At the time of writing, there are three primary play modes in the Hearthstone beta:
- Play (against other people using your own deck),
- Practice (against AI)
- Arena (pay to get in and win prizes).
Having three play modes in beta is pretty nice, but I have some qualms with the Arena.
Here’s something you may not know if you’re not playing the game: The Arena costs either 150 gold or $2 real dollars to enter. The 150 gold (almost) sounds reasonable, but the $2? Well, not so much.
Before we dig in here, let me whip out some price points for you. These are the costs of buying packs via the in-game store:
- 1 pack – 100 gold
- 2 packs – $2.99
- 7 packs – $9.99
- 15 packs – $19.99
- 40 packs – $49.99
The more you buy, the bigger bang for your buck.
So why am I complaining about the Arena?
In the Arena, players are given a choice of one of three heroes to pick and to make a deck out of random cards with which they take into battle as long as they can to win prizes. Once you’ve lost three matches, you’re out, and you receive the spoils of your efforts. You can win arcane dust (for card creation), gold, and card packs from the arena. The more you win, the better your prizes.
My qualms here are two things:
- $2 is a steep entry fee. Even 150 gold, which is much more than it sounds, feels a bit steep for something that takes 30 minutes to an hour in most cases.
- Players who choose to stick to playing in ranked ‘Play’ mode instead of taking the dive into the Arena have a much more difficult time gaining and creating cards.
To put the gold complaint into perspective, you get one daily quest per day that awards you 40 gold and you can gain 10 gold by winning three matches. It requires three days of playing to enter the Arena without coughing up some dough. That’s three days of no new cards.
If you choose skip the Arena to buy a pack for 100 gold instead, you are choosing the far less gold-efficient option because you are not receiving any gold or arcane dust. If you choose to go with the Arena, you are guaranteed some sort of gold and dust payout, even if that payout is low for those who do not make it far in.
I can understand the reasoning behind the Arena awards being so high in comparison to a single-click purchase for a pack, but in a game that covets card-collecting, it feels like a game of tug of war for the user.
To ‘Play’ or ‘Arena’ – do I have to chose?
Logging in, you have to choose between working with and on your deck, and taking to battle with a random deck for the promise of prizes. As a player, it almost feels like going into in plain ol’ ‘Play’ mode is useless. Where is the reward for my skill, aside from some arbitrary ranking?
It feels good to win a normal match — but who cares if you lose? At the time of writing, your ranking doesn’t go down when you lose, negating the very purpose of a ranking system aside from allowing people who shouldn’t be at higher ranks to get there.
It feels so empty, especially when you go ahead and use your gold in the Arena for those more meaningful-feeling matches that actually give some sort of reward. Unfortunately, your time with your deck means nothing in the Arena.
In a way, it feels like a paywall despite the 150 gold payment option. Less skilled players will find themselves restricted to Arena play every two or three days lest they spend real money, and Blizzard is well aware of this.
The Arena is the game’s real golden egg.
Devaluing self-made decks
I really like Hearthstone as a casual collectible card game, but I find myself logging in only to do my dailies and Arena runs. The reward for standard matches needs to be higher, or perhaps another, more rewarding play mode that allows players to use their own decks.
I like my deck, I like using and working on my deck. Why should I have to put together some hodgepodge to go against other people using similar nonsense decks in order to make the most of my time?
Hearthstone is an amazingly fun game, but the Arena system’s lack of player-made deck encouragement combined with Play mode’s lack of ‘oomph’ makes things far more complicated and irritating than they need to be. Building your decks and being skilled should feel rewarding, but at times I feel like those hours I’ve spent building my decks and playing have been for naught. It shouldn’t be this way.