It’s taken me a while to start, and finish this preview for Heartstone: Heroes of Warcraft. Finishing it was difficult on the basis that I was unsure on how I felt about certain aspects. Starting it was more difficult though, purely because starting to write this would mean I would have to stop playing, if only for a few hours.
So what is this addictive experience? It’s a card game!
Hearthstone, currently in Closed Beta, is Blizzard’s latest attempt to break into the CCG (Collectable Card Game) market. Duels are played between two opponents, each with a deck of 30 cards; creatures and spells. Each player takes on a ‘Hero’, essentially a ‘Class’ with their own unique active ability and card restrictions. Cards are activated within a player’s own turn, as they pay for them using charge from Mana Crystals, accumulated and recharged automatically on a turn-by-turn basis, in a similar way to ‘Lands’ found in Magic: The Gathering. The aim of each match is to reduce your opponent’s life from 30 to zero through either summoning ‘minions’ to attack, attacking yourself, or using spells to directly deal damage. Creatures come with a variety of abilities, including ‘Taunt’; limiting the opponent from attacking anything other than the ‘Taunt’-er, ‘Charge’; allowing the creature to attack on the same turn it is played, and ‘Stealth’; preventing the creature from being targeted until they have dealt damage.
Overall, despite being a new look at old mechanics, Hearthstone plays incredibly well. The games flow fantastically, never outlasting their welcome and generally feeling fair from start to finish with lots of drama, and back and forth between advantages. The real challenge is maintaining control through the stages of the game whilst also having enough cards in your hand ready for a final assault, therefore embedding many levels of strategy into each play.
There are three ways to play after the incredibly useful and enjoyable tutorial. The first, Practice, allows you to unlock Heroes by defeating them with the basic decks you begin with, and after this is a useful tool for honing new decks. Play, where the meat of the content really lies, is a mode in which you face off against other players both in a ranked and unranked fashion. Finally, Arena is a pay-to-play mode where you build a deck through choosing one of three cards multiple times, before duking it out against others who’ve built in the same way. Three losses and you’re out, but by winning you can earn some really great rewards.
Incredibly important to success in any mode is deck design, and hero choice. With nine Heroes to unlock and choose from, all based on characters from Warcraft lore, there is a huge amount of choice available to players. Whilst you could build Hunter deck, mainly geared towards buffing a horde of fearsome beasts and carrying out damaging strikes with a direct-damage ability, you just as easily could build a Druid deck, focusing on building your Mana quickly so you can reach your end-game quicker. Heroes are fairly balanced for something in closed-beta, with the cards themselves acting as the key to building an awesome strategy. One of my only criticisms however lies within some of the card balancing itself.
As you play and complete challenges, you earn Gold, which can be exchanged for booster packs.
Each booster costs 100, and gives you five new random cards in the traditional CCG sense. Packs can also be bought for real cash, costing approximately £1 per pack. That’s 20p per random card.
Now, whilst the basic cards you unlock through playing as each class are decent enough, once you hit the online scene and start facing up against opponents with decks formed from boosters, you begin to realise that Hearthstone is very much pay-to-win. Cards found in packs are just generally better, hands down, with Rare and Legendary cards packing a massive punch.
So one has a choice; play intensely, defeating daily challenges (40 gold each) and winning matches (1 gold per win, delivered in 5’s) in order to buy perhaps a pack a day, OR pay real money for boosters. Granted, it’s a free to play title, but the amounts of time and money required sometimes just feel too high.
However, on the flip side, playing freely does give a unique feeling when you beat down a blatantly P2W player with the small pool of expert cards you’ve accumulated. It feels good!
Despite everything I wouldn’t say any single card is overpowered; the game never feels unfair. Each loss is down to a mixture of luck and deck design. You just have fewer options if you don’t pay!
The Aesthetic stylings of Warcraft obviously contributed when Blizzard began designing Hearthstone. Whilst some may criticise the use of WoW assets and the wacky style, it never feels too silly or too serious. This middle line they’ve found between deep fantasy and silliness is carried out flawlessly. Graphically and sonically impressive, each card has it’s own personality and sound-set, leading you to gain attachments to certain characters after a while. Though the lore isn’t explained, I can see WoW gaining a few new fans through the link between the two games; mainly due to the sheer vibrancy and strength-of-design shown here. Similarly, World of Warcraft players will also be immediately drawn into the card-slinging action through the constant references to common elements.
All in all, Hearthstone is in more ways than one the World of Warcraft of Card Games. Most of the mechanics are ‘borrowed’ from other trading/collectable card games; the attack/health and combat mechanics of Magic: The Gathering, plus the non-regenerating health of Pokemon and a heavily modified version of Yugioh’s trap cards. There is little original thought here, but the actual combination of all the different elements and the established lore and creature/character designs from the Warcraft world all come together flawlessly. As they did with the MMO genre, Blizzard have iterated rather than innovated to create something which could very well set the standard for Digital CCGs. It’s addictive, it’s fun, it’s incredibly accessible and although yes, it’s pay-to-win, it does it better and more fairly than most, with everything accessible given enough time.
So when the time comes for an open beta, would I recommend it?
Am I going back to playing it right now? Probably… and you cna as well by clicking http://www.PlayHearthstone.com