Tobold is by no means the first person to point out that Warlords of Draenor’s free level 90 character is a “doubling-down” on vertical progression. I mean, I don’t see why anyone would claim that even vanilla WoW was anything other than vertical progression given how you couldn’t grind your way to max level via the Westfall boars, South Park-style, but whatever. The thing that profoundly bothers me in these sort of debates though, is this sort of nonsense:
So we are being told that when the expansion comes out, World of Warcraft will be all about levels 90 to 100. You will play nearly exclusively on the new continent, maybe sometimes visit the capital cities for some features, but will have no reason whatsoever to enter over 90% of the zones of World of Warcraft. If by some server glitch the old zones ceased to exist, most players wouldn’t even notice. I find that rather sad, so much wasted space and potential.
I literally cannot understand this line of reasoning. I understand what is attempting to be said here, but it seems so far removed from reality as to be unintelligible.
First of all, the post-Cataclysm world still exists. Even if we are going to assume that there will be a lot of brand new WoW players coming into the expansion – which we have no reason to believe there will be, at least in comparison to returning players – the fact remains that the world and all of its quests will still be there for that new player’s alts, at a minimum. Assuming, of course, that this hypothetical new person even enjoys questing in the first place. And if they do, there is nothing stopping them from questing from level 1 to 100 while saving the instant 90 for some other purpose. Meanwhile, the returning veterans who quit in the middle of an expansion they presumably didn’t like are being asked to… what? Spend a few dozen hours slogging through 2+ year old content to get to the stuff they were actually excited enough to resubscribe to see?
Secondly, how can the old content ever be considered “wasted?” All of those zones and quests have been utilized, extensively, by millions of players for years. How much more utilized does it need to be? And how? And why? Even in horizontal progression MMOs, where do you find people? Where the new things are. The odds of you finding someone running around the mid-level zones in Guild Wars 2 is approximately zero, unless there happens to be some kind of 2-week patch dragon dropping off a treasure chest every three hours. You’re not going to find an EVE veteran mining Veldspar even if Veldspar remains a critical component of crafting spaceships.
Content obsoletes itself. That is not a problem, that’s linear time working as intended. Novelty only ever decreases, at least in terms of crafted content. Hell, how long can you experience interest in even procedurally-generated content like in Minecraft? At a certain point, even the weirdest terrain formation is reduced to its constituent parts at a glance – it sure as hell isn’t as impressive as the first time you laid eyes on your future mountain fortress location.
Time marches on. Just because you don’t hang out at the playground or swing from monkey bars anymore does not mean they are now wasted content, even if no one else ever uses them again. They existed in a time and a place and served their purpose well. Is that not enough? Were you not entertained?
It always seems the greatest irony in MMOs are those players who wish for living, breathing virtual worlds that never change.
Things can end up changing radically between BlizzCon and this new expansion’s release date (remember Path of the Titans?), but here are a bunch of random things that caught my eye:
- Few to no daily quests at max level (source). While MoP ended up giving us hundreds of daily quests and triple-gating gear, it bears reminding that daily quests have been a Big Deal since Burning Crusade. Perhaps not on exactly the same scale, but still. I am not exactly sure what non-instanced endgame activities Blizzard plans on replacing dailies with, although I haven’t heard much grumbling about the Timeless Isle so maybe that will suffice.
- Garrison as player housing (source). Personally, this sort of came across as more of a gimmick to me, but I became more intrigued when they mentioned that there will be multiple locations in which to place your Garrison. I enjoyed the farm quite a bit in MoP, so this will probably be fine. I like that you can invite people into your party so they can see your configuration/interact with your NPCs, but if you can’t show off a trophy collection of some sort then it’s kinda pointless IMO.
- Itemization revamp (source). This is huge to me and will have wide-reaching ramifications across the whole of the game. Hit, Expertise, Dodge, Parry, and Reforging all gone. More limited Enchanting and Gemming. Dynamically changing gear stats (!!). Just think about that for a second. One suit of gear will cover all of your paladin/shaman/druid/etc specs. Enchanting/Gemming will likely mess with things a bit, which is sad, but still that is a game-changing amount of gear reduction. The only question mark here is whether Spirit is going to be considered a primary stat for spec purposes. I imagine it’d have to be, because otherwise you would still need plate with Spirit on it.
