I’d seen a virtual card game take advantage of the fact that it was virtual. The cards come with their own animations and voice acting (I think the single best thing about Hearthstone is its distinct and varied sound design). The creators can change card stats at will to adjust the game’s balance, which is a major advantage over physical games where you can’t simply recall everybody’s cards and draw on them with permanent marker.
Then the problems start. I don’t like free-to-play games. If, after the release of the first adventure and the first expansion, I was allowed to purchase Hearthstone and all of its cards for sixty dollars, Blizzard would have sixty dollars of my money. As it stands they have none of my money but definitely don’t seem to be hurting.
I view the game as pay-to-win; I understand that many don’t. When I’m trying to build control decks and I have only the legendary cards I’ve discovered randomly, I have to accept I will often lose simply because my opponent, who demonstrates his willingness to pay by having all the right cards, has access to Sylvanas Windrunner, Ragnaros the firelord, Dr. Boom, Archmage Antonidas, etc.
The game is also too aggressive for my tastes in its current state. I think there are several key aggression cards that have needed to be changed since the outset. (Here’s looking at you knife juggler and abusive sergeant.)
The game has embraced silly levels of random number generation. I would be fine with this if all the cards were like piloted shredder or Toshley, but random damage effects are soul crushing. I say this as someone who has gotten so frustrated with the game that I actually absentmindedly scratched lines into my face that stayed visible for three days. (I’ve never been more frustrated by a video game in my entire life.) If I had my way there would be basically no random damage or random mind control effects in the game.
My remaining issues deal with specific mechanics. Secrets are a bad idea. Everything in your opponent’s hand is already a secret. Adding another layer of that is like watching somebody fight blindfolded. Sure, both players can use secrets, but that results in two blindfolded people smacking at each other. I do not want to see or participate in that.
Mind control effects are smelly smelly garbage, not unlike… the Grant Tournament!
Blizzard’s next expansion has the benefit of a fun theme: a medieval-style tournament with two fun new mechanics in the form of inspire and joust. That’s where the good news ends. There was a lot riding on this given how underwhelming the first expansion, Goblins vs. Gnomes, turned out to be. I went back and looked at that set and saw to my horror that only about 45 of the 123 cards introduced (excuse the numbers if they’re off by a little) were good enough to see a significant amount of play. That’s less than half. I expected the Grand Tournament to do better.
The last of the new set was revealed today. It is disappointing in every respect. The majority of the inspire cards seem unplayable based on badly distributed or top-heavy stats that practically suggest the game designers haven’t tuned into the various Twitch channels that stream their game constantly. Some cards, like the tuskarr jouster and the murloc knight, are needlessly class specific. Many of the cards repeat existing effects without twisting and remixing them into something more compelling.
Many of these cards feel like filler designed to make each tournament pack you buy that much worse. People excuse this in two main ways. First they claim that every set of cards needs filler cards that aren’t very good. I don’t have much of a counterargument other than to say: no that’s stupid; these cards are not random mutations of stats and phrases spat out by a computer (that might make for an interesting ccg), they’re all crafted by a team of designers. If they try hard enough, most of the cards will turn out at least interesting.
The second way they justify it is by saying some cards are meant to be better in arena, which is Hearthstone’s build-a-deck-from-a-few-random-choices mode. There’s nothing wrong with having cards that are better for different modes, but that honestly doesn’t seem to be the case here. Even if it was, the fact is that constructed/ranked play is the real meat and potatoes of the game.
Power creep is becoming an issue with this set as well. Oddly, it seems to be deliberate. The original set has a card that costs three mana and has five attack with one health. The Grand Tournament features a card that costs three mana and has five attack, but has two health. It is simply, baldly, better. Neither card is class specific, so there is no excuse. The only reason to avoid changing the old card by giving it an extra health is because you literally did not have enough ideas for the expansion. This happened with another card too! The evil heckler is just straight-up better than Booty Bay bodyguard. This is shameless.
After examining the set I, if I’m being generous, consider about another forty-five cards to have interesting effects. The only problem is that many of them seem unplayable thanks to their stats. It’s weird to see the best and brightest new cards needlessly hobbled while cheap aggressive cards that can regularly deal three to four random damage are left as is.
What are you doing this Blizzard? The new six drops won’t be able to compete with Sylvanas. (I’d like to make that card into a door so I can chop it down with an axe The Shining style.) I hope you’ve heard all the popular streamers scrambling to cover their obvious skepticism with shrugs and accommodating smiles. People tried to defend you during the reveals by saying synergy was coming. It didn’t happen.
What on Earth are some of these twisted deformed cards that would surely slip out of a real deck thanks to their sickly slimy perspiration? Demonfuse!? Flame Lance!? Tournament Medic!? Coliseum manager!? These cards aren’t suitable to wipe with after using the restroom. Anyone who has watched or played your game for more than a few hours knows this, so why don’t you? Stop making packing-peanut cards and actually try to live up to your game’s potential. Ugh. Once again, I’m allowed to feel smug for not pre-ordering anything.
The only thing I’m glad about is that a very small set of cards were added that support ideas I am interested in. Druid is my favorite class and it definitely got some of the best. They’re pushing control rogue and hunter, which would both be good for the meta-game. I guess the tournament theme makes even more sense than I initially thought, since there are only a few winners here along with a lot of losers and bystanders.