Before word had reached us of a new expansion for Hearthstone my interest in the game had all but evaporated.

The Standard ladder was dominated by a mix of odd/even decks that rushed your opponent’s life total to zero. Wild offered temporary relief but all the while I played games only to complete daily quests for gold before diving into another game.

In addition to a stale meta, some of the mechanics which had been introduced felt confusing and unfair to newcomers. Magnetic, for instance, is a keyword that still makes no sense unless you actively seek out its meaning.

Simply put, I was done with Hearthstone.

Enter Rise of Shadows and my interest in the game I used to follow religiously was once again piqued.

Basics

Rise of Shadows had to be one thing when it released – simple.

For the longest time its felt like Blizzard has tried to up the ante on previous expansions by adding crazier cards that do crazier things and ask players to try unique experiences.

The problem this has is that players could potentially be confused by how some cards interact with others. While this might seem trivial to some Hearthstone players, have you tried to explain the plethora of keywords and their nuances to a newcomer?

So then, is Rise of Shadows simpler? Yes, and that’s really the best thing for this game.

That’s not to say there aren’t crazy cards to use in the game, there are. This time around these cards seem to be leveraging existing mechanics and archetypes rather than operating in a vacuum that Blizzard hopes players will adopt.

Taz Nozwhisker, the Rogue Legendary minion for instance, builds off of the archetype introduced in The Boomsday Project where Rogues shuffle cards into their deck. Murlocs are once again front and centre for Shaman and Warlocks have a plethora of demons available to them now.

Rather than forcing an identity on a class as it appears Blizzard has done with previous expansions, Rise of Shadows gives players tools to explore existing archetypes and maybe try something new.

In my first few days of the expansion I saw a lot of Silence Priest decks that I hadn’t seen since Kobolds & Catacombs. Murlocs were everywhere and Warrior was actually using weapons again.

What I see is that players have more freedom to play around with decks rather than finding the best deck and being forced to use it so they can remain competitive.

Will this change? Of course but at the moment things still feel fresh to me.

The price of admission

We received 80 packs from Blizzard for the purpose of a review which takes the sting of pre-ordering cards away, somewhat.

Would I have spent my own money on this expansion? No.

At the current rate of expansions, Blizzard is asking me to part with R1 000+ every four months which works out to R3 000+ per year not including card packs purchased on top of pre-orders.

Looking at my own experience over the years, my spend on Hearthstone amounts to R4 000+ when three expansions drop in a year. I simply can’t keep justifying this to myself when other games offer more enjoyment for less admission cost.

You can purchase packs with gold but in the two months leading up to Rise of Shadows I was only able to save 2600 gold which amounts to 26 packs, not even Blizzard sells that few packs for pre-order.

Hearthstone is about as free as something like the 20 free levels you get in World of Warcraft. Sure you can play the game, but it’s not much fun unless you spend some money.

With this having been said, I do think Hearthstone is moving toward a better space as relates to game play but other factors of the game remain a bug bear for me.

How in 2019 do we still not have a proper way to watch or organise tournaments from the client? There’s also the matter of Wild just becoming a dumping ground for cards of old but that’s a rotten egg we’ll open another day.

Rise of Shadows is a good expansion thus far but good is no longer good enough. With Gwent, Magic and even The Elder Scrolls Legends on the market, folks can get their digital card playing fix from a number of other sources.