(Editor’s Note: In keeping with 2 Guys Gaming’s attempt at catching up from our insane holiday schedule, I am going to offer a cursory review of the new Hearthstone expansion Goblins vs. Gnomes.)
I have talked on the podcast and written here on the website about Blizzard’s digital CCG Hearthstone. Most of the discussion has been mixed and bordered on negative. When the game first came out, I endorsed it to Chris and a few other friends because it was an online card game and initially, it is a fun game. However, like many Blizzard games, sometimes it became more about the treadmill of trying to do daily quests. These games came against increasingly stronger decks built by people who most likely spent a lot of money building their collection. The game just wasn’t fun anymore and I uninstalled the game for about a couple of weeks before the announcement of the first “adventure”.
The concept of an adventure is an interesting concept that is completely unique to the digital card game genre. There’s no way that a table top card game could do what Hearthstone did with Naxxramas. As an added bonus, Blizzard implemented it well and the new cards changed the way that the game was being played with only a handful of new cards. Because of the limited card pool, that change felt brief and temporary and honestly not that much of a change. Hunters and warlocks ran wild and now they has seemingly more tools to dominate. The game returned to the simplistic feel of being a card game version of rock paper scissors and I stopped playing it again after only a month. Honestly, I just didn’t find the game all that fun.
For me, the lifeblood of any card game is the expansions. They bring new cards, new decks, new mechanics, and the promise that the game will provide fun and enjoyment for that much longer. It isn’t surprising then that I started to pay attention again after the announcement of the first full expansion set for the game, Goblins v. Gnomes. The first cards out from the set focused mainly around random effects, making it seem like Blizzard was sticking to their guns on the subject of “RNG as skill”. However, they quickly assured people that was not the case and they only used those cards as the teaser because of the fun effects that would get people talking about the game.
The expansion is focused heavily around random effects that used to bother me. Chris tried to jury rig a physical version of the game because he was less into the digital content of the game, but the effects of the cards is too wonky to play physically. Blizzard actually mentioned this in one of their interviews. They prefer the way Hearthstone is designed because it makes it different from its non-digital contemporaries and therefore it can stand out in a genre that has seen competitor after competitor fall to the might of Magic: the Gathering. However, as I play the game more and start to figure out some of the strategy, I realize that RNG can be annoying when you are counting on RNG to win you a game. It becomes less annoying (and not even RNG) when you use it to your advantage by eliminating the RNG as much as you can. An example is Flame Cannon. If you hold on to that card until there are 5 minions on the board, some of them with 5 health, and you don’t have any choice, you’re going to have a bad day. If, however, you use it on a single minion board and have a follow up in case of more health, then the card is very strong as removal.
So, an expansion that likes to tout the fact that “most of the things fail…or explode” and should have annoyed me to no end has actually had the opposite effect. The relatively few cards released during Naxxramas were enough to shake up the game in a way that some decks that were very strong are no longer being played while some new strategies have emerged. GvG has brought even more new strategies to Hearthstone, chief among them one that I have enjoyed since putting together my zombie deck a couple of years ago. That’s right, mill decks are now a thing (and somewhat viable) in Hearthstone. The game is fun again and I’m actually venturing back into the Arena thanks to the free run that Blizzard gave away at the release. “The first one’s free, Kid.”
That’s not to say that everything is roses. Warlocks and Hunters still rule in constructed and Mages, and now Paladins, still seem very overpowered in Arena. You will get sick of seeing the same decks over and over again. I know that I do. But use it to your advantage. Once you know a deck, you know it and can plan accordingly.
I still would not recommend the game to new “free to players” necessarily because it is very difficult to catch up without paying real money. If you can stand grinding a bit, though, you can get all of the basic cards and there are some good strategy guides for all basic decks. You may not win more than 20-25% of your games, but that will still be enough to finish your daily quests in a somewhat timely fashion. Use the gold to play the Arena (and most likely get destroyed, but again there are good guides to get started), get your pack (and hopefully some gold return), and start building your collection to take on your foes. If you have no qualms about putting aside some of your gaming budget to buy cards or Arena runs in the game, then I would definitely recommend getting in now. The game can be a ton of fun and it seems like Blizzard is really starting to figure out what they want to do and how to do it.
Pros: Makes the game fun with the effects and new cards. Adds some variety to the number of decks that are viable (even if they aren’t being played).
Cons: Warlock and Hunter just synergize so well with their hero power and class cards that they continue to dominate the games that you will play.
The Last Words: I can say that Hearthstone is definitely finally worth recommending that people check out. It can be a grind for players not looking to spend any money, but if you’re willing to put in that grind, it will pay off in the end.