- Free level 90 (source). I know a lot of MMO vets don’t like this, but the grumbling is pretty silly at this point. Recruit-A-Friend gives a 300% bonus to XP gain and gives the referral toon free levels to hand out to alts. I used a Scroll of Resurrection to get a free level 80 almost two years ago. By the end of each expansion, the leveling curve is reduced by 30%. Heirlooms exist. I have heard people suggest Blizzard could have introduced a sidekicking system or dynamic leveling ala Guild Wars 2, but I never quite caught the explanation for why the hell it’s better for a veteran to run through Stranglethorn Vale for the 10th time with his buddy instead of both of them having fun in current content. That new player can see as much old content as he/she wants on an alt. So… how is this not a win-win? Or would you have preferred Blizzard speeding up leveling even further in a way that cannot be avoided? Because that was the other real alternative here.
- Heroic raiding = Mythic raiding with 20 people only (source). This move actually makes a lot of sense on paper, and undoubtedly makes things easier for Blizzard’s raid design team. The big downside, of course, is how it screws over every heroic 10m raiding guild in existence. While you could theoretically talk to other heroic 10m raiding guilds and buddy-up that way, I feel like heroic raiding likely takes more than just a little group chemistry to make happen. Then again, I suppose it’s fair to ask how many guilds this would actually impact that weren’t already downsizing from 25m mode for Ranking/Realm First purposes. Regardless, I think you should start selling your stock in 25m raids generally, if you have not yet done so.
There are also some other random quality of life-esque improvements like how heirlooms will be Account-wide (a clever solution to cross-realm mail), max-level normal dungeons will be making a return, and BGs will be getting a new scoreboard that highlights actual contribution to the fight rather than damage/healing whoring. Obviously a lot of this will be subject to change and refinement, but I am tentatively intrigued based on what we have seen thus far.
Well, let me specify that I am intrigued by the features and game changes, not this throwback to the most boring racial lore in the game. Oooo, orcs, doing tribal orcish things. We are supposedly going to be seeing “a lot” of paladin lore along with presumably some Naaru shenanigans, so I’m actually feeling pretty good about being Alliance for this upcoming expansion. So we’ll see how it goes.
SynCaine brought up an interesting point about the future of Hearthstone:
“situation in Hearthstone only ever improves”
Until the the first expansion is released, and what do you think is going to be the revenue driver for the game?
At least with MtG:O, it was understood you were stepping into a P2W arena, where you could pay X to compete with Y. What level you wanted to compete at was up to you and your wallet.
Here, I feel as though Blizzard is trying to hide the P2W aspect (especially in beta), but ultimately that’s what the model demands. Without new cards you don’t keep people interested, and for those new cards to be interesting, they have to be worthwhile (aka; stronger/better).
I think the heavy class-based gameplay is also a balance nightmare as we are already seeing, and I expect it to get worse as the better players create more gimmick decks. Woe is the free player if the FOTM gimmick requires an epic or ten.
While the game isn’t even in Open Beta at this point, I think it is reasonable to start thinking about where Hearthstone goes from here. At the moment, I am sort of worried about the “depth” of the game, although it’s possible that it’s current shallowness accessibility is a feature, not a bug. Then again, I’m not entirely sure.
There are several things working against Hearthstone’s future. The biggest is it’s class system. In a card game like Magic: the Gathering, you can have a robust metagame arising from even the “generic” Core Set (which come out once a year and forms a “base” upon which the near-quarterly expansion sets build upon) because you can conceivably play any card you want; the five colors of Magic have their own class-like themes and mechanics, but you can mix and match to your heart’s desire. Thus, a Black/White deck can play totally different from an all-Black or all-White deck. With Hearthstone, a Paladin’s cards are exclusive to Paladins. You can’t choose to play, say, Avenging Wrath in your Mage deck, for example. Or Divine Favor in your Shaman deck.
A related long-term problem is expandability. I am not talking about running out of mechanics or creatures to reference from WoW or Warcraft lore (although that’s sort of a concern, honestly), I am talking about how many new cards can actually be coherently added. In short, Blizzard is going to have to either create a ton of new cards each expansion, or barely any. For example, an expansion that adds just one common, rare, and epic card to each class will require 30 new cards (9 classes + neutral). While that may or may not sound like a lot of cards, unless these new cards are above the curve or enable entirely new strategies, it’s possible that an expansion could be a total dud for you and the class you enjoy playing despite increasing the total card pool by 10% or more.
