Earlier this year, Blizzard announced Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. Hearthstone is a free to play card game using various creatures, characters, and classes from World of Warcraft. The closed beta started recently for this game and I was lucky enough to get in. So I’ve played it for several hours and while it was fun it isn’t without its issues that concern me.
As far as gameplay goes, you pick one of the classes that you have unlocked and make a deck based around it. For example, a mage deck can use ability cards like Polymorph and Pyroblast. While a rogue can use ability cards like Sap and Eviscerate. So basically any move that a class has access to in World of Warcraft you can use in your deck. There are no Death Knights or Monks yet though, only the classes from classic World of Warcraft. Mage is the default class when you start playing Hearthstone. While this is still a beta, it is unlikely that will be changed. All you have to do is beat one of the other classes in practice mode and you will be able to use them when competing against other players
Once you have a class selected, you then put together a deck of various minion cards until you have a full deck of thirty cards. Some of the minion cards range from small mobs that players would kill in World of Warcraft like murlocs to legendary characters like Illidan Stormrage. There are even some cultural references amongst those cards, including a Leeroy Jenkins card and a Raid Leader card that references the infamous Onyxia Wipe animation.
The rules of Hearthstone are fairly simple. You play as many cards as your current mana allows and attack the opposing player or their minion cards. As the game progresses you get more mana, allowing you to play more powerful cards. At the start of each game a coin is flipped to determine who goes first. The player that goes second gets an extra card along with a card called The Coin, giving them an extra point of mana to use at any time.
All cards have a certain amount of health, and this health can be reduced by attacking the card. Though keep in mind that if you attack a minion card with your own minion it will take damage from the attack as well. Generally speaking you can always choose to skip the minions and go straight for the player to reduce their health zero, however there are some minion cards that have a taunt ability and require them to be killed first before you can damage your opponent. Minion cards can never attack on the turn that you play them, unless it has the Charge ability.
As far as a beta goes, this game is very stable. In all the time I’ve played Hearthstone, I have never once had the game crash or have I encountered any errors or bugs of any kind. While I’m sure other beta testers have had issues, I have not. Honestly it feels like a release build for the game. I’m actually rather impressed with Blizzard, given how unstable some of the World of Warcraft betas tended to be.
Since this game is free to play, Blizzard has an in-game market where players can buy booster packs to get more cards and customize their deck. You can earn gold in-game in order to buy booster packs, however you earn it at such a slow rate that you are almost encouraged to pay money in order to try and get the cards that you need. Not only that but you need to use gold in order to get into the Arena where you have a chance at earning cards the more games you win, so you may not have much gold left over to buy booster packs unless you ignore the arena.
I’m hoping that this changes when Hearthstone goes live, as Blizzard knows better than to go by the pay to win model that is infamous in free to play games. Blizzard doesn’t really need to rely on this model in order to get money, they make embarrassing amounts of cash just from WoW subscriptions and their item store with all the mounts, pets, and cosmetic helmets.
I’m not saying that Blizzard should hand out booster packs like candy, but perhaps they should increase how much gold you get from defeating other players and completing quests. I can’t speak for others, but I personally would like to avoid wasting countless amounts of money in attempts to get cards that are actually beneficial for my rogue deck. Without buying booster packs with real money it takes a lot longer to get cards that would help you make a better deck. So if they could make earning all your cards in game without spending money a more viable option that would be a good thing for the game as a whole and move it away from the shady business model that is pay to win.
Maybe this is just a personal preference, but Hearthstone feels almost too simple. It is certainly way less complex than other card games out there like Magic the Gathering. To some that may be a good thing, but I prefer to have more complexity in a card game. That complexity I feel allows for more unique and interesting strategies. There is more room for experimentation. I’m not a fan of the thirty card limit and would prefer at least 10 – 20 more cards, as then it would be easier to not only have a good variety of minions but as well as more useful class cards.
But overall I did enjoy my time with the Hearthstone beta. I probably won’t play it since it isn’t holding my interest all that well, but I’ll certainly check the game out again when it goes live. I do wonder if there will be some amount of Hearthstone integration with World of Warcraft in later expansions and patches. Say if you get a certain achievement in WoW you will get a free booster pack in Hearthstone or something like that. I think it would be an interesting idea and it would certainly alleviate my concerns about the pay to win model that is currently in effect.
So, if you are a fan of the Warcraft series I would heartily recommend checking out Hearthstone when it goes live. I could even recommend it to those who are looking for a more casual, less complex card game to play. Although if you aren’t a fan of any of the Warcraft games or World of Warcraft you might want to stay away from this game.