Blizzard’s New Free-To-Play Card Game Coming Up Trumps.
Ten years ago, and I couldn’t believe it was that long until I checked, Blizzard released their new MMO, World of Warcraft (WoW). WoW borrowed many aspects from contemporary MMO’s, streamlined them, polished them, made the genre more accessible and slapped their Warcraft IP across it. Needless to say, it worked. In 2014 Blizzard is attempting the same thing, this time diving into the Trading Card Game (TCG) genre, with Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.
This title marks two new milestones for Blizzard. Firstly they’re building a game which is quite clearly designed for mobile gaming. Secondly they’re trying their hand at the Free to Play structure. Over the last week I’ve played many, many hours of this deceptively simple title and I can assure you that once again, Blizzard have absolutely nailed it.
Hearthstone Open Beta
The Blizzard focus on streamlining, polish and accessibility make Heartstone an absolute pleasure to play. Whilst not trying to re-invent the wheel from other successful TCG’s, Hearthstone leeches off the extremely well known Warcraft IP and executes the title perfectly. The game itself is divided into three main types of game play: Practice, Play and Arena.
Learning To Play
Practice is where a new player to Hearthstone will start off, firstly through a tutorial system that unlocks the nine available classes. Levelling up a class to level 10 will unlock all class specific cards, with subsequent levels providing “gold cards” which essentially are more of the same but look pretty and can be “disenchanted” for a whole lot of “arcane dust” in the crafting system.
That may sound like a whole lot of nonsense but the crafting system is easy to use and allows access to specific expert cards without having to trawl through Expert Packs (more on these later). Practice allows Hearthstone players to play against the computer, either on Normal or Expert, and hone their skills away from the judgement of live opponents.
Play allows the player to participate in either casual or ranked games against live opponents, the latter utilising a ranking system from 25 to 1, and matching opponents appropriately. I never had to wait more than 20 seconds for a match up and over the week I’ve been playing have had a pretty equal ratio of wins and losses.
There was no sign of griefing, largely due to the way Blizzard has set up Hearthstone, with timed player turns and communication only available through six preselected Character voiced emotes.
Arena is where the big boys play and after your first free attempt, requires gold/money to be spent to be involved. An Arena round starts with the player choosing one of three available classes, and then selecting cards (slightly at random) to make up their one time deck. Arena is where players can get quick access to some of the rarer more powerful cards, and also have a chance to win big prizes, or come away with nothing.
Each win in the Arena grants you a level, maxing out at 12 and providing greater rewards the higher the level you obtain. The catch is that you only get three losses in the round before you lose it all, so you have to gamble when to retire, take your winnings and run.
Being a TCG, Hearthstone allows players to customise decks, working out their own synergies and playing preferences. Though easy to pick up, the system has a lot of depth and I’m still getting my head around the nuances of strategy for even a few of the classes.
Players will find themselves constantly altering their customised decks as their play style evolves and they get access to more powerful, rarer cards. Rarer cards are accessed through Expert Packs, which cost in game gold or real time money.
Where’s The Cost?
Gold can be gained either through winning battles (3 wins = 10 gold), Arena levels or Quests. If completing the quests a player can expect to unlock an Expert Pack about every two days, with a few decks thrown in to give you a taste when you first start playing. Each Pack contains five random Expert cards (which are either common, rare or epic) and there is always a palpable sense of excitement when opening one.
The temptation to spend some money and metaphorically roll around on a digital bed covered in Expert Hearthstone cards is very real. Free to Play the game may be, but I believe Blizzard is going to make a killing off this title, and so they should.
The game is filled with little gems, from interactive and artful gaming areas, to the entertaining voice acting, Hearthstone has that level of aforementioned polish that will set it apart from the competition. Importantly Hearthstone seems to have a good sense of balance (always tricky with this type of game) that makes most of the classes competitive, though I’ve never met anyone who played a druid.Can’t blame them. Damn sissy Druids. The best compliment I can give Hearthstone, and an aspect that I’m sure is not a coincidence, is that it makes me want to get back into WoW after I thought I’d never look back. Hearthstone acts as much as an advertisement for the aging MMO as it does a very accomplished game in its own regards.
Not Perfect Yet
Though the game is still in Beta I found very few bugs. Every now and again, effects that banish cards back to a players hand are a bit glitchy, and the game has a tendency to crash, stating that I’m apparently sending out match requests too quickly. These will no doubt be fixed come the final product and so far haven’t had a negative impact on my gaming, the crashing always happening at the end of matches and never during.
Having never been interested in a TCG before I can heartily recommend this game to anyone. It offers hours of fun for the perfect price and if you’re a WoW fan, you owe it to yourself to give the game a try. Once this title hits mobile gaming platforms I may never get any work done ever again.