I was doubtful whether it could do my childhood addiction justice. How could they replicate the ecstasy of opening a pack of Pokémon cards with virtual versions? And as a World of Warcraft Lore-Whore I feared this “casual spinoff game” would defile the sanctity of my cherished virtual universe.
As is often the case, my scepticism was proven wrong.
Hearthstone immediately hooked me in and took me back to the glory days of my youth, walking about the school yard with my Pokémon ring binder like I was Gary Oak himself. As well as that, it gave me great joy to see characters I know and love from the Warcraft universe in action in card form. Of course, this isn’t to say Hearthstone is only applicable to card game fanatics and Warcraft acolytes; far from it in fact. This game excels at introducing players to both aspects and caters extremely well to both casual and hardcore players alike, whilst somehow managing to avoid turf wars between the two.
Okay, so the voice acting in the tutorial missions is awfully cringe worthy and as a Scotsman, the attempt at a rough Scottish accent by the Dwarvern announcer soondz a wee bit daft. Poor Scottish imitations aside, the tutorial succeeds at easing new players into the game, without it feeling like a chore.
Facing off against various characters in the Warcraft universe, each mission focuses on a different aspect of battling, and does so as quickly, light heartedly and interactively as possible. Within 30 minutes I was able to go from complete confusion, to being able to plan my own tactics and combos for cards.
Waiting for your opponent to take their turn? Opponent just played Leeroy Jenkins? Destroy the board in frustration!
Everything on Hearthstone feels polished and interactive, including the board. There are four little setups in each corner, alongside four different boards, which work as a big pile of bubble wrap to amuse yourself with while your opponent has their go. While not a huge feature in its own, it shows the effort Blizzard have put into the little things and you will find yourself thankful for it.
These setups include Stormwinds Cathedral complete with smashable windows, a Catapult which allows you to throw rocks followed by disgruntled noises and the ever favourite Pandaren vegetable patch, complete with satisfyingly squishy veggies. The simplistic relief from the tedium of turn taking is just astounding - *SQUISH SQUISH SQUISH SQUISH*
Hearthstone matches can escalate quickly, with more powerful cards being able to be played as the turns go on
Each card in Hearthstone requires mana to be put into play, the higher the amount of mana required, the more destructive the card. Players begin with 1 mana crystal and gain another each turn, up to a maximum of 10. While you will be summoning leper gnomes in the beginning, by the end you will be throwing in giants, dragons and a wide variety of magic and monsters at your opponent.
While the resource system may seem simple, it is tricky to perfect. While there are strong elements of chance involved in the game, mana efficiency is a game decider and requires careful deck planning and card usage. Nothing feels better than when your carefully laid plan comes together and you mop the board the with the opponent.
#6 Choice of Chat
Flamers gonna flame, haters gonna hate and ragers gonna rage-quit.
Thankfully however, in tandem with their “fast friendly fun” aim for Heartstone, Blizzard decided to limit communication in matches to 6 voice emotes that change depending on the hero you choose. These include “Hello”, “Well Played” “oops” and “Threaten”, for when your carefully laid plan isn't so lucky.
This simple feature has a profound effect on the mood of the game. What would otherwise be a stream of abuse and "u mad bro?"'s is transformed into how you would interact with that neighbor you don't know the name of; with friendly hello's and respectful "well played"'s. You can't help but congratulate an opponent who pops a brilliant move on you and even if you do get pissed off, the worst you can do is threaten them with something along the lines of “NATURE WILL RISE AGAINST YOU”, which proves to be more awkward than hostile.
With 9 different heroes, each with their own unique cards and class ability, there's always room to improve your tactics.
Representing each class is a well known character from the Warcraft universe, from Garrosh as the Warrior to Jaina as the Mage. Each has their own appropriate class ability and cards which create the different styles of gameplay for each hero. For instance, the Priests (Anduin) power is Heal and his class cards are mainly of a defensive nature, whereas the Hunter’s (Rexxar) is a direct damage Aimed Shot and has cards that focus on ripping your opponents face off.
