I took a break from Hearthstone after BlizzCon. The announcements were announced, a bit of the next patch was discussed, but I mostly came away with an anticipatory feeling. My curiosity about the game’s future was stoked, my enthusiasm for its current form was still waning. So, a break. It ended up being much longer than I intended – the flu will do that – but after sometime languishing in bed and stuffing myself full of dense Thanksgiving goodies, I returned to the kinetic world of Hearthstone anew.
With no patch during my leave, little has changed mechanically about the game. There have been a few fun streams to watch, some good discussions to be had, but Hearthstone is Hearthstone. That makes sense – the game is still in beta, it’s still a growing community, and it has only one card set.
That’s the main thing to follow: one card set. The mechanics of Hearthstone aren’t as complex as, say, Dota 2. Valve kept that game in beta for years because each hero is so intricate and tweaking each hero’s abilities gives new metagame potential, team fight strategies, and lane tactics. Adding new heroes is akin to reshuffling the entire game.
Hearthstone is reaching a stable point. A basic metagame has formed for both Arena and Play and there are specific cards everyone uses, almost regardless of deck style. This isn’t a bad thing. Quite the contrary, it’s a good thing. The more stable the game becomes, the closer it will be to an official release. The Hearthstone team has some idea of what they want Hearthstone to look like when it launches and, given all the data they collect, they must have a good idea how to get there.
So my return to Hearthstone wasn’t a resigned one. Not much has changed, sure, but it’s a solid game I still enjoy. It’s a bit steadier, a bit more predictable (aside from those infuriating top decks), and rewarding skilled play with more regularity. Decks are easier to design and anticipate. My first arena run back in the saddle went 7-3 and I was feverish and exhausted with the flu. Maybe I’m getting better, or maybe the game is reaching a point I understand more. Is there a difference?
As it stabilizes, expect the designers to throw curve balls to keep the game fresh. The first is a patch followed by the open beta. A retooling of a few cards and a swarm of new players will boost activity in the game. After that, I imagine the first card expansion will be along shortly. I hope the card expansions come a little quicker than the other Blizzard IP expansions – 2 years is a long time to wait.