Third, as I have mentioned before, the class balance is on a razor’s edge even in a perfect scenario. It is pretty much a given that we will see a Death Knight and Monk class added in an expansion, and they will need to have at least 15 additional, class-exclusive cards and unique Hero Powers. While that can certainly shake up the overall balance structure, it’s not as though your specific metagame will likely change all that much. Because, again, your Mage deck is limited to Mage cards plus Neutral cards; there is no DK “splash” to provide additional depth.
Fourth, it is worth considering how many different mechanics Blizzard is A) willing to implement in this game, and B) can implement in this game. One of the most basic creature abilities in Magic is Flying: a creature with Flying cannot be blocked except by other creatures with Flying, although it can choose to block non-Flying creatures. In the context of Hearthstone, this ability doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, as you have complete control (barring Taunt) to choose whether your creatures attack your opponent or a specific creature. Now, Blizzard could certainly shoehorn it in there – perhaps making the flying creature untargetable by other creatures – but that’s when the devs start to go against their (presumed) mandate towards simplicity.
And that’s just with Flying.
Lastly, SynCaine’s cynicism regarding Blizzard making overpowered cards to sell future expansions is not without merit, even if I would argue that it’s largely unavoidable and not inherently malicious. Power creep happens. Even when “the rules” about costs are nailed down, some options are more powerful/relevant than others. In Magic, a First Strike 2/2 is better than a Trample 2/2 even if they both cost the same amount of mana. A Flying 2/2 is arguably better than either. I have pointed this out before:
Being a Beast is not as powerful as the other two cards, unless you are playing a Hunter Beast deck. But the more damning implication, IMO, is how the above cards sort of imply that a 1/4 for 2 would be balanced. Or a 2/4 for 2 mana, even. We already have 3/2s with an ability, 2/3s with an ability, 1/3s with a huge ability for 1 mana (Priests, seriously), so a 2/4 for 2 isn’t outlandish rules-wise. And yet it would be crazy OP, invalidating a huge swath of two-drops. The context of the environment is as important and possibly more so than the strict card power rules.
All that being the case, I don’t actually agree with SynCaine that the new player is screwed, as my prior declaration remains accurate: your situation in Hearthstone only ever improves. Six expansions later, assuming no structural changes, you will still be able to Disenchant the cards you don’t want to directly create the cards you do. That’s unbelievably huge in the CCG world. Even if you take the stance that your likelihood of opening one of the “ten or so required Epics” is necessarily diminished (assuming new cards are stuffed into the same virtual booster pack), your ability to guarantee a card is not – you will always get 40 Dust per pack, minimum. Ten packs is an Epic of your choice. You’ll get enough gold in two days of daily quests to buy a pack straight-up, or three if you want to go the Arena route. So, unless expansions are coming out every 1-2 months, you’ll have plenty of time to get whatever cards you need to be/stay competitive without spending a dime.
Spending dimes gets you there faster, of course. But in this context, I’m okay with it.
I got about as close as I ever gotten before to rage-quitting in Hearthstone the other day. The culprit? Mind Control. The scenario that happened to me was this:
It is late in an Arena match, Priest vs Priest. I never had any chance to select Mind Control during the drafting process, but in this particular game I was doing pretty good. The opposing Priest had gotten so low that he basically was forced to Mind Control one of my smaller creatures (the 2/7 that gets bigger when it takes damage) just to buy some extra time. He’s at 18, I’m at 25, I have Holy Nova if he dumps his hand, Temple Enforcer to seal the deal, and Ironbeak Owl for the Silence. While the stolen Berserker wasn’t an immediate threat, I did not want to run the risk of him killing one of my creatures and somehow keeping the Berserker as a 5/5 or higher. With a Mind Control out of play, I felt it safe to turn up the pressure:
He played a second Mind Control. For those keeping track at home, Mind Control is usually 3-to-1 (virtual) card advantage – while you might technically only play 2 cards to his 1, his card in effect destroys your card, creates a creature for him (like a card), and you use a third card (Removal, creature trade, etc) to remove his. Anyway, this sucked, but the game was still recoverable by me. Until this happened:
Yes, a third Mind Control. In an Arena match. The funny thing is that it was still technically possible for me to win, had I drawn my lone copy of Holy Fire out of the remaining 10 cards in my deck – he had been spending each round healing
my his creatures instead of himself. He was at 3 HP, and Holy Fire deals 5 damage. I did not draw Holy Fire.
