Categories: Opinions | 4 comments

Warming Up To Hearthstone

I was lucky enough to receive an invite to the beta testing phase for Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, Blizzard’s next big title that is coming out around January 2014. The game is going to be free-to-play, and real money only needs to be used if you lack the patience to gather cards or enter drafts on your own. Another smart move on Blizzard’s part is that Hearthstone is going to be available on Android and iOS devices, since the card game mechanics are quite basic and touch-compatible. Although the animations and mechanics are hardly intensive (considering you’re playing with cards), Hearthstone is still immersive and entertaining to offer hours of gameplay. Let’s take a look:

In most RPGs, I prefer the spell-casting wizard/mage classes. Paladins, knights, warriors, rogues, warriors, soldiers, etc. are all cool concepts, but it doesn’t take much to walk around with a big weapon and hit things. The trouble with most melee classes or even ranged ones such as hunters is that they’re based on actual professions of people throughout history. Mages on the other hand are purely derived from people either using their imagination or a lot of medieval LSD, and they do things that can’t be done. I like that. So stepping into Hearthstone, when choosing what deck I wanted to build (choices are aligned with World of Warcraft classes – Mage, Warrior, Rogue, Druid, Hunter, Warlock, Priest, and Paladin) I naturally chose my buddy Jaina Proudmoore, the storyline character representing the Mage class. A lot of basic cards are shared among all classes, all of which are creatures with varying sizes and effects (drawing cards, big defenders with ‘Taunt’, fast attackers with ‘Charge’ that don’t need to wait a turn to attack, etc.). The main spells and effects however are drawn straight from the character you pick, and although everyone starts with 30 life points, each class also has its own Hero ability that can be activated once per turn for 2 mana. The mage for example can use Fireblast to deal one damage to any creature or the enemy player directly, or the warrior can ‘Armor Up!’ to gain 2 armour points which guard his actual health points. The diversity of classes, cards, effects, and mechanisms are perfect for doing exactly what the game is made for: farming more cards, beating in your opponent’s face, winning some drafts, and climbing the Ranked ladder.

Although you can bounce between every class and have a deck for each, I decided to stick with my Mage. As you play games, your class levels up and unlocks the first 20 class-specific cards available, with the rest being in booster packs. After level 20, your rewards then become gold-versions of the class-specific cards you ‘should’ be using (ex/ polymorph and arcane intellect for mages are particularly strong and are two of the cards you will eventually earn a gold-version for). These cards are nothing beyond a visual upgrade, allowing you to drop some pimped out cards on the field to show your opponent just how desperate you were to get the Hearthstone beta. It is worth noting at this point that anyone who plays Magic: The Gathering will find that Blizzard has done a very good job at implementing similar archetypes found in MTG:

    • Control decks such as my mage focusing on drawing cards for advantage, clearing the board, polymorphing big creatures into sheep with 1 power and 1 defense (1/1), while beating in the opponent’s face with big dragons that also offer increased Spell Damage to amplify my other cards.
    • Aggro decks such as the warrior, hunter, and rogue are able to zerg down the opponent with direct damage from creatures with ‘Charge’ while destroying your threats directly with abilities. The rogue is interesting as the hero itself can become equipped with daggers temporarily and swing at creatures or the opponent, causing a surprising amount of pain (it has been noted that rogues are possibly the most overpowered class currently in the beta).
    • Midrange decks are available across most decks and can vary widely whether they are creature or spell based. The focus is on dropping the best creatures at each mana-level, while board control is also a valuable aspect. You can of course stray from the normal archetypes of decks, such as making a priest healing deck, but there are only so many gimmicky cards available to truly brew your own unique deck.

The beauty of a control deck; clearing the board with an amplified Flamestrike and eventually winning, even with 4/30 health points left.

Although creating abstract decks is quite restricted, the card diversity is anything but limiting. The cards given through leveling up alone are able to forge strong and interesting decks, but winning games and completing daily quests reward you with gold which can be used for two addictive aspects of the game: cracking booster packs and entering drafts.

Opening booster packs is just like your 10 year-old self (or current self, I don’t judge) remembers how it was for Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh boosters: Awesome, that’s how. Although the virtual style isn’t accompanied by the strangely addicting cardboard-fresh smell, Hearthstone boosters give your card collection added common and uncommon cards, and each one also has a strong rare or epic card. The best part is, if you get multiple versions of a card or just have cards you don’t need, you can disenchant them into dust which is used to forge any badass card available in the game. It may seem like everyone can suddenly have the deck for each class that is theorycrafted or min-max’d to be the best one around, but thankfully Hearthstone as implemented an interesting concept to prevent this: it’s called really having to earn what you want. At 10 gold per 3 wins and 40 gold per daily quest (3 per day), the 100 gold booster packs actually add up pretty slowly. Additionally, disenchanting uncommon/common cards for 5 dust each and then realizing you need 1600 for that really powerful legendary card is a rude awakening call. Hearthstone is of course a business model just as much as it is a game for Blizzard however, and this is the part where real money can be used to further your adventure. All I know is it will probably be enough to keep me around for a few months, crushing some opponents for free with some stylish animations, and cracking virtual packs or entering drafts for even more prizes.

    • Are you excited for the free-to-play release of Hearthstone?
    • If you’ve had a chance to play the beta, which is your favourite class to play? If not, which one are you looking forward to playing?
    • What deck archetype is your preference? Do you like swinging in with an army of creatures, or controlling the board by destroying said army with a giant spell?
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  • http://www.rigden.ca/ Paul Rigden

    Never thought I’d be interested in playing a card game like this, but damn…

    World of Warcraft Addiction, Will I never be free of you?!

  • predarek

    Personally this game was a letdown. I was in the beta since before the first big wave and the game is just a very simplified MTG game (emphasis on the very). I tried watching a few more “pro” matches and it rarely boils down to taking a decision between two different choices but rather all the time as playing the best decision with your current hand. Maybe it’s the smaller deck size or the lack of possible cards still but I wouldn’t recommend this game to anyone who enjoys MTG.

  • HollaOnYa

    Why you be hatin’ on all the classes but mages? I can’t turn into a bear or heal someone with holy light. I thought I could once, but shrooms were involved. Shrooms I got from a mage. See, they’re bad apples, those mages are. Plus, the free to play thing is crap, spoiled a-holes just buy everything and then demolish the small guys. Never cool. Cool article though.

  • WoottheBoot

    I love this kind of game. It brings me back to the good old days of Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon cards, except now I don’t have to worry about people stealing my cards :). And I personally love free-to-play, I think it’s totes easy to buy nothing seeing as I’m poor and all.