The best thing about this is that even after you have mastered and formed the perfect deck for one hero, you still have eight left to learn and collect cards for. I myself prefer the fast paced, brutal, tactics of the hunter, however, I have eight other decks with their own unique tactics that I am developing, without which I would find myself bored repeating the same tactic.
The best thing about all these spells and abilities is the awesome visual effects when you use them. When you play Blizzard, a storm of ice will carpet bomb your opponents minions. Hellfire will decimate the entire board with fire, and so on. These wonderful animations liven up what would otherwise be players chucking cards at each other. For instance, it is incredibly satisfying to have Jaina send a giant ball of fire hurtling towards your opponent and exploding on impact when you play Pyroblast.
With spells and abilities being unique to the class you are playing, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, you will have a different fight on your hands every match. The tactics that come from these mimic the play styles of the classes in Warcraft, such as the glasscannon Mage with little defense but the capacity to destroy the opponents face with one hp left, or the Paladin doing what they do best and irritating everyone with buffs and bubbles.
#3 Making Money
I have bought a grand total of 3 packs of Hearthstone cards during my time playing, all of them being impulse buys, drunk on the desire to get a legendary. While this is obviously the fastest way of getting new cards, you don't feel handicapped if you choose not to buy them. Indeed, while opening the packs I had bought was still satisfying, I didn’t get the same level of joy as when I bought them with my saved up gold.
There are four ways of earning gold; Completing achievements, winning 3 ranked matches in a row, winning in arena and completing daily quests. These quests vary, examples being “Cast 40 spells”, “Win 5 matches as a Hunter” and so on. This is basically what gets me on it every day for at least a couple of matches, and thanks to there being room for three quests, if I miss a day or two of quests it doesn't feel like the end of the world. This is a nice touch that forgives you for not going on every day and allows you to keep the game as casual as you want
For the first 20 or so levels, you will receive basic class cards that help establish the uniqueness of the hero. This works in tandem with the tutorial missions and allows the player to learn the play styles of each class step by step, much in the same way you gradually learn spells and abilities as you level up in Warcraft.
After this, leveling will become much slower and will only offer “golden” vanity versions on these basic cards. While you usually won't find yourself playing purely to win these cards, it's a nice added incentive to make you feel rewarded for playing a class, without giving veterans an unfair card advantage. Leveling is visually wonderful, with what can only be described as an explosion of "OMG GZ!1" in your face, showing you your new shinies and leaving you feeling warm and fuzzy inside.
At the heart of every card game is the urge to collect and perfect
With around 382 unique cards and counting, as well as two of each card being allowed in a deck and rare golden cards, perfectionists have a hell of a task on their hands. These golden cards are hugely satisfying to find, with golden borders and animated graphics, they are beautiful to look at. All these are stored in a book which tracks your cards, showing you the ones you have and the ones that create a hole in both your collection and soul.
Following the idea of different qualities of loot in Warcraft, each card has a rarity, spanning from Common to Legendary. The elation of finding a Legendary card is identical to that of getting a Legendary weapon on Warcraft, or rolling around in an inflatable pool full of puppies, and is what keeps you eagerly waiting to save up for your next fix.
An important note is that you CANNOT trade cards between players. I was initially pissed off at this, thinking it was done out of greed to make people buy more packs (which may partially be the case). However, if trading cards where possible, people would inevitably begin selling cards and creating the perfect deck would revolve around finding people with the cards you need and buying them.
Instead, Hearthstone features a clever disenchanting system, whereby you can destroy cards you don't need/have more than two of for “dust”, a material used to create new cards of your own choice.
Hearthstone is free, fast paced, friendly, fun and many other adjectives beginning with F that do not come to mind just now. You have nothing to lose by downloading it and hours and hours of enjoyment to gain, whether that be in the downtime between games, while slacking off at work or overdosing on a day off.
Like the idea, but put off by the fact you played WoW for a week back when it first came out and didn't like it? I have a few friends like that - The "better than WoW" lot who actively undermine the game at every turn - despite this, even they were able to comment on the impressive game design and get hooked. So how about you take your hatred for WoW, put it gently to the side for an hour or so, and give Hearthstone a go. Worst comes to worst, you have another weapon in your arsenal of hate against the franchise