There is a lot of debate on the forums regarding Mind Control, and how overbuffed Priests are in general. Some people say that Mind Control is fine, given how nobody complained about it back when Priests were weak. As I’ve stated here, I think it’s clear that the card itself is overpowered – it is Assassinate + Faceless Manipulator in one card – and the recent Priest buffs only exacerbated a preexisting (if irrelevant at the time) condition.
As frustrating as it is, Blizzard is actually listening:
We have seen a lot of talk about Mind Control lately, and I wanted to let you know that we are definitely paying attention to your concerns that Mind Control can be pretty powerful as well as frustrating to play against. We are talking about the issue here and looking at the power of Mind Control at different skill levels and in different modes so we can make any adjustments that may be needed. We’re still deliberating the right course of action, but we have heard you guys and we understand your concerns. Keep up the great feedback!
Blizzard’s quote here is interesting in that it highlights another dimension to game balance: fun. At the base of things, Mind Control is a tremendously unfun card to have played against you. “Yeah, what is?” Honestly? Nearly anything else. Sure, it sucks when some critical creature eats a Fireball or Assassinate. But in the case of Fireball, I can say to myself “at least that’s not 6 damage to my face.” Or “at least that’s one Assassinate down.” With Mind Control, not only do you face the obscene 3-to-1 card advantage, you get the added indignity of being killed by your own creatures. In effect, Mind Control – along with the other pieces of the Priest kit, like Mind Vision, Mindgames, and Thoughtsteal – actually punishes you for having a good deck. The better cards you have, the stronger those cards become.
So even if we imagine a scenario in which all the Priest cards are balanced against the other classes, it could still be the case that the existence of these cards at all are a net negative to the game. It gives me some small measure of hope that the devs actually went on the record yesterday affirming that “balanced” but unfun cards are actually something they plan on fixing… somehow. The easiest would be by making the effect an buff that can be Silenced away; why this is not already the case, I have no idea. And since Mind Control is a Basic card that everyone gets by leveling the Priest to 10, it is not as though people have sunk money into acquiring the card.
Alternatively, they could just remove the card entirely for being so goddamn frustrating to play against.
I came across a thread on Reddit which was a pining for the “old days” of MMOs when you either grouped up or didn’t get to actually play the game. Which, now that I think about it, is a scenario not all that different from empty FPS servers. Anyway, the top-rated comment concluded with this:
The truth of the matter is, those of us that grew up on the hardcore MMOs, we’ve already done it. Most of us just don’t want to do it again. I don’t want to play a MMO that takes over a year to hit the level cap. I don’t want to play a MMO where I have to stand around for hours before I get to play. I don’t want to play a MMO where I can permanently lose everything I’ve done in the last few hours. I’ve already done that; I don’t want to do it again. The novelty of the MMO is gone. There are better ways to enjoy my time.
There is a nuance to this argument that I don’t see all that often, and I’d be interested in what other veteran MMO players have to say about it. It’s one thing to say that once some auto-grouping functions are released, like LFD or LFR, that there is no removing them. But put those aside for a moment and ask yourself: how many times do I feel like I could start over in a “pure” MMO (whatever you define that as)?
Maybe the question is nonsensical, considering we technically “start over” each time we play a new game. On the other hand, I’m not entirely convinced another MMO could bribe me enough to get back into raiding as a full-time job again. Even if your game of choice was EVE, how willing would you be to starting over in a completely new game with similar time-investment requirements? Still willing to spend 1-2 years of real-time building up a skill set? Or do these sort of investment mechanics have diminishing returns regardless of “dumbing down” or other streamlining that might go on?
Game: Torchlight 2
Recommended price: $5/bundle
Metacritic Score: 88
Completion Time: 35 hours
Buy If You Like: Torchlight 1, Poorly itemized Diablo-clones
Torchlight 2 is the hack-n-slash sequel to the original Torchlight, itself an homage and erstwhile competitor to Blizzard’s Diablo series. Indeed, Torchlight 2 was released around the same time Diablo 3 was making headlines with its controversial always-on requirements and server-dependent gameplay. While it makes a great counter-point to Diablo 3 on the feature listings, Torchlight 2 is essentially more of the same from the original game. Which, in my case, is bad news.
