Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is not the next big MMORPG by Blizzard. That’s right, you won’t have to wave goodbye to the real world, your marriage, and personal hygiene. What Hearthstone is however, is a collectable card game in the vein of Magic: The Gathering but that uses the mythology of the World of Warcraft.
Hearthstone is a bit of a departure from the norm for Blizzard. It’s not a mega budget title created by an army of developers. Instead, Hearthstone is being developed a small team of developers whose goal is to make an accessible card game that appeals to a large audience. Hearthstone is an easy game to pick up for the neophyte (such as myself) but has enough depth and complexity to keep hardened veterans searching for that perfect pack and strategy. If you don’t believe me, do a quick search and you’ll already see fan sites devoted to theory crafting the best card sets and strategies. Needless to say, you can be as casual or intense as you want to when playing Hearthstone.
Basic Game Mechanics:
First, lets go over a quick and dirty game overview which will lay the foundation for how the game works. In Hearthstone you play as a hero character. Each hero has access to class specific cards and powers as well as general cards shared among all heroes. The sum of these cards represents a heroes deck. The actions a player is allowed to make (play cards or use powers) is governed by their manna pool. In round one, both characters start with 1 manna and can therefore only play a card with a cost of 0 or 1 (unless using another card that grants additional manna like the coin card). Each progressive round gives the heroes another manna crystal to use.
At the start of play, one of the two players is randomly chosen to go first. If you lose the coin flip you receive… a coin. This coin gives the player an extra point of mana for one round, to use during any turn. Characters play cards or use abilities in turn until one heroes health is reduced to zero.
When you first launch Hearthstone you are taken through a training course of sorts with the Mage character. In this training you are guided through a series of increasingly difficult matches, each showcasing a particular game mechanic. I really appreciated this feature of Hearthstone. The training is very well done and helps acclimate a new player to the game and how it works. My only comment here would be to include a brief tutorial on the game’s other play modes and features such crafting.
Once you complete the tutorial, you are free to explore the game. Hearthstone has nine playable characters (called heroes) which represent different WoW classes and are in fact characters you will recognize if you’ve played WoW.
- Druid: Malfurion Stormrage
- Hunter: Rexxar
- Mage: Jaina Proudmoore
- Paladin: Uther Lightbringer
- Priest: Anduin Wrynn
- Rogue: Valeera Sanguinar
- Shaman: Thrall
- Warlock: Gul’dan Lord Jaraxxus
- Warrior: Garrosh Hellscream
Each hero also has a different ability that can be used once per turn for a specific cost. For example, the Shaman hero’s ability is to summon a random totem while the Mage can summon a fireball. In order to play a skill you must use a portion of your available manna. So, if in round 3 you have 3 manna points to spend, you can spend them on playing a card that costs 3 points or playing the hero skill for 2 points and a card that costs one point.
Hearthstone offers several different play modes: Practice, Play, and Arena. In addition, there is a deck building function, daily quests and a shop where you can purchase booster card sets with real world money or in game currency.
As a new player to hearthstone you will spend most of your time at first in the practice mode. In this mode you will play against computer controlled opponents and have access to all playable characters.
The goal of this mode is twofold. First, it lets you become comfortable with the game and how each hero functions. You can play any number of games with each hero and find which one suits you best.
The other reason to use this game mode it to level up each character to level 10. At this point a quick description of leveling is probably a good idea. As you play Hearthstone and win (or lose) matches, you slowly acquire experience and gold. At level 10, each character has access to their full basic deck of cards. Also, at level 10 the hero has access to play Expert Practice Mode which far more challenging. From level 10 on, leveling is only possible by playing human opponents and is not absolutely necessary. Higher levels do not give you character extra health or better attributes. As you level your character through normal game play you will acquire GOLDEN versions of EXISTING cards at specific levels. These cards are purely a cosmetic difference. For a list of these cards for each hero please see this page.
Play mode is the meat and potatoes of Hearthstone and is where you will most likely spend the majority of your time once you have graduated from Practice Mode. In Play Mode you battle human opponents. Play mode also offers increased experience and gold from the practice mode. Finally, play mode lets you complete daily quests. Daily quests are challenges presented to the player, such as “win two games with a Mage or Rogue”, that reward players with gold upon completion. Game mode has two modes: Casual and Ranked.
Casual Play Mode:
The standard play mode in Hearthstone. Here the game will attempt to match make for you and find a suitable opponent of comparable skill to duel.
In this mode you duel against human opponents to acquire higher ranks during the current play season. There are currently 25 different ranks that can be acquired.
In Arena mode, you compete against human opponents using a deck you construct at the start of the Arena. This mode requires an admission fee of 150 gold or $1.99 equivalent of real world money. Once payment has been accepted, the player is presented with three random heroes to choose from. After a hero is chosen, the player will be shown a number of random cards from which to create their deck from. This creates an element of luck to this game play mode as your cards and hero are subject to change each arena match.
Ah yes, there is a store. The shop is where you can purchase expert card packs for in game gold OR real money. Currently, the breakdown is as follows:
1 pack for 100 gold (ingame currency, rewarded from completing quests and playing games)
2 packs for $2.99 ($1.495 per pack, $0.299 per card)
7 packs for $9.99 ($1.427 per pack, $0.285 per card)
15 packs for $19.99 ($1.332 per pack, $0.266 per card)
40 packs for $49.99 ($1.249 per pack, $0.249 per card)
A Gamers Opinion:
I’ll start off by offering this disclaimer: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is the first computer based collectable card game I have played. That being said, I have played a handful of physical card games in the past so I’m not totally new to the genre.
Now that that’s out of the way I’ll also tell you this: I really like Hearthstone.
Hearthstone is an easy game to pick up and is rewarding to play.
I appreciate the fact that you can jump right in and feel like you are accomplishing something. I also like the fact that the game is deep enough to allow the community to explore card combinations and strategies in order to create the best deck. The graphics and effects are top notch for a game of this type. Blizzard did everything they could to make the player feel like they are physically playing a card game. The game at its most basic is about winning matches against human opponents and appeals to your competitive nature. This fact alone will keep you coming back to acquire new cards, create new decks, and battle to hone your skills.
And now for the black cloud hanging over the otherwise beautiful world of Hearthstone: the shop.
This is where the ugly side of free to play rears its head and where people start complaining that Hearthstone is a pay to win game. On one hand I can agree; it’s super easy for someone to launch the game, plop down $49.99, and have a deck that will destroy my deck (which has taken me weeks to build) all within 5 minutes. On the other hand, this is a collectable card game and is free to play. Blizzard needs to pay the bills somehow and producing completely free games without any in game purchases won’t keep the lights on. The problem is, with this setup it actually does create a pay to win environment. It hasn’t taken away from the fun of the game for me but it is something to think about and may eventually become a serious detractor from the game.
Despite what you think of the shop, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft remains a great game that is definitely worth a try. As an added bonus, Hearthstone will be available as an iOS and Android app sometime in the first quarter of 2014!
[list type=”ul” style=”1″]Easy to pick up but complex enough to keep you coming back for more^Draws from WoW mythology^Varied and interesting cards^Great gameplay Mechanics^Varied Gameplay Modes[/list]
[list type=”ul” style=”2″]Pay to win?^Confusing crafting mechanics^I want my iOS version NOW![/list]