I am not just in the casual players’ corner out of habit in that discussion. I also have a certain self-interest: I like Card Hunter and would like the game to stay. Which requires it to have a certain financial success. And I don’t think it can have that financial success if the game isn’t accessible enough for new players.
Basically in a Free2Play game financial success depends on a series of conversion rates: How many people can you convert from total strangers to people at least willing to try out the game? How many of those can you convert to people that stick around? And how many of the active players can you convert to paying players?
I would think that Card Hunter will have a problem already on the first barrier, getting people to even try the game. Card Hunter has a great appeal to people remembering old school D&D, provided they like both turn-based tactical gameplay (which is more 4th edition D&D than classic D&D), and deckbuilding like in a trading card game like Magic the Gathering. That is already a rather specialized niche from the start. How many people will when seeing a screenshot of Card Hunter already turn away just because it is clearly some kind of simulation of a board game with a square grid? So I would say that Card Hunter needs to do well in the conversion of the small number of people who will even try it to active players. And that necessitates a learning curve which the average player can follow, however disdainful the elitist jerks might be of that.
The specific danger of Card Hunter being possibly difficult rather early is that your success depends not just on your skill, but also on the gear you equipped. On the first play-through the amount of gear you find if you don’t pay anything is limited. People who pay for a “Card Hunter Club” subscription find more gear, and you can also buy sets of gear for multiplayer which then can be used in single-player mode. Or you can buy chests full of random gear. In the long run success is more about choosing the right gear than having the most gear. But at the start of the game availability can clearly be an issue. There are level 2 adventures against monsters called Trogs who try to keep their distance and stab you with spears. A totally new player who played only through the level 1 adventures might not even have a spear at this point. And because you can play any adventure only once per day, he couldn’t even grind for more gear immediately. It would be easy for him to conclude that Card Hunter is “Pay2Win”, and quit the game in disgust. Now imagine that new player is the game “journalist” for Eurogamer and that conclusion becomes part of the review, and you can see how Card Hunter would struggle to become a financial success.
New players nearly always are bad at a game. While one needs to challenge them enough to remain interested, that level of challenge required at the start will appear to be rather low for somebody who looks at it through the eyes of an experienced veteran with a huge gear collection. Magic the Gathering could get away with being considered Pay2Win because it was the WoW of its day. But in today’s overcrowded market of Free2Play browser games, a difficult turn-based game with a Pay2Win reputation probably wouldn’t do well.