My fundamental gripes with both Torchlight games are their meaningless adherence to archaic game design, and a fundamentally terrible itemization/progression system. Torchlight 2 features four different classes to choose from, each with three separate class trees. While they mainly follow traditional hack-n-slash roles, there does exist room for experimentation: there are more than enough talents to choose from to transform, say, the archer-esque Outlander into a melee-only tank (albeit not likely as powerful as a normal tank class). Where this experimentation immediately breaks down is how there is no respecing in Torchlight 2; at most, you are allowed to get a refund on your last three talent points. While this was how things worked in Diablo 2, it is also true that at one point people thought asbestos as insulation was a good idea.
The more crippling flaw though, and the singular design that undermines everything else the game set out to accomplish is the awful itemization and item progression system. While not as outlandishly terrible as the original Torchlight, it is still entirely possible (and even likely) that you will receive a random drop at level 17 that you will still be using 40 levels later at the end of the game. The core of what made the Diablo series so compelling to play was how items and gold erupted from nearly every enemy you faced, and thus you had a steady supply of dopamine over the course of what otherwise is series of perpetually unengaging clicks. Torchlight 2 has none of that – nearly two-thirds of the game was spent vendoring every ring, helmet, amulet, and pants I came across.
It gets even worse, if you can image that.
Clearing an entire map’s worth of mobs and collecting every single piece of vendorable debris results in what I would like to term one “Gear Unit” (typically 2000g-3000g). Each GU allows you to either purchase one item from a vendor, or upgrade an existing item by either adding gem sockets, enchantments, or purchasing gems themselves. This ridiculous stinginess with gold means you are perpetually strapped for cash, only allowing you to augment the gear you’ve accumulated one map clear at a time. God help you if you’ve finally accepted the fact that you’ll never replace your boots only to have an infinitely rare upgrade drop right after spending 10,000g (or 3 GUs) on your old pair.
Oh, and by the way, the Gold Chests and Boss Chests that you are “rewarded” with for going out of your way to find the keys or defeat said boss end up dropping jack shit 99% of the time. I have found more rares and unique items out of normal, everyday treasure chests than I have ever gotten from boss chests. How do you fuck something like this up?
I am spending all this time talking about loot and such because that is the heart and soul of the hack-n-slash genre. To get loot wrong in these sort of games is to create a racing game with poor-handling cars or a FPS where the guns don’t shoot at the crosshairs. Indeed, would anyone play a Diablo-esque game if there was no gear at all? The gameplay, which consists of mowing down tens of thousands of mobs within seconds of their appearing on the screen absolutely is not compelling enough on its own, that’s for goddamn sure.
All of which is certainly a shame, as Torchlight 2 is otherwise an improved sequel in pretty much every other way. The gameplay (such as it is) feels more responsive and impactful; the environments are detailed and fun to look at; the music is about a half dozen artful remixes of the Tristram theme; and I enjoy the visual style. It just feels, you know, completely unrewarding to play.
It is worth mentioning that all of these problems have been solved by better game designers, e.g. the players submitting mods to the game. There are mods that range from introducing new character classes to entirely new dungeons to, you guessed it, fixing the loot issue by guaranteeing Unique or better drops from Gold/Boss chests. I decided early on to stick with the vanilla game because I wanted to get a feel for what the devs learned from the original Torchlight. The answer is “pretty much nothing.” Playing with mods “taints” your character though and otherwise makes you ineligible for achievements. But since the base game feels like such a massive chore to play, I highly recommend anyone deciding to install Torchlight 2 to go ahead and fix what the devs had not the brains and/or balls to do.
I have been spoiled by other games’ betas. That is clear to me now.
Sir, You Are Being Hunted is a game I mentioned being excited about back in May, then promptly forgot about. Recently, it was up on Steam Early Access at a discounted rate, and I decided to take the plunge. A few hours of gameplay later, and I feel thoroughly soaked.
The problem I have with the game is that it is basically a sandbox without any sand. When you start playing, you are introduced to the core gameplay – find pieces of the Device, plug them into Standing Stone – given some binoculars and food, and sent on your way. As a veteran of Don’t Starve, this opening felt perfectly fine. What became readily apparent however, is that the game utterly lacks interactivity in its present state. Alpha is alpha is alpha, yes. But when I rummage through three entire villages and am armed with 3 alarm clocks, one bear trap, and two empty bottles against robots with shotgun sniper rifles, things feel lame.
