Ok, so a little preamble:
Normally when I talk about a game, I try to see both sides even when I’m not a fan, try to find the good in the bad, that kind of thing. I strive for balance.
In today’s post, there is no balance. There is unfocused, inchoate rage about a game I hated playing. If you are a fan, please understand that I had a really awful experience and do not give me helpful advice about how I could have had more fun.
So, with that said, on with the show!
I did not install Hearthstone with the intention of playing it for its own sake, and that may have been my first mistake. I installed it because, well, if you win three Hearthstone matches, you unlock an achievement that gives you a mount in World of Warcraft. Blizzard, insasmuch as they own some of PC gaming’s best-loved franchises, does a fair amount of this sort of cross-game promotion.
Anyway, it’s free to play and – I understand – immensely popular, so I downloaded it on my lunch break and figured I’d give it a go.
I played Magic: The Gathering for several years before getting hooked on Everquest, so I have a little history with CCGs, and the tutorial levels in Hearthstone were a good refresher on the sorts of mechanics that are common to the genre. I even got a little chuckle when I started the last tutorial mission and it came with a warning message:
And it was tough! But I did manage to beat it on my first go and felt pretty good about it.
Anyway. When you play through the tutorial, you unlock your first hero, that being Jaina Proudmore. As much as I’m cued into Warcraft lore (not very much), she’s a total badass. Ex-girlfriend of the Lich King, military and political leader, takes no guff from anyone.
In Hearthstone, she’s just total ass. Not in a hey, skimpy fantasy outfits for fans of life and hometown, but just bad. Awful. I did not understand this, at first, because my first match (in Hearthstone’s “casual” mode) matched me up with another player who was ALSO using Jaina and who was using most of the same cards I had. I won that match, but it was close – I was down to 20% health and it could have gone either way if my opponent had gotten a lucky draw or two.
My SECOND casual match pitted me against someone with a deck full of cards I didn’t recognize.
I got curbstomped. Utterly rekt, as they say. And, the same thing happened with my third, fourth, fifth and sixth matches. Look for opponent, find opponent, opponent is playing a class I don’t know and just pulling out power card after power card, I am a smoldering crater in no time at all.
I was not in a happy place.
I thought about my options, and decided that I would simply concede every match where the other person was not playing Jaina, because obviously if someone else was playing the same hero they were likely as much of a newbie as I was.
A dozen, maybe more, conceded matches later, I hadn’t seen a single Jaina.
I went online to see if I could figure out what the heck was happening.
It turns out that Hearthstone’s matchmaking in causal is beyond redemption, and will cheerily toss anyone who dares enter into the meat grinder with all of the veteran players who use casual mode as a way to grind up experience without risking their rank in ranked mode. If you want to play against other newbies, you need to play in ranked mode, where you are somewhat shielded from the bottom-feeders.
I also discovered that Jaina is universally considered horrible and that I needed to play the practice mode of the game to unlock other heroes.
So, I went into the practice mode, and lost a disturbing number of matches against the AI in the process, but eventually managed to unlock all of the heroes. I am still not in a good state of mind at this point, mind you. I am angry with the game in a way that I have not been angry with any game in YEARS, and I remind the reader at this point that I have played every single Soulsborne game without losing my temper.
Anyway, I looked at the heroes I’d unlocked, and picked the warrior hero as the one who had most easily crushed me during my foray into causal mode, and chose “ranked” mode, and the capricious gods of the matchmaking service saw fit to pair me up against someone playing Jaina.
It went very quickly and I had my second win.
The next match paired me up against the exact same player, and this time they got the upper hand – so it’s not ENTIRELY the hero.
Then I got killed by a few people playing a variety of heroes, and then Hearthstone tossed another Jaina at me. After a few turns, they conceded and I had my third win AND the achievement I’d been hoping for…
…and the mount in-game, as well…
…AND a deep and lasting hatred for the *censored* who designed the matchmaking algorithm in this godawful card game.
So, that experiment didn’t go well. Back to grinding my way through WoW’s FIFTH expansion, Warlords of Draenor, which is fast becoming my favorite of the various expansions. More on that later.