Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft launched in 2014 to rave reviews and went on to become one of the year's biggest success stories, racking up a player base that is now north of 20 million. With the release of the game's first expansion, Goblins vs. Gnomes, in December, Blizzard threw a wrench into the established meta and ensured that players would remain engaged with the title for the New Year.
Now that active players have had a little time to digest GvG's 140+ new cards, one of Hearthstone's lead developers has let it be known what he thinks about the current state of the game, and may have also dropped a few hints for what to expect for the future.
Senior Game Designer Ben Brode sat down with Gamespot recently to discuss the recent changes to Blizzard's CCG in detail. Development of Hearthstone is an ongoing process, with Blizzard occasionally stepping in to adjust the power of a card if it feels that is has become too dominant. Blizzard's most recent set of nerfs came alongside the release of Goblins vs. Gnomes. Specifically, the Warlock's Soulfire and Hunter's Flare were adjusted, as well as the Gadgetzan Auctioneer.
Brode explains that the Auctioneer changes were made because it would have worked too well with the Spare Parts cards that released with the expansion. As for the change to Flare, which increased its mana cost:
"...we felt people were a little bit getting randomly screwed by Hunter if you had a secrets deck because it was no cost to the Hunter to remove them. Now at least you know that Hunter players need to make a sacrifice with Flare, in that they need to make their deck worse against non-secret deck if they want to keep that advantage over secret decks."
It's somewhat refreshing to hear a Blizzard developer use the same language as the player base, specifically about "getting randomly screwed" by the Hunter class. There are still some who feel that Blizzard didn't go far enough with its Hunter nerfs though, namely just about anyone who has gotten destroyed by an aggro-heavy Hunter deck running two Undertakers by turn 5. But Brode and the dev team are hoping the player base can come up with its own solution so that the company doesn't have to step in.
"The Undertaker is one of those cards that feels really powerful when he's hurting you, but if you draw him late in the game he's pretty terrible. We were paying attention to how people were using him, and we looked at how we're playing against him, but we didn't feel he's nerf-worthy."
Brode reiterates that Blizzard is always thinking about new ways to shake up the game's meta, but that players shouldn't expect frequent major updates like GvG. He said it's important for players to have time to digest new cards before being introduced to new ones. "It's a delicate balance, and we're going to try to find a good equilibrium point," Brode told Gamespot. "We're still gathering stories and data from players, and we'll use that to help make sure whatever comes next is as fun and balanced as possible."
Brode mentioned it's possible that Hearthstone could one day adopt a set of rules that only allows so many cards of each type to be used in a deck, similar to what Magic: The Gathering and other CCGs have done for years. But one thing he said Blizzard will likely never do is remove cards from the game. "Barely used cards are actually useful in the right meta, or even in certain Adventure mode missions," Brode said.
Overall, it seems like Blizzard feels that Hearthstone is in a pretty good state at the moment. It is certainly true that the randomized mechanics in the latest expansion have provided a change of pace for even the most hardcore players. But as Brode alluded to, it will be interesting to see how the game holds up over the long term as Blizzard adds more wacky mechanics to the meta.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is out now for PC, Mac, iPad and Android tablets.