Now, of course, the name of the game is to be, well, hunted. But the present AI behavior reminds me of the delicate, high-wire act that all stealth games must perform. If you have enemies patrol in a set pattern, it turns stealth gameplay into a sort puzzle game with logical, measured moves. It might feel less “realistic” to have the guard always look to the left for three seconds when he walks to the balcony, but as a game mechanic it is grokkable and feels “right.” Alternatively, you could have enemies who basically follow no pattern whatsoever, looking randomly in any direction at any time. More realistic? Sure. More frustrating? Absolutely.
Right now, Sir basically has the worst of all possible stealth worlds. The world is procedurally-generated and I’m not really certain one of the procedures is to place the Device pieces near cover. I basically spent the last 40 minutes trying, futilely, to grab a Device piece in the middle of a field where two robots were “patrolling.” And by “patrolling,” I mean they walked in random, jerking movements in a 3-meter radius around said Device. Tenchu, Dishonored, and Deus Ex this ain’t; the only possible solution is dropping an alarm clock, crab-walking as far away from it as possible, and grabbing the Device and running.
Of course, the robots run as fast as you do, are armed with shotgun sniper rifles as mentioned previously, and the only way to lose them is to be crouched in foliage. Which they immediately begin to search, because that’s the name of the game. But considering how you can’t really sneak through the foliage at any appreciable speed, they will find you immediately and GG.
Alpha is alpha is alpha. But right now, Sir You Are Being Hunted is basically a crouching simulator and not much else.
While scouring the Hearthstone forums for signs of blue activity, I came across some drunk fireman streaming his Rogue deck in Arena. He went 5-3. And then I realized that I was watching a video of some random guy playing Hearthstone instead of, you know, playing Hearthstone myself. For almost two hours. In the prime of my nightly game playing time. And now I’m blogging about it.
In other news, I went ahead and created a Hearthstone category for my posts, because goddamn.
I have been flirting with the idea of dropping $49.99 on Hearthstone to purchase 40 boosters. That is, strictly speaking, directly against the advice I have and will continue to espouse. It is absolutely unnecessary in order to advance in Ranked Play – a good player can navigate the Basic Mage deck to Masters level with little apparent trouble. (Watch this video, especially the 2nd game.) In fact, that thought led me to an interesting question: exactly what cards am I missing?
The surprising answer? “Not much.”
Heading into Crafting Mode allows you to see ghost images of all the cards missing in your collection. When looked at from this angle, the amount seems daunting. Yes, you can legitimately play for free. Yes, I have been actually gaining gold from playing Arena lately. But 3-11 games games per Arena entry is starting to grate on me a bit when you get stuck with a sub-par selection of cards. Like when you pick warrior and can’t pick up any weapons. Or a Warlock without demons (I actually went 5-3, but I had 3 Hellfires so…). As I have mentioned in the past, my favorite part of Magic: the Gathering was building decks. So each time I go do a daily and end up using the same generic cards I’ve been using for the last two months, I die a little on the inside.
But then I found the weird thing: not all the Epics were good. In fact, a lot of them were outright bad. There are basically 3 Epics per class and 10 Neutral ones, compared to Rares with 5/class + 36 Neutral. And when you really just sit down and look at the card selection, it becomes pretty clear that the Rare cards (and Commons!) are the backbone of most of the classes.
You know, Rares, the card guaranteed to be in every booster pack.
There are a few notable exceptions in Epics being better than Rares, of course. Brawl for Warriors, for example. Hunters pretty much have to use Bestial Wrath in every deck, and Snake Trap combos well with the rest of the kit. But when I look at some of these others, I just start scratching my head. It looks like Blizzard was including some “metagame” cards to perhaps hedge their bets against every possible deck contingency. But, honestly, you can (and will) beat someone’s face in with relentless vanilla cards all day long. Chillwind Yeti is a bitch to deal with no matter what Rares/Epics you are packing, and it costs 4 mana while easily slotting into every deck.
So… now I’m not sure about buying boosters any more. If I’m honest, my primary impetus towards doing so was efficiency: if I spend some of my 600 Dust crafting a given card, I’d hate to then open up duplicates of said card later. Plus, which class would I focus on, at the expense of the others? Besides, I’m already 1/3rd of the way to straight-up crafting a Legendary. In large part due to, by the way, cracking open and immediately Disenchanting the legendary Millhouse Manastorm. Because clearly Blizzard feels it necessary to follow in the M:tG tradition of printing junk cards in the highest rarities. But, hey, 400 Dust from a single card ain’t bad.
