If you follow Octavian "Kripparian" Morosan's Hearthstone output closely, then you might have noticed a dramatic decrease in the number of Arena games that are being played on his channels. The reason? An unprecedented state of imbalance that interrupts the sheer fun of playing the game mode.
For the uninitiated, Arena mode has players selecting a hero, then choosing one of three randomly chosen cards a total of 30 times, until a full deck has been created. You can win a maximum of 12 games before the deck is automatically retired, but hit three losses and you're out.
As the card pool has grown over the years, however, imbalance issues have become more problematic and Arena is not perceived to be receiving enough care from Blizzard at the start of a new expansion.
Here's the video:
“Arena has always had some hit and some miss,” Kripparian begins. “You could hit up Arena in Old Gods, and 20-30% of Arenas would be a bad experience. You'd get destroyed by noobs playing bad cards and getting super-lucky answers. If you experienced that it's frustrating and your runs end badly, but you queue up another Arena because chances are things will be better.
“I can count on one hand the Arenas I've had a good time in [this expansion]. Not in terms of results - I've had 12-win runs that I don't feel are special because you get Frost Lich Jaina. It's not fun.”
In Kripparian's opinion, part of the frustration lies in the fact that Blizzard doesn't take a proactive approach to preparing Arena for the impact that any given expansion is likely to have on the game mode.
“It's the easiest game mode to balance, but I just feel Blizzard doesn't proactively balance for Arena. They design an expansion with just Constructed in mind, then a bunch of bullshit happens to Arena, then months later they fix it. Usually the fixes are pretty good, but it's so obvious that cards like Bonemare are going to be an issue.
“Most of the cards they've introduced are high-synergy cards - if you have this, this card is insane. If you don't, it's crap. That allows them to have swings in Constructed mode, but in Arena it's just not a fun experience because you can't leverage your ability to play the game. You just kind of win and lose...”
These Constructed-focused power-swings allow for fun and rewarding play on the ladder, they can't help but negatively impact a very different kind of game mode. The reliance on luck increases, while the need for skill and broader knowledge of the game goes down.
“In Arena right now, the main factor is just getting the right cards at the right time. Your ability to play is marginalised, drafting decks is just mind-numbing - there's really nothing to it. Heartharena [a tool which helps players craft optimal decks] makes it so you don't have mistakes happening, but even if you don't use Heartharena you're going to pick correctly 90% of the time.
“The drafting system is not bad but it's outdated. There are a lot of card games these days, and almost all those other card games do a better job of drafting mechanics than Hearthstone does. You draft pairs of cards and so have to pick bad cards - that's kind of interesting...Hearthstone drafting is exactly the same as it was four years ago. It's dated, it's a joke.
“You're punished for trying things. You have the synergy picks, and usually when you try to make synergy happen a lot of then time it doesn't work. You might try to make a Jade deck, but it doesn't work out and you get stomped. Or how about it does work but it's not quite on the same power level as a lot of the other decks, so you don't play as many games as you'd have liked?
”Sometimes I get a deck with some really cool combos - and I know it's not a very good deck - but I'm kind of disappointed because I know I'm only going to play four to five games with that deck before it's retired."
Returning to the subject of other card games - which Krippian argues handle their “arena” system in a superior way - he outlines an alternative approach for Hearthstone.
“Other games have arena modes where you just play a set number of games and you get the rewards based on how many of those you win. In Hearthstone, what if you just played 10 games, no matter what - good deck or bad deck? You just play ten games. If you always play 10 games, what if you just drafted some really crazy combo stuff? Winning might not be that big of a deal, because all you want to do is enjoy playing."
The video wraps up on a more positive note, however, and a belief that Blizzard will address these issues sooner rather than later.
“Overall, I feel if Arena just gets some attention at the start of an expansion, or it just gets a facelift of any kind, it can be a great game mode once again. Arena was in my opinion the only real reason to play Hearthstone for years.
“I think they will do something pretty soon. I feel like I play enough of this game that my feelings towards a certain aspect of it are usually how other people feel. If I'm playing less Arena, then a lot of people are probably playing less Arena - Blizzard has those stats.
”I want to play an Arena where I can feel good about playing - win or lose.”
How have you found the Arena experience to be in the Frozen Throne expansion? Do you think it's still fun enough to be worth the price of entry, despite any issues it might currently have?
Do you play it less than you used to, or just as much as you ever have done in the past? Sign up and let us know how you feel about Arena in the comments.