Hearthstone is one of the most popular trading card games on the planet,with only Magic : the Gathering having a close enough playerbase to qualify as a decent competition. It has perhaps one of the best mechanics among a large number of card games, which is what attracts players towards it. Despite that, players who start playing the game can be seen complaining about the game, with the main complaint being that the game favors players who dish out cash for in-game loot boxes in the form of card packs. However, a thorough scrutiny of the game indicates that aggressive micro-transactions are not the only problem with it, but it has certain design issues of its own, worsened by negligence from Team 5, the Blizzard team working on Hearthstone.
The first problem, of course, is the cost to obtain a complete collection. Since the launch of the Year of the Mammoth, Blizzard had removed the adventures, and added a full expansion in its place. While the main reason for removing the adventures and adding another full expansion in its place was to increase the card pool for increased versatility while building a deck, most cards end up as filler cards which do not play any role in the current meta. While that itself is a separate topic worthy of discussion, the amount of time or money you need to put into the game to actually enjoy it has increased. Needless to say, this leaves a very bad impression on newer players who have just started the game. There always is Arena, but in order to be good at it, you still need to invest time or money in it to be consistent in getting a decent amount of wins, which doesn’t ease the pain.
Well, that appears to be the only problem people get to complain about. Thing is, is it the only problem in the game’s design? Unfortunately, the game has many more structural problems, one being the lack of incentive for playing against the AI. Yes, PvE content is negligible in Hearthstone, and it was cut down further this year, thanks to the absolute disappearance of adventures from the release schedule. Adventures made boss encounters rewarding, as you would have to make a deck of your own, or use a pre-built deck, and beat an enemy boss under several conditions, with the reward being two cards. If you beat a wing of an adventure, or essentially, a “level”, then you get a legendary card. In the Knight of the Frozen Throne, the adventure feels tough, and yet so unrewarding, because the reward of a wing is one pack. You would get a shiny legendary card, with 6 more cards of variable rarity in the past adventures. What’s more, opening a pack is a random event, whereas the cards were guaranteed in past adventures. There is absolutely no incentive to play against the AI, since there is barely any reward on playing against them. There is an upcoming Dungeon Run mode that seems to extend PvE hours quite a bit, but with a card back being an only reward, will it be enough?
In order to ensure players login and play daily, most free-to-play games implement a daily login reward, which increases for the consecutive days. Hearthstone, however, has no daily login rewards system to prompt users to login daily for playing the game. The closest thing at an incentive to playing daily are the daily quests, which are often tedious and time consuming for the small amount of reward they offer. There are no random lottery based rewards, either. The average Hearthstone player logs in, completes his daily quest while grinding in casual or on competitive, depending on how new he is to the game and then he quits it. Unlike Magic or Yu Gi Oh, which keeps back players with rewards in several forms for playing the game.
The monumental grind in Hearthstone is the cause of grief as well. Either you spend money, or you spend time on the game. If you choose not to spend money, you need a very good luck to collect enough cards for a meta deck in a short time, otherwise be ready to hit the arena, or keep doing dailies for packs or arenas. While that is supported by a certain class of the community as a “good thing” because you get to learn all the mechanics before hitting the competitive ladder, the biggest question is – why hide a majority of the cards in the hope that players will spend hours to learn how to use them before getting access to them if they don’t want to touch their credit cards? Fashioning grind in place of content is the main reason why players keep coming back to the game is not a very healthy approach to game design. This is evident from the fact that most people lose interest in the game when they have an almost full collection (or atleast a Classic card collection, from the Classic set which is almost evergreen by nature). Playing fun decks for having fun is cool only for a while, before you decide to hit the Exit button because you don’t have a reason for dueling anymore.
Existence of stale meta games is another reason people blame Blizzard for not taking action when necessary. Certain cards in the game are extremely overpowered and tend to make a particular class (or classes) as the rulers of the meta game, while other classes languish in the dust, trying to find a way to counter these overpowered cards. This was considerably a thing in the past, with Blizzard displaying their lack of skill at game balancing in the Goblins vs Gnomes by printing a Dr. Boom card, which came to be run in every decks, forcing everyone to craft it, rather than try strategies of their own to beat it. The most overpowered adventure of the whole game might be ‘The Curse of Naxxramas’, where certain overpowered cards like Shade of Naxxramas, Loatheb, Sludge Belcher, Undertaker and Kel’Thuzad exist. This makes players forget about forging their own path to grind in the game and start a grind for the adventure, regardless of whether they prefer it or not (that is, if they want to have the slightest speck of fun in Hearthstone, and let’s admit it, ‘fun’ in Hearthstone means beating an opponent black and blue with a competitive deck). Presence of filler legendaries mean that you can get them instead of the legendary cards you actually need to finish a powerful deck you’re building. A rule that a legendary you pull out of a pack will always be one which isn’t already in your collection, as well as revelations by Blizzard in the outcry of the Chinese government to rein in microtransactions by asking them to reveal drop chance of every rarity from the loot boxes (and let’s face it, China has much strict rules on e-sports than the Western world) that you are guaranteed a legendary in a certain amount of packs is very welcome, but as long as horrible card design continues to be a part of the game, with Blizzard sitting back and relaxing instead of closely monitoring meta games and tweaking cards accordingly to change it, the game’s going to become a boring mess with only a certain number of decks existing on the competitive ladder.
Hearthstone is one of the market leaders in the digital collectible card game market, but how hollow does it have to be to earn from its players? Besides aggressive micro-transactions which mean that players paying real money have access to better cards much earlier than the people who prefer to grind it out, the lack of PvE content, the lack of incentives and bonuses for playing the game as well as horrible card design and game balancing makes the game quite stagnant, despite Blizzard’s claim that 3 expansions a year will help keep the meta fresh. The game needs change, and the players themselves should be the first to admit it.