By the way, according to this write-up, I may have made a huge error in Disenchanting him. And I realize now that, either way, I certainly lost a ton of comedy potential in putting him in every deck and simply seeing the mayhem.
Anyway, the fact that I am even going through this thought process at all is a clear win for Blizzard. I have said before that Hearthstone can be played legitimately for free as long as it is not your primary, go-to game. The best method, as explained indirectly by Wilhelm in a brilliant post this summer, is to treat it as you would Candy Crush Saga: something you play until you “run out of lives,” and then come back to tomorrow. Becoming more invested in the game leads to, well, investment. Of the monetary kind. Which is… bad. Because it’s free. Or something.
Have I mentioned that I hate F2P due to how it warps my mind? Yes, I believe I have.
Green Armadillo from Player vs Developer has a post up about the somewhat skewed incentives in Hearthstone. Essentially, Blizzard does not have too much of an incentive to do Matchmaking based on card rarity/quality, as not doing so allows the paying customers to get some easy wins against non-paying customers while hopefully encouraging the latter to spend some money to get out of the hole. Plus, queue times might go up if they segmented the audience too far.
I’m not really going to comment too much on the situation itself, because it is kinda true. Hearthstone is a CCG, and like all CCGs, it is Pay-To-Win until all the cards are obtained. Moreover, there appears to be a good chance that the Matchmaking algorithm is not even in place or functioning properly. And like I have mentioned in the past, Blizzard has stuck close to the CCG model of strictly-better cards being “balanced” around their rarity.
But let’s put all that aside for now, and start talking solutions.
1) Stick to Arenas
Hearthstone is basically the Arena for me; everything else is simply a means to more Arena games. The only real reason why I would care about opening more packs and whatnot is to get cards that will allow me to complete my daily quests faster. That might change at some later date – likely coinciding with me actually opening up something more than a Rare card – but for now it is more than enough.
If you are leery about the Arena, don’t be. It is the great equalizer. Sorta. It is still entirely possible to be screwed via RNG by facing opponents that got two Legendary cards whereas you barely have one Epic. Plus, sometimes you get little to no selection when it comes to removal or class-specific cards. I went 4-0 the other day as a Warlock, feeling good, and then got matched with a Mage that had four Fireballs. In a normal game, you can’t even have more than two of the same card. I ended up losing to that Mage, plus a 2nd mage that had a seemingly never-ending supply of Freezing cards (Blizzard, Ice Lance, etc), and some third guy that undoubtedly didn’t deserve to beat me somehow.
Hmm… I’m not exactly helping things, am I?
2) Basic decks can still be good.
Generally speaking, Basic Decks are not at too much of a disadvantage depending on the class you are playing. That means both your class and their class. So while the daily quest can basically dictate which class you end up having to play as to get rewarded, there are steps you can take to put the odds ever in your favor.
For example, this Mage deck is entirely Basic cards:
By a complete coincidence, the two dailies I had sitting around were “Win 5 games” and both had Mage as one of the class options. I went 5-2 with the above deck in Unranked mode.
I am not suggesting that I am some pro player – my Arena matches usually keep me humble – but understanding the hidden depths to something simple like the above deck is key in turning games around. For example, Kobold Geomancer is not a particularly desirable card on it’s own, since it often (at best) trades with other 2-drops. And while you should absolutely play it early if you don’t have anything better, keep in mind its hidden power: turning Arcane Explosion into a Consecration on turn 4. Even if they play something with 3 HP, you can spend your 3rd turn sniping it down to 2 HP before likely wiping their Turn 1-4 board. Hell, it even works in the late-game considering you can Geomancer + Flamestrike to take out 5 HP dudes, or finish off a line of wounded guys with the 2-damage version.
If I had all the Mage cards, would I replace cards in the above deck? Of course. Mana Wyrm is a complete no-brainer, for example. Then again, most of the cards I would add would essentially morph the deck into something else entirely – Mana Wyrm, Blizzard, and Cone of Cold all have a much different feel to them than Arcane Missiles, Arcane Explosion, and Kobold Geomancer shenanigans. To say nothing about the non-Basic Neutral cards available.
