Hearthstone: Rise of Shadows, the bad guys are back

Another year and yet another expansion, the next Hearthstone expansion is upon us already. Rise of shadows brings more cards, more characters, and more mechanics. The latest expansion sees some of the game’s most notorious villains getting up to no good, and no, I’m not talking about Blizzard…

Are you still keeping up?

Can a game have too much content? Will players get fed up of the ever-changing mechanics and the need to keep decks fresh and current? Will people start to lose interest?

Short answer, yes.

Out with the old, in with the new

With the arrival of 2019s first expansion, all three previous expansions from 2017 have now vanished from the Standard format. Every card from Journey to Un’Goro, Knights of the Frozen Throne (say bye bye to the lich king) and Kobolds & Catacombs have been confined to Wild, where all the previous expansions cards are fair game. This is the single biggest shift in the history of the game, so it’s a pretty big deal.

To give some context to new players or to people that are just curious about the franchise, what this means is the previous expansion’s cards will disappear from the standard way of playing the game. Standard is by far the most popular arena and includes the current and previous years expansions. Cards released in 2016 rotated out in 2017 and this year sees the 2017 cards disappear into the poorly balanced and unsupported Wild format for good.

Players can obviously keep the old cards in their collection for playing in Wild mode or for some deeper sense of nostalgia if you can’t bring yourself to disenchant your favourite cards. If you’re a strictly standard player, like me it makes sense to disenchant these cards for valuable dust which is used to craft new cards. The pain of destroying a favourite card can potentially bring tears, feel free to light a candle or pour out a cold one for your fallen homie. No one’s judging here.

As a result, I’m expecting a pretty hefty change in Hearthstone meta as huge fan favorites (the previously mentioned Lich King) are set to disappear from standard play. No more Death Knight heroes? If I’m being truly honest, I’m a little bummed out by that. Seeing your favourite cards fall by the wayside is painful to watch and this one hurts a little more than normal.

With these key cards being banned from the standard format, it will force players to either buy more cards from the recent expansions or go back to using classic decks like face Hunter and while these decks can still hold their own competitively, they’re hella boring to play.

Is this the end for casual players?

I’ve been playing the game since it was released way back in 2014 and the question is, will the new changes hold my attention? Honestly, I think my time playing Hearthstone is coming to an end.  

Logging in for the first time when a Hearthstone expansion drops can be a little overwhelming and somewhat daunting. All my decks are now useless when it comes to playing standard as the majority of cards aren’t available anymore, so I can’t even play the game right away. Not a great start Blizzard.

Not exactly the best player experience, but hey it’s a fantastic game that’s brought me years of joy, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. The first step is to go and delete the decks that are not in use anymore, and for me, that’s all of them… I’m back to square one.

Next is to go and disenchant the now banned cards for that sweet tasty dust so I can at least craft some new decks to play with, 3 expansions worth of cards mean a lot of cards to dust. This can take a fair amount of time especially if you’re on a mobile, that could take 30mins+. For me this gave me around 30000 dust and to put that into perspective decks can cost between 1000 to 13k+. 18 decks down to potentially 2 or 3. Can people afford to keep up with the changes?

Show me the money!

Hearthstone does give you the option of using in-game gold to buy card packs so on hearing the release of the new expansion I start farming gold, and by the time of release I’ve got myself enough for 14 packs. That’s the equivalent of around £16.99 if you were to buy them with real cash. This being said it was no easy feat to get this, completing dailies every day can take up a lot of time, with other life commitments and other games I can play with my friends taking over, this can take a bit of a backseat. You can grind the dailies for in-game gold but to do that you’ll need somewhat decent decks in the first place to complete them. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the problem here.

I open my packs and I’m still nowhere near being able to play the game, the last thing I want to do before playing a new expansion is an hour of laborious admin that actually allows me to play. Is my attention span dwindling in my old age or are Blizzard making it harder for casual players to enjoy the franchise?

Hearthstone is first and foremost a business, and I get that as a business they need to make money and selling cards make Blizzard money. But what is money without an active and engaged community? Focusing too heavily on one will damage the other, so there needs to be a balance. Sure make money, but you need to show you actually give a damn about the community. The ever-increasing paywall may be the final straw for players, myself included.

With the new card count at 130 with 23 legendaries and considering a legendary drops roughly every 20 packs that’s a hell of a lot of packs that need to be opened. Even if you buy 200 packs which are going to be in the excess of around £200 you’ll get an average of 10 legendary cards which is a pretty terrible return on investment if you ask me. Sure you’ll get duplicates which you can dust to craft a few more cards but after spending a significant amount of money, I’m sure you’ll feel pretty cheated.

Granted you don’t need to all the cards to play competitively, some cards won’t even make the cut to the top tier decks but who in their right mind wants to play boring budget decks? Trying creative and interesting decks is where the fun comes from, unfortunately, that comes at a cost and that my friends, is a big problem.

Summary

This being said Hearthstone is by no means in trouble, In November they celebrated the milestone of hitting 100 million players, that’s 35 million more than the entire population of the UK. If anything that’s impressive in its own right.

Time will only tell how successful Rise of Shadows will be with the community, it introduces a cool concept of villains teaming up to pull a heist in the floating city of Dalaran which on paper, sounds super cool. However, with other life commitments slowly taking over and fast-paced free games like Apex Legends taking up my spare time, I feel like Hearthstone no longer accommodates for a casual player like myself. I will most likely still create a deck or 2 and test the waters but let’s face it, I’m no longer a student, I don’t have the time or the money to rebuild my collection to what it was, plus with the Frozen Throne cards retiring to the Wild, I think it’s time for me to do the same.

-Paul

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