Stick of Carrots
A few weeks ago, Blizzard acknowledged that their reworked rewards track system in Hearthstone wasn’t sufficient. This week, they are acknowledging again that, yeah, it still sucks:
- We’re adjusting a variety of daily and weekly quests to make them easier to complete
- We’re removing weekly quests that require Legendary cards and Arena runs
- We’re changing the weekly quest “Win 7 Games of Ranked Play Mode” to “Win 5 Games of Ranked Play Mode.
- Tavern Brawls and Battlegrounds will now contribute to quest progress.
- We’re making small tweaks to certain quests
- All 800 XP daily quests will now reward 900 XP.
- We’re reducing the amount of XP needed to reach certain levels in the rewards track.
- We’re adding more gold rewards to certain levels of the rewards track.
- We’re adjusting rewards track bonus levels to provide steadier gold income.
- We’re also planning a one-time log-in reward of 5 Darkmoon Faire packs and 500 Gold
To be clear, the only rational reason the reward track was introduced at all was as a justification for a Battle Pass. Hearthstone, a game that already brought in hundreds of millions of dollars for very little cash outlay, was apparently not profitable enough. Despite, you know, the designers slamming in an extra expansion a year.
Of the changes they are proposing, the only particularly relevant one to my interests was them allowing Brawls to contribute to quests again:
Tavern Brawls and Battlegrounds will now contribute to quest progress. Tavern Brawls and Battlegrounds will reward progress for any daily or weekly quests that they should naturally apply to. This should allow more flexibility in how to complete quests and make the rewards more consistent with previous gold earnings. For example, you’ll now be able to complete a quest like “Play Three Games as Priest, Rogue, or Warlock” by playing Tavern Brawls, and quests that require you to play Beasts, for example, can be completed by playing Beasts in Battlegrounds.
I like how they phrased it “this should allow more flexibility,” as though this was a new feature they were introducing. No, these morons took it out of the existing system for… what reason, again? Seriously, it made zero sense, even if they were trying to shove everyone into Ranked or whatever.
Time will tell as to how long this dumpster fire burns. The /r/Hearthstone community is a bit split on the changes, which I suppose is an improvement over the constant meme rioting. The goalposts though have moved from the gold revenue reduction (which appears largely solved) over to the Dust Economy in general. That is one area in which I agree has been messed up since Day 1. It takes 1600 Dust to craft a Legendary card, but you only ever get 1/4th of the Dust back when disenchanting other cards. That is generous when compared to paper CCGs, but pretty weak when compared to the competition that Blizzard has not crushed in the digital CCG space.
More relevantly, it just feels bad within the context of just the game itself, considering many decks hinge on their Legendaries and Epic cards. Sure, no one is necessarily entitled to a collection full of meta decks. But considering that your options as a non-whale are A) destroy your older cards and gamble the deck you are crafting will be useful even a few weeks from now, or B) simply get ran over by meta decks, it might be worth looking into how stingy you want to be for the health of the game. Especially when you start introducing quests and game modes that are dependent on a person’s collection (that may or may not have been dusted).
We’ll see how this plays out. Of special note is the fact that Blizzard is introducing a “mini-expansion” soon, whatever that means. Well, we know what it means ($$$), but how terribly will it be implemented? Based on their track record thus far, I would guess the worst.
Good RNG, Bad RNG
I feel kinda bad for having sung the praises for Hearthstone’s Tavern Brawl mode right as they released perhaps the worst iteration of it possible. This past week’s Brawl is “Encounter at the Crossroads,” and follows the (intentional?) pattern of every other week’s Brawl giving you a deck to play with. Instead of being filled with Webspinners, your deck is filled with completely random garbage cards, and up to three Legendaries. It ends up being 15 Neutral cards and 15 Class cards, for the record, and they are completely random – Mad Scientists in decks without Secrets, cards that trigger off of dragons without a single dragon in the deck, and so on.
My utter disgust with this week’s Brawl got me thinking: what’s the big deal? There is RNG everywhere, so why hate this kind? What’s so worse about this RNG as compared to the Webspinner Brawl or the spell one the week before?
I think my biggest problem is that this was Blind, Lingering RNG. Last week, you didn’t know what kind of creature you would summon… other than that it’d be an X mana cost one, it would come before the spell resolved, and you knew what was in the rest of your deck. You knew how much removal you were packing, you knew what synergies existed, you kinda knew what to expect from your opponent.
