Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Blizzard's first voyage on the free to play sea.

By Woozie, Posted 25 Nov 2013

I’m sure that by now, Blizzard Entertainment is a name familiar to most, if not everyone who knows a thing or two about one of the most beloved forms of entertainment or escapism called videogames. Regardless of your current opinion of them, these people have managed to build a legacy that will last. Known mostly for Triple A releases that usually take a while before coming out, some time ago, the company announced they would ride the Free to Play train, releasing a card game centered around characters belonging to the Warcraft universe. Having been met with initial enthusiasm and skepticism, the game is now in closed beta and the people that have yet to receive an invite are perhaps asking themselves, is it worth bothering with?

The beta invite came with somewhat of a surprise in the form of a Battle.net client that is, itself, also in beta. The purpose of the client is to make access to Blizzard titles easier and it’s far from being a bad idea. Rather than having separate launchers for every game, you now have all the Blizzard titles in one window. The interface is very slick, dressed in a very homey dark blue. The client works very well, eating a low amount of memory and providing the latest news, as well as automatically updating games when updates are available.

Hearthstone itself makes you aware of the fact that it is a Blizzard game from the very first moments.  As you pass the doors to the supposed tavern where everything is taking place, you get the same feeling you got or would have gotten entering an inn in World of Warcraft after a long day of adventuring. The song that greets you, as well as those heard throughout the game, are tavern versions of pieces from World of Warcraft that somehow alert you of the nostalgia trip that’s coming along the way.

Newcomers will be greeted with a few introductory fights against the AI where the core mechanics will be explained in an easy to understand manner. While mostly aimed at people that are new to the very concept of trading card games, the tutorial does help you get accustomed to the game’s overall atmosphere. The coziness is also amplified by the choice of lively colours and the sound design. Everything is polished, giving the impression of actually belonging to a triple A release.

Gameplay-wise, Hearthstone is divided into three components: constructed play, practice mode and the Arena. Constructed mode is the classic approach to any trading card game. You build a deck from the cards that are available to you, looking for synergies or themes that you think would work and set off to play against others that have done the same. This mode is divided into ranked and unranked matches. Practice mode, is really the same but this time, you play against the AI. While you do get more experience from battling human opponents, even in unranked mode, it’s true that a match or two against the AI can come in handy when you’re looking to try out something really experimental, or when you simply need to pause the match.

The decks you build revolve around nine classes present in World of Warcraft. Each class has a specific hero powers and cards that are complemented with a bunch of other cards deemed as neutral and available to all classes. The creatures and spells present all have different effects. Some do things when they’re played, others have ongoing effects for as long as they remain on the board. Some cards heal, others deal damage. Some are used for board control, others for sabotaging your enemy. There’s really nothing seasoned CCGers haven’t already seen, but that’s not necessarily something bad.

Hearthstone can be easily classified as a light collectible card game. The core concepts are few and easy to learn and to a certain extent it can be accused of the same tendency of streamlining things for the sake of appealing to more people. However, it is far from being braindead. As you unlock cards you discover new mechanics, new creatures that work differently and synergize in a totally different way to whatever it is you have in your deck at that moment. A player that’s invested in the game can come up with a great number of creatures and spells combinations that work well towards defeating their foes in various ways.

The game allows you to experiment in order to find a decent deck, and while the random number generator will always have a word to say regarding the final outcome of your matches, there’s plenty you can do to assure that even if you don’t win, you can at least give your opponent a hard time and a match to remember. Matches usually last from around 7 to 20 minutes. You’ll encounter matches that will go bad until the final turns when you’ll get that combo you needed and decimate your opponent in an unexpected stroke of luck, or, there’s always a chance that regardless of how good your deck is you will get unlucky draws and end up having all your support spells in your hand, but no creatures to use them on.

Arena mode will probably be the main point of interest for most people, though. It is a mode where you get to choose one of three classes, then gradually build your deck of 30 cards by choosing one from three available cards every time. You have no real control over which cards you get and must plan your deck as you go. The random aspect is what makes this mode as good as it is, alongside the fact that you’re only allowed three losses before you get kicked out. There’s a certain thrill to it, alongside the knowledge that your opponent also had less control over the cards he got. The more victories you get, the higher the rewards are and they can range from gold, to dust, to packs of cards. The thing regarding this particular mode is that every time you want to play except the very first time, it will require an entry fee. It costs one 150 gold or 1.50 euros.

The business model employed is one that seems to be, at least in my opinion, a fair one.  You’re never really pushed into buying cards with actual money. Gold comes in at a decent rate. Aided by quests (almost daily tasks that offer you gold when completed), it’s not very difficult to get 100 gold for an expert pack or 150 for an arena key. The real money variant is there for people who want to get ahead a bit faster, but there’s nothing they can get that people who decide not to spend any money on the game can’t. There is also the possibility of getting specific cards by the use of the in-game crafting system based on the dust resource. You obtain dust in arena or through destroying expert cards you already own but deem to be useless.

Being a beta, you’re perhaps wondering how stable the game is. There are, without doubt, a few bugs I’ve ran into while playing it. Alt-tabbing may cause the text on the cards to turn to unreadable gibberish for a while. The same process may cause the portraits on cards to disappear. The environments decorating the game board might have quick seizures and change colors. While most of the bugs encountered were minor, I was one of the unlucky people unable to buy anything from the store. Initially it was supposed to be something related to parental controls, however as Blizzard has yet to have implemented direct customer support for the game, the solutions on the forums were no good to me. A couple of times, matches would just block at the start screen, before the players got to choose their cards and remain that way until someone alt+f4ed. The bugs were definitely there, but they are to be expected, and, at the end of the day, there was nothing that broke the experience in a major sense.

There’s a high chance that Hearthstone is something you’ll want to get into sooner or later. Regardless, if you’re new to CCGs or an expert, a Blizzard fan or not, Hearthstone will offer you at least a few hours of great fun. It’s a great way to spend those spare 30 minutes of the free time available after a workday or get a feel of how trading card games work. It’s bound to run on almost anything nowadays and while the fact that some people can’t make in-game purchases while others can is troubling, the other bugs won’t get in the way of your enjoying the game.

MateÈ™ Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): PC, Mobile
Publisher(s): Blizzard Entertainment
Developer(s): Blizzard Entertainment
Genres: Card Game
Themes: Digital CCG
Release Date: 2014-06-30

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