In a hidden corner of a tavern somewhere in Azeroth, Jaina proudmoor’s face lights up, she just drew her signature game ending spell, if she survives this turn, Rexxar will be nothing more than a flaming ball of defeat. Meanwhile in Goldshire, Uther carefully watches his back and prepares his men for the encroaching defias mob, just across the river from him, in another tavern in Elwynn Forest new players encounter yet another of Guuldan’s Warlock aggro decks, their screams of frustration drowned out by a timeless “Rawglrrrrggglll.”
This is the world of Hearthstone, Blizzards FTP latest release and easily their most inviting.
Well defined and fleshed out, Hearthstone draws from the popular MMO World of Warcraft (lovingly ‘WoW’) to provide endless resource and epic nostalgia. For WoW veterans the depth of detail will astound and amaze, expect to see popular faces such as Thrall as well as WoW culture such as LEEEROOOOY JEENKINS, expect the monsters to be representative of their power level in the MMO itself, for example, in the early turns of the game, you will relearn to fear murlocs as much as in your early levels…
However for all those new to the WoW universe, hearthstone is in no way diminished by lack of knowledge and the polish of the game is as such that it’s appeal reaches far far further than WoW subscribers. From now i’ll assume little to no prior knowledge of WoW. So without much further ado, let’s look at game play.
The game play itself is a simple if not deceptively simple affair, at first you choose a class consisting of the typical classes you find in WoW, these are rather typical fantasy archetypes ranging from the Mage (Jaina) a powerful spell caster, to the Paladin (Uther) a holy defender of the light. Each class conforms in very close relation to their MMO equivalent and are easy to figure out, each coming with a unique ability to play in game, from the examples above the mage can cast a fireball and the paladin can summon soldiers, however this is not the only way in which a class impacts game play, each class brings unique cards to the table, a rogue can assassinate and cause other cards to betray their allies, whilst a shaman brings unique elemental spells and totems to the table, these abilities help define the decks and tailor game play to the players preference, I feel blizzard did a great job keeping the abilities, spells and creatures unique despite limitations in effect types (removal, card draw ect.) With such a wide base to begin with,Hearthstone is warming up to be a game of surprising depth, already the game play is providing a varied playground for potential decks such as the aforementioned Warlock aggro deck or Druid control deck, creativity is key to the longevity of a card game like this and the “meta” is still in a state of flux despite some cards appearing straight up better than others. The matches come in three forms:Arena, Practice and finally Play (ranked or normal) the matches are rather fast paced, with units and abilities practically always capable of directly targeting the other player, knowing when to take a hit or not give a hit keeps players always on their toes, whilst a turn by turn mana resource increase stops a player from being completely helpless throughout the match .(hello MTG players…we’ve all been there.)
Game play aside, the actual game itself is a stunning piece of work, before a game begins you see a small magical chest open to the menu, from here you can browse cards, look at artwork, read brilliant flavour text, buy cards, craft cards from the destruction of other cards, create custom decks, and of course, play against the computer or another player. This is typical of blizzard to put so much polish into a game, jokes, warm colours and sounds invite the player into a world eager to entice, in such a way that I have yet to see many games do. The polish continues during the game too, where a player can turn gas lamps on and off, ring gongs, ‘hit’ the ground and many many other little interactions whilst waiting for a turn to play out, these neat little additions give life to the pauses during your opponents deciding.
Hearthstone hits a delicate balance with a free-to-play model, blizzard recently stated that 44% of the top players haven’t spent a penny on the game itself, with this in mind, it’s entirely possible to play hearthstone for free, forever! however this comes at a price of time, whilst quests give a certain amount of coin to buy card packs with, inevitably you will find a few frustrating matches where ‘expensive’ (read: incredibly time consuming to obtain without money) cards will swing the game heavily, in most cases however, these cards are dealt with like any other heavy hitter…removal spells. Another issue with the free-to-play aspect of the game is that it does include micro-transactions, personally I don’t have anything against the ability to purchase decks in Hearthstone, but it becomes a problem much like League of Legends…you don’t have to pay per se. but at some point you might just anyway, thankfully the card-base isn’t huge right now but who knows, one day it might be, and on that day I can imagine a lot more money pouring through to Blizzard.
Overall Hearthstone is a game that will draw you in like no other card game, it’s not the deepest, nor is it the largest, but it’s a beautiful and an attractive option to literally anybody, rumours that it will be available on android devices eventually will likely push this game further into popularity, expanding on a developing competitive scene making it the new poster boy of Blizzard. You’d be doing yourself a disservice to not have this game at release especially as a free game.