Hearthstone

Of all the game’s I’ve played this year, Hearthstone is maybe the one I’ve written about the least. It’s something of a weird combination between ‘game I’ve played often’ and ‘game I don’t think about’. But now, with a 2GB laptop that can basically only play this game, I’ve spent some proper time with it for the first time in a while.

That time has been happily bolstered by two factors. The first is Dungeon Run, which is an excellent casual crossover of all the things that Hearthstone does very well. I’ve written about that already, however, so I’m not digging into it any more. The second is my new Hunter deck, which is maybe one of the only times I’ve been able to conjure what feels like a good, strong, well-conceived deck in my time playing.

I put Hearthstone down for several months earlier this year, because it failed to grasp my attention in a meaningful way. Most of my time playing it turned it into a timesink, where’d I basically do my quests and use the rewards to buy stuff for no reason other than the game told me to do so. But with a few choice cards happily discovered in the most recent expansion, I’ve made something that actually works. I’m winning games because of the cards I put together. It’s nice.

It is, however, indicative of the problems rampant within any game of its kind. I’m winning because I have a certain collection of cards, not because I’m good at the game, as I might be in League of Legends. I’m not good, but you get the picture. I have those cards because I (mostly) got lucky, but if I wanted to get them, I would probably have to pay money or resources to get hold of them. Blizzard somehow seems to have ducked around the vast majority of the lootbox/pay-to-win debate, despite the fact that Hearthstone is, for the most part, one of the most egregious examples of both of those concepts in all of gaming. For some reason, that’s completely accepted in the mainstream in this game, because the pedigree that spawned it stems from real-life games, like Magic: The Gathering.  It’s a confusing double-standard, but it’s not one I want to unpick here.

The nicer stuff about Hearthstone, however, is how good it looks. The UI is fantastic, and each card is crafted in a way that allows you to immediately understand what’s going on, while still giving every one a genuine identity in just a few lines of dialogue. It’s also hugely satisfying to smash cards together, particularly when you’ve boosted something up to way beyond what the designers expected of it, at which point the entire board resonates with the impact of your improbably behemoth.

To be quite honest, it’s tricky to sum a game that I’m still quite inexperienced at up in a post like this. It’s also one of those games that was never intended to be reviewed, which adds to the difficulty I’m facing. To be quite honest, I’m also watching a stand-up routine while I’m writing this, happily rounding out the trifecta of problems I’m having wrapping this up. Hearthstone is a satisfying surface experience, but while there’s so much to it, you can honestly only get so far before the meta crushes you out. There’s enough to be getting on with between expansions, but I know that my current favoured deck will only ever get me to a certain point for a certain amount of time. It’s fun to kill some time in and I’m glad I’m doing well at it, but it’s the kind of game that I don’t know that I’ll ever really care about. I say this, but then I just spent 600 words writing about it, so who knows.

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