For those who’ve been keeping up with “Hearthstone” (2014) expansions and adventures, it’s become evident that developer and publisher Activision-Blizzard’s solutions to initial problems with the game have made matters worse over the years. Many of the powerful cards in the game involve random effects that are impossible to play around to the point where differences in skill level among professional “Hearthstone” players is irrelevant. To make matters worse, the barrier to entry for free-to-play players is too high. The latest dinosaur-themed expansion, “Journey to Un’Goro” (2017), is a painful reminder that even much-loved companies like Blizzard can make poor decisions.
In terms of gameplay, “Journey to Un’Goro” has brought few significant changes. Ragnaros the Firelord, Sylvanas Windrunner and Azure Drake are no longer in Standard. The new mechanic, known as Adapt, is an ability that allows the player to discover an adaptation for a minion from a total of 10 choice cards like Divine Shield, +3 Health and Stealth. These adaptations improve the minion according to players’ choices, allowing the minion to “adapt” to the board-state.
All nine classes have their own Quest card with a specific requirement that players can fulfill to activate extremely powerful effects. The Rogue class has one of the most oppressive quest decks, making use of the quest “The Caverns Below.” Once players of this deck activate the quest and play four minions with the same name, they receive a 5-cost spell called “Crystal Core” that turns every minion in their deck into a 5/5 minion. Combine this with Southsea Deckhands, Patches the Pirate and Stonetusk Boars to swarm your opponent with a tide of 5/5 minions.
Overpowered decks have always been an issue in “Hearthstone,” but that’s a minor complaint compared to the primary issue: “Hearthstone” is too expensive to keep up with. With Blizzard’s new focus on improving deck diversity by making class legendaries exceptionally powerful and neutral legendaries less so, players need to spend more dust or real money to craft the decks they want to play. Since the rate of earning in-game currency is so slow, players feel obligated to use the card Blizzard likes to see most: the credit card.
Imagine that you were a dedicated player who hoped to buy the entire set of “Journey to Un’Goro,” which includes 49 commons, 36 rares, 27 epics and 23 legendaries. One player ran a Monte Carlo simulation using Python to determine the number of packs someone would have to purchase on average to obtain every card: 316. That’s $399.92. Keeping in mind that Blizzard intends to create three similarly sized expansions a year, players who intend to “collect ‘em all” will have to spend about $1,200 annually to keep their collection up-to-date. For the same cost, you could build an impressive Steam library of just about every triple-A video game that’s been released in the past couple years.
This is even worse for new players who have to obtain cards for the base game, “Goblins vs. Gnomes” (2014), “The Grand Tournament” (2015), “Whispers of the Old Gods” (2016) and “Mean Streets of Gadgetzan” (2016). The four aforementioned expansions alone have over 500 collectible cards. Can you still play Hearthstone and win games without spending hundreds of dollars on packs? Yes. Relatively cheap decks like Pirate Warrior and Midrange Hunter can get you to Legend rank, but that’s a lot of hours spent playing the same thing over and over again. After playing the same deck and climbing the ladder every month, even the most dedicated Blizzard fans will become jaded and look to competitors like “Gwent” (2016), “Shadowverse” (2015), “Duelyst” (2015) and “Faeria” (2017). In “Hearthstone,” players pay to have fun.
Sure, Blizzard might throw a few free packs in here and there. Maybe even a rap video created by Ben Brode. But for a game that reportedly made almost $400 million in 2016, “Hearthstone” is, for the most part, the same game it was on release. Not enough money is going towards adding features and improving the quality of life for new players who form the foundation of this “freemium” title. Until there are suitable options to help new players get started and enjoy the game without having to throw down hundreds of dollars, “Hearthstone” is not worth playing and should be avoided by all but those who light their cigars with wads of Benjamins.