Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Here we go then; one of the most talked about titles in PC gaming has finally hit the open beta stage, so it’s time for everyone who hasn’t played it yet to stop waiting for access keys and start slinging fireballs and dropping Leper Gnomes with wild abandon.
For the as-yet uninitiated, Blizzard’s Hearthstone is a Collectible Card Game or CCG, bearing some similarities to that classic of the genre, Magic: The Gathering – a game which has transcended its roots in sweaty gaming clubs to make it a highly popular game across various gaming platforms.
You choose a hero and build a ‘deck’ of virtual cards with which to do battle against either AI or other players on your server.
Hearthstone is a turn-based game where you select from your hand of cards and try to whittle down your opponents life-counter to zero, thereby winning the game. Your only limitations are the cards in your deck and the mana pool (points to spend on playing cards) available to you. It is an intense game of strategy and counter play, with a nice dollop of randomness and luck that you need to learn to get on your side. Many forums ring with praise for the RNGesus – the god of the random number generator, and those who bemoan when he has turned away from them at the crucial moment.
So far then, so like many other CCGs out there. So what sets this apart from Magic, Scrolls and the rest?
Well for a start it comes from the mighty PC gaming juggernaut that is Blizzard Entertainment, home of the best-selling MMO, World of Warcraft and eSports colossus Startcraft 2. Hearthstone draws on the characters that are familiar to Warcraft players to populate its world and therefore comes with a strong personality right out of the gate – but that’s not all that it has to entice new players.
Hearthstone’s real strength lies in the immediacy of its gameplay and the power of its assets to grab the curious. Every card dropped onto the field comes complete with its own catchphrase and effects. Similarly, the heroes are all well-voiced and characterful, drawing players in and getting them to invest in what otherwise could have been a rather dry gameplay experience. Add this to the usually fast-paced nature of the turn taking and the rather glorious and visceral nature of the simple animations and you have a game where most people who see it in action think, ‘I’d like to play that.’
Blizzard pulled off a bit of a coup by releasing Hearthsone at the best price point available – free to play. This means that if you are interested in checking out their game there is literally no barrier to entry besides signing up for a battle.net account and having a functioning PC. Of course, being a collectible card game, the is the option there for you to buy packs of cards with hope of improving your deck, but with a bit of luck and some time spent playing you can build a decent deck from just spending currency earned in-game.
I honestly surprised myself after a couple of weeks playing that I put my hand in my pocket to buy a few packs of cards. I am the last person usually to buy into ‘freemium’ models for gaming, but Hearthstone manages to make the whole experience so enjoyable that I felt it was definitely worth supporting the developer and handing back some cash for all the hours of enjoyment that I had already.
And hours of enjoyment is right! There are two main play modes, the first being online play with constructed decks that you have worked on over time. This can be in either casual or ranked mode where you play against people of equal skill level to yourself and hopefully move up the ranks over time. The second main mode is the Arena. The Arena mode differs by seeing you use a deck that you have drafted for that particular play session. You choose a hero and then are given 30 sets of three cards, picking your most favoured one each time to build a deck with. Then you enter into the arena, playing against other people’s drafted decks who have the same number of wins as you from that particular run. Your session ends at either 12 victories or 3 defeats, which comes soonest. At the end of your Arena run, you are given a set of rewards which could be either gold, ‘dust’ (for crafting specific cards) or cards. It’s hugely addicting as the vast number of Hearthstone Arena videos on YouTube and streams on Twitch.tv will attest.
OK, so that’s the praise and as effusive as it was, there is room for some complaints – although this part of the review needs the caveat that Hearthstone is still in Beta and is being regularly patched and updated. Firstly, the game suffers with some game breaking bugs on occasion. These come in the form of graphical glitches, cards overlapping and cards swapping position on the board. Although this sounds minor, in a game where strategy is everything, a random piece of misplacement on the behalf of the game engine can be hugely frustrating – especially if it ends your arena run. Secondly, there are some semi-frequent issues with accessing the servers which can prevent you from playing the game completely. Worse, on occasion the game will disconnect you from the server due to an issue at their end which results in a loss for you – again, less than ideal. Finally, although I would not call this game pay to win, it can feel a pretty unfair for newer players to see their plans destroyed by players who have ‘legendary’ (rare and powerful) cards in their deck. With experience you will discover that these cards are not necessary to win, but can feel like an unfair advantage when you begin.
Having said all that, if you can remember you’re getting into a game that is still in Beta and is steadily being improved, I can heartily recommend that you check out Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft right now. Oh, look – here’s a helpful link to help you do just that: http://eu.battle.net/en/int
Score – 7/10 (will rise when Beta issues are resolved)
Out Now for PC with Android and iOS versions to follow.
Hearthstone is free to play.