Between a Rock and a Hearthstone
Alright, let’s be honest with ourselves. No flame wars in the comments, no angry fanboys spitting bile and blood in honor of their favorite game. The greatest love is that which also accepts the flaws of said lover. Or something like that, anyway. So please don’t come and kick down my door when I say this, because it needs to be said.
Here goes. Despite the elegance of Hearthstone’s basic design, it really does suck for those who come into it as a beginner. Why? Because Hearthstone is not necessarily about skill, not all the time. It’s about what cards you have, and unless you’re going to be very silly and pay the Hearthstone micropayments, you can’t do anything else but sit back and wait for your odds to change.
Veteran players, think back to your humble beginnings. The game wasn’t exactly kind to you, was it? Once you finished the tutorial, you boldly stepped into the sunlight of your first battleground, only to get stomped on by somebody with more firepower than God, and more legendary monsters at their beck and call than the whole population of Middle Earth could supply.
And how are you equipped to deal with this? The occasional rare card and a bunch of disjointed losers, the kind of gormless soldiers who probably had their mother pack a lunch for them before they went marching into the jaws of oblivion. “Hell yes,” you think at first. “I’m sure I can win with this deck. And afterward I’m going to challenge Led Zeppelin to a battle of the bands, and maybe beat up Bruce Lee for good measure.”
But what annoys me most is that Hearthstone keeps insisting that this is not the case, that you have a legitimate chance against the opponents you’re put against. It will claim each time you enter matchmaking that it has found you a “worthy opponent,” and for that reason alone it is a lying, unscrupulous hound. Little Tiny Tim and his baby-safe deck for beginners might end up in single combat against the dangerous Dirk Deadly and his team of grizzled champions. And Hearthstone doesn’t see a problem with this, probably because it doesn’t have to clean up the blood splatter.
Of course, there’s something to be said about the basic problem of Hearthstone as a whole. My reading of a good TCG is that new cards should open up new options and playstyles, not just ramp up the power of your deck infinitely with no strategy involved.
That said, I don’t mind when players combine the right cards to make better decks – that’s rewarding intelligence, skill and observation, which makes perfect sense in a strategy-focused system.
But some single monsters or spells are just demonstrably too powerful, especially when put against the beginners who have nothing to respond with. I’d like to give a personal hate-filled shout-out to Reno Jackson, a card that can restore the player’s health to the full amount, the moment it’s played. Grinding down your opponent’s HP over time, only to see that mustachioed moron hit the playing field like a bucket of sick and undo all my hard work? That made me want to tear out my eyes and jump on them. More so, the fifteenth time it happened.
Like I said, this wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the matchmaking was given a stern talking to, but that hasn’t happened yet and probably won’t at this point. Newbies facing newbies would be absolutely fine, all with the same pathetic starting card decks. And if that were fixed, then the reigning champions with all the super cards could play against each other, and get an actual challenge rather than the feeling of just stepping on ants all the time.
I do like Hearthstone, honestly. But anything that isn’t the Arena mode or certain Tavern Brawls tends to have balancing issues to rival a hippo on a bicycle, and that’s a genuine fault with Blizzard’s creation. I’ve met people who were turned off by the game because of that initial hazing it gave them, and I can’t say I blame them for that. I was nearly ready to pack it up too, before I finally managed to hit a good pace and start winning matches. At least, games like Dark Souls have a story to tease you with, to get through that tough first stage. Hearthstone doesn’t offer that, only the suggestion that you’ll get beaten up slightly less often if you keep trying. It’s like being a teenager all over again.