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Hearthstone isn’t dying, but late-expansion fatigue is still rough

You may have read the mass-upvoted, five-times gilded proclamation of Hearthstone’s imminent demise. Of course, Hearthstone isn’t dead, nor is it dying by any reasonable metric. While the loss of beloved figureheads like Brode is certainly worth mourning, the charges of “no new features”, “band aids” to improve Ladder and assumed bad faith behind communications are exaggerated to say the least. Considering the continual improvement and expansion of single-player content, the healthy and diverse recent metas and well-judged refinements to reduce the grind, arguably the only valid criticism is the relatively inconsequential lack of a Tournament mode.

But there is a real problem behind the post’s obvious angst. The fact that it drew so much support despite its questionable evidence of massive decline is in itself a problem. Simply put, the Hearthstone community is suffering from a severe case of late-expansion fatigue. But what is the best way to treat this malaise?

You(r long term enjoyment of Hearthstone) will wither and rot

Growing stale

Hearthstone is at its best when it’s new and exciting. Possibilities and instability creates opportunity for creativity and wonder. Unfortunately, this high fades fast. The Boomsday meta in particular has settled down into a balanced, diverse but relatively unchanging field. Whilst innovation is still possible, it’s unlikely that your opponents will surprise you.

Typically, the initial expansion meta is shaken up by the mid-expansion nerfs; but for the first time in a very long time, the Hearthstone team saw no obvious avenue for balance changes.

Nerfs for the sake of nerfs

Nerfing Giggling Inventor may not be necessary, but it would make the meta feel a bit more fresh

I’ve argued in the past that nerfs don’t necessarily need to target an unhealthy meta. Sometimes, it’s good just to target some powerful cards simply to shake things up. While the Boomsday meta is diverse, it can also feel deceptively samey – particularly with so many decks running a gameplan revolving around Giggling Inventor, Spreading Plague or both.

An alternative to changing cards that don’t necessarily need them just to spice things up would be to temporarily introduce new powerful cards until the next expansion. These introductions could be free, strong and extremely time-limited (similar to the cards introduced to Arena last expansion). This would allow for a drastic and refreshing change in the meta without disrupting the long-term health of the game.

Just deal with it?

Another potential response is that late-expansion fatigue, while hardly ideal, is simply a fact of life that we should get over. Hearthstone is not inherently designed around constant intensive play, year in and year out. It fundamentally rewards those who play little and often. Perhaps demanding constant variety and entertainment from a game that is not equipped to handle it is asking too much.

But I think such cynicism is too pessimistic. Hearthstone’s team is growing in both competence and in understanding, and there is no reason why it should not cater more to those who might lose interest. With enough effort, ingenuity and creative design, we could make mid-expansion fatigue a thing of the past.

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com and PlayHearthstone on Twitch

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1 comment

LordDucklair October 4, 2018 at 9:28 am

I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you here. As someone who has been playing Hearthstone for nearly 5 years now, what annoys me the most (and hence why I haven’t been playing lately) isn’t the late-expansion fatigue (though it certainly doesn’t help), but more-so the fact that Blizzard has straight up admitted that we shouldn’t expect any new additions to the game for the foreseeable future (minus the usual expansion every 4 months).
Let me elaborate: while I was initially ecstatic at Hearthstone’s conception (I believe it was something along the lines of: “Finally! A Magic-The-Gathering-esque game on PC with mechanics that actually takes advantage of the fact that it’s on PC! It’s about damn time!”), the fact that the only additions to the game we’ve seen since then are Tavern Brawls, the separation of Standard and Wild, some good (but unavoidably very short) single player content, 9 deck slots and some Arena changes every now and then doesn’t bode well for the game’s future. That isn’t to say that what’s been added to the game is bad (far from it), rather, it simply goes to show that Blizzard is inexcusably slow at adding just about anything new to the game which isn’t just another expansions (which unsurprisingly is what constitutes 99% of their profits).
So is Hearthstone dying? Well that depends on what you mean by “dying” but one thing’s for certain, it sure as hell isn’t growing anymore. Please understand, I’m not mad because I now suddenly believe that Hearthstone is a bad game, I’m mad because I know (and I’ve held this belief for a long time) that Hearthstone could be oh so much more if only Blizzard tried experimenting every once in a while instead of hiding in a corner scared of making any mistakes, which (and I’m sure the irony isn’t lost to anyone reading this) is the biggest mistake they could have possibly made in and of itself. And while I’ve stubbornly told myself for the longest time that SURELY Blizzard will add something new to the game, we now have official confirmation by Blizzard themselves through their “In The Works” blogpost (more like “Not In The Works” hur hur) that this won’t be happening anytime soon. And so I give up, just like Blizzard has seemingly given up a long time ago…
Might I also add that you yourself stated that temporarily adding new cards to play around with (sounds like a somewhat new mode of play to me) would allow for a less stale environment in the game overall. And as far as mid-expansion fatigue is concerned, call me entitled if you must, but that should have already been a thing of the past by now.
TL;DR: Games need to evolve over time if you want them to stay entertaining and Hearthstone is certainly no exception to that rule. How is it that MtG Arena already has more modes of play than Hearthstone despite only being in open beta? Blizzard had 5 years. FIVE. YEARS. There are no excuses. Blizzard messed up.

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