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?
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
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