Homecoming: The Concerns, Solutions, and Development Strategy - Pt. II
September 30, 2018 by Lothari
Hi. I’m Lothari, and this the second half of my Homecoming article. In the first half of the article, we began looked at Project Homecoming's background and began to look into some of the concerns raised about it. In this second half, I will continue to look at the concerns and draw some conclusions based on CDPR's solutions and development strategy.
First, a small concern that speaks to me as a developer who has run into this problem many times: performance. From what we have seen, the game looks stunning. The new board, at least in a mirror match, is fantastic. The UI is crisp, clean and clear and I personally find the 3D leaders and new visual effects growing on me over time. All of that said, it does look like it might struggle to run smoothly on lower-grade machines. For a long time, the development team has said that Gwent will be well optimised. To address the concern as best I can. It better be! Otherwise, it may start to put a strain on the budget of the average player, which a collectible card game should never do.
Deck Structure: Two Bronzes and Consistency
Moving back to concerns with the game itself, let’s next discuss deck structure and consistency. It’s been known for a little while now that we would be going from a maximum of three of each bronze card to a maximum of two, and recently we’ve received word that the minimum and maximum deck size will be thirty (though this is still being toyed with), and that a secondary balancing mechanic has been introduced via provisions, which you can use to build your deck instead of a set number of each colour, as we’ve had previously.
All of this raises a number of concerns: whether deck building will be at all interesting, how provisions will affect deck building and the beginner player experience – whether it will still be easy for beginners to hit the ground running with top-tier decks or whether they’ll be too expensive (which of course also depends on crafting costs). What I want to address is how this will affect deck efficiency and consistency.
Gwent is a very consistent game. Some people really like this, myself included. However, I can also see another side to this. For many people, it is not just important to enjoy playing the game, but also to enjoy others playing it, particularly in Gwent Masters. Right now, Gwent is not as fun to watch as it should be, and this consistency is partially to blame for that. Many people lay the blame at the doorstep of the game not having seen any change since April, but this is unfair. Even if the game has not been updated and no content added, both the ladder and tournament metas have constantly shifted; people have brought something different to each tournament. More of a problem is that all of these decks are… not boring, but predictable.
The most common way for a game plan to go wrong in Gwent is for the initial draw to be so bad that no number of mulligans can save you: a hand full of alchemy cards in Alchemy, or all of your resurrection cards and no An Craite Greatswords to be seen in a Greatswords deck. Beyond that, you are always likely to be able to access what you need when you need it, particularly in decks like Alchemy that can thin to zero cards in a deck. And yes, there can be times where it goes wrong. As an Alchemy player, I know I can play a Vicovaro Novice and draw into two Ointments with nothing in the graveyard. Yet the chances of this actually happening are not that big, and when it does happen, often it is of little consequence (especially playing second).
All of this leads to the game being easy to predict, something you can tell when the commentators of a match desperately try to act as if there is any chance of a player winning an unwinnable game. Gwent can afford to lose just a little of its consistency. No need for it to be as inconsistent as Magic, but I think there is enough in hand that some can be lost to make the game less predictable in a healthy way while retaining the efficiency that is unique to the game.
And I believe the move from three bronzes to two can achieve this, alongside the move up from a minimum of twenty-five cards to thirty. We’ve been told also that there will be less dependency on tutors and thinning cards out of the deck without playing them, something else that will greatly influence deck consistency. It means that we are more likely to have to depend on drawing a card from the deck. For gold cards, this means a probability drop from one in twenty-five to one in thirty; the difference is negligible. For bronze, it’s a drop from three in twenty-five to two in thirty, much more clear-cut.
Honestly, seeing the numbers makes me think I may even be wrong, and that this is a terrible idea, but I’m comforted by the fact that if fewer of my cards are tutors or cards that need to be thinned instead of drawn, it also means fewer of my cards require a tutor or thinning. Logic dictates that these cards then have some usable effect or value, so while they might not be the exact card I needed in my situation, they aren’t going to be completely useless.
And perhaps this what CDPR are aiming for. Maybe we are sacrificing some consistency for decks that have more than one game plan that rests on exactly one or two cards. And I personally see this as a good thing. These more versatile decks are immediately more interesting to watch and play, while potentially remaining very synergistic, depending on how individual cards are designed.
Game Structure: Hand Limit, Drawing and Passing
Next up is the game structure. New mechanics in Homecoming change this part of the game entirely. We will have a hand limit of ten cards, draw three cards at the beginning of each round, and will have access to significantly more mulligans.
These might be the biggest changes to the game. The combination of a hand limit of ten cards and drawing three cards each round means dry-passing has been blown out of the water unless a deck depends on getting cards into the graveyard (which would be really cool, by the way, CDPR). I personally have no confirmation that we will be seeing an end to blacklisting during the mulligan phase, but the sheer number of mulligans available to each player certainly seems to suggest it, and with fewer tutors in the game, it might not even be necessary. Again, this raises the question – should this worry us?
