Blizzard continuously updates Hearthstone with new card expansions. But the game needs more than just new cards and short-lived single player modes.
Earlier this month at BlizzCon 2018, Blizzard announced Hearthstone‘s upcoming new troll-themed expansion, Rastakhan’s Rumble. The new expansion features 135 new cards, including a new keyword and new card styles, along with a new single-player mode. But this is all standard fare for Hearthstone. This is just another typical expansion update that Blizzard churns out three times a year. What about new features? New multiplayer game modes? New quality of life updates?
Don’t get me wrong – I think Blizzard does a great job with how often they push new Hearthstone expansions. Over 400 new cards a year is nothing to scoff at, and the single-player modes are some of my favorite content in the game. My quip comes with the fact that ultimately, these updates are all one-dimensional and time sensitive.
It’s great to get new cards and play around with new combos and deck styles – but eventually, those cards get rotated out of Hearthstone‘s Standard format. The balance of these new cards isn’t always great, either. We’ve seen new cards fall by the wayside in the meta, especially at expansions late in the rotational calendar. Not to mention how expensive it can get to obtain specific cards you want.
Hearthstone‘s single-player content is typically awesome. While many of the modes feature random elements to make every playthrough different, there is still an ultimate end-goal and win state. How many people do you think really played The Witchwood‘s Monster Hunt or the Kobolds & Catacombs‘ Dungeon Run after obtaining the special card back? The Boomsday Project‘s Puzzle Labs mode really showcases creative things Blizzard can do with Hearthstone, but it also offered no replayability.
While I appreciate the work and effort it takes to put out new cards and interesting new single-player content, Hearthstone is in need of a more unique update. These constant expansions are too one-dimensional and repetitive. The game has been out for over four years, and we have seen minimal changes to the base way to play the game.
The biggest change was the introduction of splitting multiplayer into Standard and Wild formats. Both formats are played the same, but with different card pools. This results in different metas and strategies, but the core game is the same. While many players enjoy Wild, Blizzard still touts Standard format as their primary competitive mode and focus.
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The second most notable change was Hearthstone‘s Tavern Brawl mode. This mode actually changed the rules of Hearthstone, offering completely wacky modes that threw balance out the window. Tavern Brawls, like Puzzle Labs, showcase unique ways Hearthstone can be played, with special heroes, co-op battles, multi-class decks, and more. But Tavern Brawl is a limited-time, weekly event, starting at 9 a.m. PST Wednesday and ending at 3 a.m. PST Monday. It’s not even guaranteed to be a unique brawl each week, either – often times the rule sets are repeated.
Lest I forget to mention some of the occasional smaller updates Hearthstone has gotten over the years, like alternate heroes, more deck slots, ranked ladder changes, deck recipes, and the ability to import and export decks easier. These smaller updates are more quality of life features or cosmetic changes than anything. Notice how none of these updates, large or small, offer new ways to consistently play the game against another player. And with Blizzard delaying Hearthstone’s in-game tournament mode for the foreseeable future, the addition of new PvP game modes does not look promising.
Hearthstone should expand its horizons outside of just adding new cards and one-off single-player modes. Blizzard should consider adding new, long-lasting ways to play their digital card game. They’ve shown in numerous Tavern Brawls that the technology is there to expand the game’s core rules. I would love to see Blizzard take inspiration from past Tavern Brawls and other successful card games, such as Magic: The Gathering, and release entirely new game formats.
A cooperative mode, either PvE or PvP, would be well received. Think a mix of Magic‘s Two-Headed Giant and Hearthstone’s “Unite Against Mechazod” brawl mode. A game format that allows multi-class decks, as they have in previous Tavern Brawls and single-player modes, also has potential (though I can see balancing this format being a very complicated problem to tackle). A format that requires pre-built decks (similar to Magic‘s Commander style) would be an interesting mode that could cater towards both veteran and new or free-to-play players.
It would be great to see Hearthstone just expand their card pools to be more than just Standard and Wild. These limited formats could be used in both Arena and Constructed mode. Magic: The Gathering has a ton of format variants that could be used for inspiration. Limiting the rarity of cards in your deck, the mana cost, the number of spells or minions: there are a lot of interesting options that could be played around with here. Even allowing a game mode where you play a best of three series instead of a single match against your opponent could add some more consistency to the competitive scene.
While not a game format, an achievement system could add some interesting variety to how players play Hearthstone. How many times in a game, no matter what genre, looked at the trophies or achievements and went out of your way to play the game differently to obtain that reward? Hearthstone already has hidden quests which essentially act like achievements anyways. An achievement system seems like a no-brainer for Hearthstone, especially if they use World of Warcraft’s extensive achievement system as a template.
Limiting multiplayer modes in Hearthstone only to Arena and Constructed is doing the game a disservice. I understand adding a new format is much easier said than done. Just trying to balance around multiple formats gives me a headache. I strongly believe that the game has so much more potential that it’s not utilizing in favor of simplicity. I always hoped that Tavern Brawls were a testing ground for new game modes and features, but we have yet to see anything like that come to fruition.
With the lack of a tournament mode coming anytime soon, the lack of new ways to play the game is starting to show. The game’s core mechanics are great, but the repetitive nature of both the game and its updates are starting to wear on long-time players. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
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