Relevant information before reading this early impressions article:
- I was not given a review copy.
- I have no affiliation nor contact with anyone at Blizzard.
- Specifications of the system used for this first impressions article can be found here.
- At the time of writing this article, I had played the game for (too) many hours.
A PROPER EXPANSION
I think when Blizzard announced at Blizzcon that the release of the first full card expansion to Hearthstone was coming in early December they made the right move. There's no question that to a great many people both Ranked and Arena modes were becoming increasingly stagnant. The community were becoming more and more vitriolic towards certain decks and, although no stats are available, I wouldn't be surprised if the number of people and the time they spent playing Hearthstone was steadily decreasing.
We had Naxxramus, which was fun for a couple of days but if anything some of the cards it introduced (Hi, Undertaker) only seemed to make already hated decks even worse. It also didn't add that many new cards - only 30.
Goblins vs Gnomes adds 120 cards including new class legendaries - surely the aim here is to shake up what had become a stale meta.
BLIZZARD AND LAUNCHES
It shouldn't really have come as a surprise that the launch of Goblins vs Gnomes had some issues - even if Blizzard have been at this since 2004 - but perhaps the severity of the issues that people faced were unnecessary.
When the launch went live, the servers fell over. Some people (including Totalbiscuit) were not able to log into the game for almost 12 hours. Those that were able to log in and buy packs faced errors in the store. This had the knock on effect of delaying the launch in the EU regions, with rumours swirling that part of the delay was caused by Blizzard staff being reassigned to customer support to deal with the volume of tickets that customers were making regarding the purchasing of incorrect packs.
Even when it did launch in the EU, there were further problems. The servers still couldn't cope with the demand (although now that it's the following day they seem fine, we'll see when it gets to peak traffic time) - but worse, people that were completing arena runs were being "rewarded" with classic packs rather than Goblins vs Gnomes packs.
Hopefully there'll be no hangover that stretches on for months with this release, as there were with people who were charged for the Naxxramus adventure wing but still cannot access it.
You'd think after the problems with the Diablo 3 launch and the more recent issues with the WoW: Warlords of Draenor launch that Blizzard would get these issues somewhat under control - but at the moment it seems beyond their ability.
If you weren't aware, Blizzard added the full deck of Goblins vs Gnomes cards into Arena mode a full week before release. Some cards also managed to sneak into Ranked mode via cards like Webspinner, too. But has it increased my enjoyment of Arena?
Well, a little bit - and maybe only temporarily. While it's nice to see new cards in the drafts, it has also made it a little harder, at least initially, to come up with reliable arena decks. I normally manage 5 or 6 wins at least, but since the new cards were added I've been averaging a mere 3. Does this mean that more 'good' players are going back into the Arena? Or does it mean that I've not figured out which of the new cards are best in combination with the classic cards? It's hard to say for sure.
What I will say is that it has made coming up against certain classes in Arena less frustrating. It may be too early to say, but the days of coming up against Mages that have 3/4 Flamestrikes and Blizzards seem to have gone. There also seem to be less priests with Mind Control, too.
But will the 'freshness' last? Already after less than 20 Arena runs the gloss is starting to wear off for me - and I'm not sure how many more I'll get through before I no longer have the urge to go for a new run as soon as I earn 150 gold.
This is perhaps where Goblins vs Gnomes receives its biggest shot in the arm - the potential for all sorts of new competitive and/or fun decks is massive with the injection of so many new cards. Pirates, Beasts, Murlocs, and Demons have all been given a boost, and the newly added Mech minion type comes with tons of synergy out of the box. Even those that enjoy unleashing RNG have some brilliant new cards to play with (I already despise Madder Bomber!)
But, there's a drawback to this. I have the feeling that a lot of players won't get to actually experience the new sense of adventure that the expansion has to offer unless they're able to quickly unlock all of the cards within the first week or two - at most - and for most people this is either going to take a heck of a lot of money (around 240-290 packs) or a heck of a lot of time.
By the time the more 'average' player has unlocked all, or at least enough of the better/funner cards, the new meta may well be entrenched and things might not feel all that different to pre-Goblins vs Gnomes.
Blizzard said that the work they did with Naxxramus laid a lot of the foundation required for adding expansions to Hearthstone - and that as a result it would allow them to release new content at a much more rapid rate. Hopefully this remains true, and hopefully this prevents the game from falling back into the stagnation that I found it to be in before the release of Goblins vs Gnomes. Don't wait too long to release the next one Blizzard! Summer 2015 would be just fine!