Hearthstone is a year old, so we've updated this dusty review with lots of new words from Nick and Tim, who are having a chat about the game, a year on.
Find our original review on page 2.
Hearthstone’s been out for a year. Are you still playing?
Nick: Absolutely. There are breaks from time to time, but that’s usually because I’m knee deep in some other Blizzard game *cough* WoW. Since launch it’s seen two major content releases: the Curse of Naxxramas adventure, and the Goblins versus Gnomes card expansion. Both have added great amounts of longevity to the game, as well as diversifying the card pool, allowing for even more deck concoctions.
Since I work at my PC throughout the day, I often found myself spending less and less time on Hearthstone, as I’d begin to favour games I could play from the comfort of my sofa or bed. Recently though, I’ve set up a simple joystick program that allows me to control Hearthstone with my Xbox pad. It’s heaven.
Tim: I’m back in, after a period of abstinence. All it took was a few YouTube videos of streamers pulling off ridiculous combinations and I fell immediately back in love after falling out with it around the time Naxxramas arrived. What I realised is that building competitive decks is never going to be my thing, and started looking at pre-mades on other sites. Now, I’m flying.
Back in the review, one of the reasons we didn’t give it a perfect score was that we were worried it was probably going to favour players that paid up. And they’d be paying up a lot. Have you spent much cash in it?
Nick: Full disclosure: I’ve spent quite a lot of money on Hearthstone. In the beginning, I easily laid down around £100 to give myself a healthy supply of cards to play with. Similarly, I did the same with Goblins vs Gnomes was released. Because I spend the gold I earn from daily quests on the arena, I didn’t have enough saved up for Curse of Naxxramas, and so bought the full adventure as well.
As an ex Magic: the Gathering player, dropping down a couple of hundred when I new set is released is quite the norm for me; I’ll admit that ‘cracking packs’ can be quite addictive. But for me, I like to play with a competitive edge, so it was my goal to have the majority of the cards unlocked to play with on the ranked ladder.
Tim: I bought Nax and a few packs to start with, but actually, I’m quite enjoying the challenge of ranking up by using decks entirely made from the basic and Nax sets. I feel a little bit at a disadvantage when other players are dropping annoy-o-trons left right and centre, but generally, even the basic cards can hold their own up to about level 15. In the meantime, I’m gradually expanding my collection with gold earned from quests and dust to craft cards I’ll get the most value from. I’ll almost certainly buy Blackrock Mountain when it arrives though.
Do you think Blizzard did a good job of balancing the original game?
Nick: The majority of the time, yes, but there has been some cards that were destined for a rebalance, and it took Blizzard an abnormally long time to finally cave in. I remember the Hunter deck with Unleash the Hounds and Leeroy Jenkins dominating play for months before they were nerfed. The development team certainly aren’t liberal when it comes to making changes to cards that dominate the meta.
Similarly, the dreaded Undertaker - used in another Hunter deck - proved to be an early game powerhouse that was too difficult to deal with. You would just mulligan at the start of each game until you have either one, or both of your Undertakers. It was the perfect ladder climbing deck - you win early and fast. Next.
Tim: What I find interesting about Hearthstone’s balance is how knife-edge it can be. Generally, if one card is over-powered, the result is that it reduces the range of decks that can be considered competitive. I think the balance problems we saw in the early game were probably as much to do with there not actually being that many cards available to choose from, as much as the cards themselves being OP.
What about the expansions?
Nick: I still feel some cards from the Goblins versus Gnomes expansion need another look. You can barely find a single deck that doesn’t include a Dr. Boom somewhere in its list. It’s already is a 7/7 for seven mana - that alone makes it a great card. But then it floods the board with two Boom Bots that have the potential to deal up to eight damage to any target. You just can’t go wrong with this card.
Tim: Yeah, Dr. Boom is completely bananas. Like I said earlier, if you don’t have it in your deck, you’re being less competitive than a player that does. It just edges out other choices.
Did you enjoy the Naxxramas expansion?
Nick: It was lovely. I play World of Warcraft, and have very fond memories of the Naxxramas raid. There was a lot of personality injected into the adventure, and a few cracking good jokes. As for the bosses and challenges themselves, I think Blizzard hit the sweet spot in terms of difficulty. The first few times you go up against them, you’ll likely fail at least a couple of times before you finally make their portrait explode; just long enough to get your monies worth in terms of time spent.
But of course, then you have the heroic mode, which is downright torturous. These take extremely specific decks to overcome, and usually require use of the new cards from the adventure; sometimes from later bosses. It’s quite easy to just Google the best decks to use, but I found it much more satisfying brainstorming my own decks and winning my way.
Adventures are probably my favourite method of Blizzard adding in new cards to the game. Although they are dwarfed by the 100+ card expansion sets, they just have this charm which makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. The former makes my wallet hurt, albeit at my own hand.
Tim: I loved it, loved doing each wing, and thought the class challenges were hilarious. I still get a bit of a giggle from the Hunter Webspinner only challenge. Just ridiculously fun design.
Goblins and Gnomes saw Blizzard doubling down on more randomised effects. What did you think?
Nick: This is a tough one to answer personally. Again, coming from Magic: the Gathering, there was indeed a bit of RNG involved, usually in the form of flipping a coin between two outcomes. But Hearthstone takes it much further than that, and more regularly too.
Goblins versus Gnomes saw three minions that could summon random X cost minions upon death; Sneed’s Old Shredder summoning a random legendary. These cards can be the pivotal moment of any game due to their random nature. If you want to see a perfect example of this, look at the below video.
It’s bonkers - true and utter chaos. But what’s important is that the opportunity for any such outcome is available to both players, but that outcome must remain strictly unaffected by their actions.
Do you still play Arena?
Nick: It’s what I spend all of my gold on that I get from daily quests. When compared to buying packs outright, it’s a no brainer in my opinion. Not only are you giving yourself potentially hours of fun, but if you do well, you can reap even more rewards than the gold you put in.
It’s also nice to play a mode where the manufactured meta doesn’t always apply. Drafting in arena is a fine art, that you learn over the course of many, many runs. Knowing what combos with what, which is the better card and giving yourself a good mana curve is crucial.
I do wish though that Blizzard implemented some other mode that offers similar rewards. A automatic drop-in tournament would be ace, similar to how the eSports format is currently done. It could have a buy-in to make it a gold sink of sorts, and there could be a tiered rewards system for where you placed in the tournament.
Tim: No. I’m aware it’s a much more efficient way of earning dust, but actually, I’d rather play ranked that screw around with building a deck in which I’m constantly questioning my own decision making. I’ve had a few Arena runs, but decided that it’s just not for me.