It depends on why you play Gwent. The focus of the new game seems to be more on what happens in an individual round, as opposed to what happens across all three rounds or between rounds (dooming concepts such as carryover, potentially). If you like this, then chances are Homecoming will be golden for you. Each player is forced to play at least three cards before they can pass. How much impact these cards will have on the game remains to be seen, but it means definite action in every round. This is good for engine decks, and therefore also for control decks, should they exist. For decks that invest in future rounds, like Veterans and Nekker Consume, the end may well be nigh. We don’t know this for sure yet, but focus on one area automatically means less focus on another. If you enjoy this kind of investment, then the new-look Gwent might not be for you.
Complexity and Simplicity
Perhaps the loudest concern raised by the community so far has been that cards have been drastically simplified, limited to “Damage by X” or “Boost by Y.” It applies also to the cutting of a row, from three down to two. To be fair to the community, so far this is all we have seen of the game, but I maintain this is probably because it is either all CDPR want to show of the game right now, or because it’s so remarkably easy to change that they have simply not put the actual card effects on the cards yet because that’s not what they’re interested in testing.
Still, it’s a valid discussion and one that has been going on in Gwent for a long time now.
Complexity is critical for some people. In the CCG environment, it is usually more important to hardcore fans that play more than one card game than it is to casual players who got into their game of choice for entirely different reasons.
This leads me to a point that I think some people either don’t quite realise or deliberately choose to forget: hardcore fans are not what keep competitive games alive. I am not the first to say it. I won’t be the last. No matter how many times it is repeated, it is still true.
Particularly with games that see rolling content pushes over time, where the marketing department will go all out over the course of a month to show as many people as they can new content before the game goes into a lull for some months and then blasts back out into the public scene again with yet more content, the hardcore people who continue playing no matter what only serve to keep the game alive in this lull, usually held up with high-level competition to keep more people interested.
The majority of the people who play the game will see this content push, find it interesting enough to give it a try, maybe play for a couple of weeks, and then not touch the game until the next content push. The industry refers to these players as casuals, and they are the heart and soul of a successful game.
Because hardcore fans of a game are already so invested, the chances of them wanting to, or even needing to, invest more money into the game is relatively low. This is particularly true for Gwent, which has such a generous economy that even a beginner player can start with one semi-competitive deck almost immediately. The money comes from people who are new and want to catch up quickly. Second, it is almost inevitable that a game change puts hardcore fans off, and you will draw new fans in from the casuals. Gwent has been through this already, twice. The problem then was that the changes were made deliberately to make the game more appealing to new players, and neither worked.
This time, CDPR may have nailed it. If you are reading this article, you are already more invested than a casual ever would be, so I have no problem speaking in the plural-form here. We have been spoiled – this often happens with modern games – in that we’ve been playing the game for two years without it technically being on the market. And with the way Gwent has been developed, we have grown used to what is there, or the complexity of the game as it originally existed. The problem is that the game as it exists now is not drawing new players in, and the game as it originally existed never would have achieved that.
Let’s look at what Homecoming is again. CDPR are starting again with Gwent. They are placing a foundation that can be built upon for many years. We should be glad Homecoming's cards are simple because that is the perfect basis for a CCG.
If you seek evidence, look no further than Hearthstone – already massively successful, and still drawing in new players all the time. Why? Because it’s easy to learn. Why? Because the cards of its base set are simple. A new player does not have to worry about learning complex cards while they figure out other more fundamental parts of the game. It’s only later once they have wrapped their heads around that, that they can start enjoying the complexity introduced with every single one of Hearthstone’s content drops.
To me, this is another example of CDPR really learning from their past mistakes. They have tried to take inspiration from Hearthstone before, in completely the wrong way by using the Discover mechanic and turning it into Create. This is the right kind of inspiration. Studying what really makes a game successful and just doing the same thing.
Of course, this doesn’t make it any better for those people who love complexity. It is completely reasonable to be put off by the sudden lack of it. It is fine that Gwent is no longer their kind of game. I am not trying to brush away the argument here. Perhaps it is better for them to find a different game to fill that hole for a while and come back to Gwent when new, certainly more complex content drops. This is also fine. Just remember: simplicity is a necessity that we have to live with while Gwent re-finds its feet.
Are We in Trouble?
At this point, we’ve looked at the biggest concerns raised over the upcoming update. I hope we have a better idea of what we’re looking at.
And with everything evaluated, it seems to me that, no – we’re not in trouble at all.
Again, the game will be very different, and not everyone will like it. But if you’re passionate about Gwent, or about card games in general, and if you can wrap your head around how it is different and accept why – remembering that we, the community and the dev team, are all starting again – then I think you will either love Gwent from Day 1, or you will be able to come to enjoy it over time.
It is important to remember that, despite having been playable for two years, we have to reset with Homecoming, as the game is. 23 October is Day 1. It is the beginning. The game we have then will be praised and criticised, but it must be praised and criticised regardless of what came before. The changes are that staggering.
We must also remember that we know very little about how this game will actually look. The closed PTR that has now ended involved few people. The rest of us simply do not have enough information to build an accurate final image of the game. As with every game in development, something could still change. Really, we just have to wait and see. October will bring far more updates about the game, and how we view it will be influenced more by these videos and streams than by anything we know now. The future may be unclear now, but each day will get brighter. Only when we can see, can we judge.
And so, feeling like I am standing in front of Emhyr var Emreis himself, I suggest patience, and not worrying too much about something we just don’t know, even if I realise all too well that this is easier said than done.
In the words of my eternal favourite Cantarella, “Let us see…”