Monday, 12 January 2015

Is Hearthstone Player Creep setting in?

I started playing Blizzard's collectible card game and WoW spin-off, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft about a year ago and I'm still hooked. I've played through the Curse of Naxxramas mini-expansion and am still getting to grips with the latest Goblins versus Gnomes expansion. I'm glad to say that the game designers have so far done a great job of avoiding the dread power creep and making the free-to-play side of the business viable without being unfairly obstructive. Cheapskates can more than easily make a fine career for themselves if they commit to it. I've decided that this game is now a bona fide 'hobby' of mine and treat myself to a monthly grab bag of new cards for about the price of a cinema trip or a trip to the pub. This game deserves it in my opinion. 

Possibly my favourite new card from Goblins versus Gnomes

Power creep is the curse of living games that add new content over time. The addition of new weapons/items (in this case, new cards) that render older cards obsolete and effectively force players to buy/grind for new content in order to even stand a chance of being competitive in the metagame. There are a lot of new deck archetypes which have arisen out of the new cards that have come out in the past year or so but you can still get away with using cards exclusively from the base set and still ladder well in the game's Ranked Mode. That is, of course if you know your way around the game.

I don't know if I've coined the term 'Player Creep' or not (it's probably called something else but research is for nerds) but as someone who's being playing since the Open Beta it's become very clear that the game is looking increasingly more intimidating for people that are new to the game. Players running advanced deck strategies filled with legendary rarity cards such as Ragnaros the Flamelord and Sylvanas Windrunner are becoming ten a penny at the lower ranks.

Another Legendary card that you'll keep seeing doing the rounds.

Now, legendary cards alone does not a great player make, but armed with only a handful of rare cards and the basic cards, I can only imagine it gets a little old for newer players having to deal with yet another Cairne Bloodhoof when they are playing the best they can with their limited arsenal of cards. I'd be tempted as a Blizzard developer to increase the chances of new players bagging their first free legendary card in packs just so they don't feel like they have some way to fightback.     

Although maybe there's nothing to worry about. People I know who have only started playing last month are enjoying the game just fine so it can't be all that bad. The game is lovely to look at and fun to figure out in the same way that a new board games unfolds in front of a new player with its subtle complexities and myriad discoveries. I might get 103 and gaming veteran Ben Winterton to try it out and see how he finds it. I certainly suffer from 'long term player privilege' so can't be certain of any of my bold assertions. Heck, I might even try a new account on the Asian server and see how I fare there.
Should be a cakewalk (and yes, I am still doing Smug Sheppard)

I do recommend the game wholeheartedly though. It's one of the most appealing card games I've played, especially since there's always someone to play against. I've not tried the latest Magic: The Gathering effort on mobile devices yet but there will be a head to head comparison in the works once I do. Stay tuned!

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