With a Crossroads deck, you know nothing
Jon Snow. You didn’t even know whether to mulligan your shitty opening hand; if you threw anything back, chances are you’d get something even worse.
One of the benefits to RNG is the very thing that people often complain about: RNG can determine games. Yes, there will be games that you lose to coin flips. Yes, it feels awful when you’re winning to suddenly fall behind through no fault of your own.
At the same time… randomness can make things interesting. Randomness can challenge you, present you with scenarios you’ve never encountered before, and allow you to overcome defeat through judicious use of probability. Do you play around that 10% chance that the Piloted Shredder pops out something that destroys your strategy, or do you play it safe? That sort of thing is (or can be) an interesting decision, and different people have different thresholds of comfort when it comes to percentages.
I mean, imagine the opposite case with no RNG. Losing from your opening hand. Or at least your only hope being that your opponent has as bad a hand as you do. It feels bad, man.
This is what this Brawl has felt like all weekend long – inevitable lingering losses. I played in the neighborhood of twenty games to complete my dailies, and I was never blessed with those same insane, on-curve openings that I would routinely experience the sharp end of. In most of the games, I would have been better off conceding in the first two turns. Could you imagine someone feeling the same in the Spell-Minion or Webspinner Brawl? Don’t get me wrong, you could get way screwed out of nowhere in those Brawls. But that’s the thing: it’s immediate. It’s more fun, even on the receiving end. At least in comparison to being behind, with nothing good to play this turn, and knowing you have a 99% chance of drawing into even more garbage the next turn.
There’s RNG and then there’s RNG. This is the latter, it sucks, and I hope Blizzard never does it again.
Taking a cue from Syncaine, I want to talk about Hearthstone for a second.
For a long while there, I had largely stopped playing Hearthstone. For one, I had gotten back into WoW (for two months) and thus did not have room in the game rotation for it. Then when I stopped playing WoW, I wanted to dedicate more time to clearing out my Steam backlog. Even when I did feel the inclination to play, I stopped myself, as I lacked the necessary drive to see what the metagame was up to, updating my decks, and so on. It all just felt like a vicious circle that ensured I wouldn’t boot the game up again.
Enter the Tavern Brawl.
Released a little over a month ago, the Tavern Brawl is an additional game mode for Hearthstone that largely evens the playing field between veterans and newbies, whales and F2Pers, all in one brilliant swoop. Each week there has been a new Tavern Brawl with new rules, and each one lasts from Wednesday to Monday before leaving forever. Here are the ones so far:
- Ragnaros vs Nefarion
- All creatures grant a Banana (random de/buff card) on death
- Decks are 7 class spells + 23 Webspinners
- Spells summon a random creature of the same mana cost
For the first and third Brawls, the cards in your collection did not matter in the slightest. The second and fourth Brawls did sorta rely on your specific selection of cards, but the structure was such that you generally wanted to play the game way differently than normal anyway. For example, while you could bring a standard Ladder deck to the Banana Brawl, you could also achieve success by flooding the board with small creatures and relying on the Bananas to buff later creatures enough to close out the game. Similarly, the most recent Great Summonner Brawl rewarded decks just stacking 30 spells and no creatures.
The above isn’t the brilliance of Tavern Brawl though. The brilliance is in the reward structure.
To generate interest, Blizzard is giving away a free booster pack for the first Brawl win for the week. That’s fine, whatever. The real genius is that Brawl matches count for your Daily Quest completion. Including, incidentally, the 10g for every 3 wins passive quest.
Up to this point, if you had a Daily Quest to win five games as a Warrior or Paladin, you had to complete them in Arena, Ranked mode, or the even tougher Casual mode (tougher because matchmaking is determined by MMR instead of Rank). That can be stressful, as Hearthstone suffers from the same thing that affects all CCGs: net-decks. Which means your goofy theme deck or whatever is going to be routinely trounced by someone piloting the same well-oiled killing machine they saw a Pro use to hit Legend two days ago. Not even Rank 20 is safe from net-decks, especially since some veterans will tank their Rank down to 20 for some easy wins to complete their own Daily Quests or grind wins (which gives golden character portraits at 500 wins).