There are absolutely certain classes that are much weaker than others when they do not have access to their powerful Rares/Epics – such as Warriors and Brawl – but the Mage really isn’t one of them. Even classes like the Shaman can win unexpectedly with just their Basic cards (i.e. via Bloodlust).
All that being said, yes, you can and will roll over and die to some Diamond+ League decks. One of the losses I had in my run was to a Priest, who only won because Blizzard knee-jerked buffed the hell out of them in the latest patch. Mind Control, in particular, is some major bullshit:
I had two big blockers Mind Controlled in that match, along with facing some Shadow Word: Pain slowing my early game. “Playing around” the Mind Control is possible, sure, but it cedes control of the board to the Priest unless they haven’t been playing anything else this whole time. Flamestrike is certainly powerful and has to be taken into consideration when facing a Mage, but let’s face it, the Mage is perhaps the best class to deal with Mind Control – everyone else is screwed.
Even though that game felt completely awful to me, it is worth mentioning that I was 1 damage away from
stealing earning the game at the end.
Fireball for 6 damage, Frostbolt for 3 damage, Hero Power for 1 damage would have left the Priest at 1 HP and frozen. Now that I think about it… holy shit, guys. I’m so dumb. What I ended up doing was Fireball the Lord of the Arena (my own, by the way), Frostbolt the Yeti, Hero Power the Priest, and then attack for 2. My logic at the time was that if I could bluff him into worrying about a Pyroblast (10 damage), he might play more defensively while I continued digging a way out of the hole. It didn’t occur to me that being frozen by the Frostbolt might have prevented him from using his own Hero Power to heal… letting me ping him for 1 damage and the win next turn.
Even if that doesn’t work – I’m honestly not sure – the point is the same: I had him to within 1 damage with a Basic deck. A minor decision at the beginning of the match or an errant attack against a creature I didn’t have to might have made all the difference. So while some cards are horribly OP and possibly locked behind a rarity wall, just keep in mind that a better player might have been able to steer your same deck and same draws into a win.
So… strive to be that better player.
3) Your cards only ever improve
This likely won’t feel like a “solution,” but your card situation in Hearthstone only ever improves. But more importantly, keep in mind that if you are feeling particularly weak without a certain card, you can craft that card specifically. Each pack of cards can be disenchanted for 40 Dust, minimum (+5 for Common, +20 for Rare). That is enough for a 100% assured Common card of your choice, per pack. Three packs would equal a Rare of your choice plus 20 Dust leftover. Ten packs would give you any Epic of your choice. And if you were crazy enough to do so, 40 packs will guarantee any Legendary card of your choice.
Again, those are minimum numbers. If you (digitally) crack open a second Rare, or an Epic/Legendary/Gold version of any card, the Dust payout increases substantially. Plus, you know, you might actually open the card that you were looking for to begin with.
What I am basically trying to get across here is that Green Armadillo (and others) are correct: Hearthstone is a “F2P” CCG whose principal purpose is to extract the maximum amount of dollars from you in a completely typical F2P way. The important difference here, and reason I am likely to be playing Hearthstone for a long time to come, is that Blizzard isn’t being particularly nefarious about it. Try playing Magic Online or the upcoming Hex by investing zero dollars while still earning actual cards. Try playing any CCG and having a predictable and free (!) method of eventually acquiring any specific card you want. I mean, everyone pretty much agrees that the best way to play Card Hunter is to throw down $25 on their Basic Edition, and that’s also a F2P game. A similar “investment” early on could make your daily quests in Hearthstone that much easier.
Or save your money, like I’m doing. Losing streaks suck, but the Matchmaking software will fix it eventually if going Live doesn’t do so by virtue of deepening the pool of players. The minute you hit 150g, you can buy a ticket into a cloistered realm where, even if everyone doesn’t have the same quality cards, you are at least not shackled to playing around with just your Basic ones. Plus, 7 wins before 3 losses means you can get back in for free. And even if you go 0-3 like I have on a few occasions, the minimum you walk away with is something like this:
What’s that? A booster pack plus almost as much Dust as you’d get disenchanting a 2nd pack.
Card balance isn’t exactly where it needs to be – beta is beta – but the one thing least deserving of criticism is Hearthstone’s business model. While being in the Hearthstone Hole is discouraging, it is not and will never be as bad as the same phenomenon in traditional CCGs nor even your everyday F2P app with a payslope. I mean, Jesus, I’m not sure how other CCGs can compete with this.