Hearthstone Rise of Shadows: The state of the game
A game reinvigorated or just a Blizz-ter plaster?
So the Year of the Dragon is upon us, and we’ve paid our dues to our Blizzard overlords for the privilege of playing with about a fifth of the newly released cards in Hearthstone’s latest Rise of Shadows expansion.
Whining about the game’s monetisation aside (I encourage it by buying it), how have the developers changed the state of Hearthstone at this most vital time of year?
As Hearthstone players well know, the standard format rotation has just occurred. Once a year, three sets of cards become unplayable in standard, the most popular game mode. The three expansions released in 2017: Journey to Un’Goro, Knights of the Frozen Throne, and Kobolds & Catacombs are now only allowed in the game’s wild format.
What does this mean for the future? One thing that’s striking is the sheer number of powerful, metagame-defining cards leaving standard play. The Death Knight cards from Knights of the Frozen Throne in particular gave almost every class an outrageously powerful late-game option. The Hunter class losing Deathstalker Rexxar, the one-card deck that could carry an aggressive class to a victory through infinite value, has to change their approach enormously. This will be a turn-off for some, but very healthy for the emergence of new deck archetypes.
As well as these cards though, Blizzard made the drastic decision to exorcise two vital cards a year early. Removing Baku the Mooneater and Genn Greymane from standard opens up so much more room for the devs to manoeuvre. Even so early in the new meta, games just feel more fresh. Sure, we have some rock-paper-scissors matchups: I’m never going to beat an aggressive Druid deck as a slow, defenceless attempt at a Mech Hunter, but on the whole it’s just a far more healthy metagame. Matches aren’t decided at the start of the game, when you hear the dreaded call of Baku and see the Paladin’s hero power double in strength. No longer will we despair at the sound of Even Warlock’s mountain giants on turn 3. It’s early days, but it’s something new. Rise of Shadows has been an expansion with some cool new mechanics and effects so far, and I can see the meta evolving well for at least a period of time.
Honestly, just being able to play against Priest without having to deal with a consequence-free, 7-mana board clear is indescribably refreshing and gives me a high that I can’t compare to anything I’ve previously experienced for fear of legal ramifications.
So, no problems then. Right?
I’m glad you asked, subtitle. Not everything is perfect. I play Hearthstone, so of course there’s some complaints to be had. I knew this was coming, but it doesn’t sting any less: half of the cards in my collection are essentially useless. Sure, I could play wild, but that’d require me to get even more expensive cards to even begin to compete. Of course, that’s the core issue with Hearthstone and the way it runs. You have to keep up. And by keep up, I mean keep paying. I’d like to see some sort of system where old sets become relevant again in standard format, similar to the new system for the Arena mode. We could use cool cards that some players have never used before! That’d be quite the shakeup!
The thing is, though, this would still lock out players who only have access to the latest expansions. In reality, it’s a problem that Hearthstone and games like it will always have. If it costs to access content, and the content keeps evolving, you can’t get around the problem of access. It’s been a problem for years, but feels especially prevalent when the sting of losing all those cards is still raw. Blizzard is notoriously stingy when it comes to offering compensation for losses. Despite the free legendary card and refunds in the form of crafting dust for cards rotated early, this still feels like a cynical method of running a game, even a free-to-play one.
It’s just a shame, to be honest. A game I adore, but it feels like it’s never going to truly and fundamentally change. Same old problems, from the accessibility of the game as a whole to the Basic and Classic cards that put Token Druid high up in most metas. I’m just glad I’m not a new player. It’s a weird time for this game. I wouldn’t recommend you get into it now, despite the fact that I play almost every waking moment.
At the end of the day, I’ll always complain. Hearthstone’s a skinner box, Hearthstone costs me hundreds of pounds without me realising, and all that. The issues are there, and we shouldn’t ignore them. At this point though, I’m just enjoying the new meta. I’m absolutely loving the fact that when I face a Warrior, they’re tossing bombs in my deck instead of tanking up to absurd armour levels. It’s the little things.