Tavern Brawl removes any performance anxiety you might have in terms of completing Dailies. Sure, you still have to win games for most quests. Yeah, most of the Brawls come down to rolling dice. But here’s the thing: rolling dice is fun. Losing to Face Hunter or Freeze Mage is considerably less so. If you don’t care about your Ranking on the Ladder, why should you be matched up with people who do?
Tavern Brawl plugs that gameplay hole so well, you’d swear it had a spot in the Amigara Fault.
Overall, Tavern Brawl is a huge win on every front. It auto-generates news on HearthPwn every week; it offers a wildly different game experience to break up the static Ladder grind; it makes Dailies fun; and it’s rewarding for new players and old. If this is supposed to be the New Blizzard we’re disappointed with, well… they still seem capable of being pretty damn clever with their game design.
Posted by Azuriel
There is an interesting post up over at MMOBro asking whether or not Overwatch is missing the mark. The conclusion Tyler comes to is this:
Having spent the last week playing Overwatch 2-5 hours a day, I am inclined to agree.
Most of the criticisms brought up by Tyler are legit. While single-player campaigns in games like COD and Battlefield are generally superfluous, they are value propositions and used extensively to sell boxes via commercials. Blizzard appears to be treating Overwatch more like a MOBA in the sense that they are crafting a lore-rich story and intricate characters that have nothing at all to do with the game itself. Or maybe the straight Team Fortress 2 comparison is more apt.
Regardless, it does feel a bit jarring to have all these production values without a production.
Probably my favorite place in all the maps.
Also, it is very much true that Overwatch is not a particularly welcoming game. The average Time-To-Kill varies, but it very often can be “Instantly.” Junkrat and Reaper can often kill 3+ people practically out of nowhere with their Ultimates, which is kind of a big deal in 6v6 matches.
Indeed, the team size is small enough that a skilled veteran can often single-handedly lock down a match by themselves or a complete noob on your side can result in a demoralizing, grinding loss in an otherwise even match. I’m not sure what kind of matchmaking Blizzard had active during the Beta (assuming they had anything at all), but it didn’t seem to be working that well. The fact that the teams stay the same from match to match (there is no team shuffling) just encourages people to bail to try and find a different server with the possibility of a better team, which just increases the queues for everyone.
Having said that… this is technically still beta. One of the criticisms from Tyler was:
This is not entirely true.
In fact, if there is contrary info out there, I’d like to know where, because Kaplan has said this:
Indeed, Overwatch has borrowed Hearthstone’s Brawl mechanic in which there is a weekly mode with “crazy” new rules. This past week it was random hero selection upon death, and the ability to switch heroes disabled. Not only was this a brilliant, relatively stress-free way to experience characters you might feel bad for picking in a normal match, if Hearthstone is any indication, it is also a test-bed for future mechanics.
Just think about how much live data Blizzard could pull from any given match, in terms of whether stacking three Roadhogs was effective given X or Y factors. Seems dumb now, but maybe that very thing will inform a future, more robust AI for bots down the road. Or when the Brawl from before was normal Overwatch but 75% shorter cooldowns.
Far-fetched? You be the judge:
Playtesters and didn’t even know it.
So, in the final before-launch analysis, I conclude that… Overwatch is fun. I wish I was playing it right now. Assuming that Blizzard fixes the matchmaking and horrible DC experiences, it will absolutely become a part of my “I don’t know what to play right now” rotation. You can easily get four matches done in 30 minutes, which starts to make you wonder if Blizzard’s master plan (assuming there is one) is to fill in the holes in WoW’s design with other games. Waiting for dungeon queue? Play some Overwatch. Which is absolutely easier to jump in and out of than Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm.
However, much in the way that raiding isn’t for everyone, neither is Overwatch. If you are John Q Casual, there isn’t much for you to do (at the moment). The scope of the Battlefield series is such that you could always tag along a squad as a medic or supply guy and generally not be nuisance while rendering material assistance to your team. In Overwatch? You’re a straight liability, even if you are a healer. Especially if you are a healer. Because the better players might assume you’re competent and not pull a healer themselves.
So as I mentioned before, I agree with Tyler. If you’re looking for quick bursts of kinda frustrating, often amusing FPS action, Overwatch is pretty damn good. Just make sure that is what you’re looking for before you throw down $40/$60.
Posted in Commentary, Impressions
Tags: Beta, Blizzard, FPS, Overwatch, Tavern Brawl