Have you ever wanted to get into Magic the Gathering but it just seemed way too complicated? Fear not, Blizzard is here to show you the way with an easy to get into but hard to master card based strategy game based around the World of Warcraft universe. The best news is that it’s free….ish. Let’s take a look at what you are in for and if this is worth the new level of addiction and potential new money sink.
The first thing you’ll notice popping the game up on the new Battle.net application is that it’s pretty. The game is actually in 3D, despite not needing to be, but runs on pretty low in hardware without any issues. Graphically the game mirrors World of Warcraft esthetically, and the cards themselves can have beautiful animations provided you have unlocked or acquired the golden versions said cards. You’ll be thrown into a brief but voiced tutorial running you through the basic game mechanics and then let loose on your own for the most part.
It’s here where you can go into practice to try out what you’ve learned and unlock all of the classes, which is what you’ll want to do right away to see what works best for you. Fitting in with the World of Warcraft theme the game is class based; cleverly taking the place of the kinds of lands you’d build a deck from in Magic the Gathering. You see in Magic the Gathering, and to a lesser extent the Pokemon card game, playing cards requires resource cards of a specific type which are broken up into several elements, which greatly complicates how you build your deck. The different resource types typically are attached to kinds of cards that fulfill a theme or specific role in a game in Magic or Pokemon. Hearthstone dispenses with this by having a steadily increasing mana counter go up one tick at a time per turn that is a universal resource pool all cards use. The different classes determine the kind of role your deck will be molded to as they each have unique cards specific to each class and a hero power they can play once per turn for two mana.
Furthermore each class works kind of like the related class in World of Warcraft, so it’s pretty easy to figure out how to play each kind of role. The Ranger works best by using beast type cards, the Mage cast devastating area of effect attacks and direct attack spells, and the Priest has a lot of passive healing abilities. This makes it easy to figure out what’s going on from the onset and not have to parse out what someone is doing with a “white plains and green forest” deck which could mean any number of things to players of Magic and exactly nothing to someone outside of the game’s community. What’s amazing is that for the first time in a long time Blizzard seems to have managed to make these different classes rather balanced with each other, but that may be because the bulk of the cards that can make up your deck usually come from a community pool of cards anyone can use.
But is the game pay to win? You can buy packs of cards just like any other card game, but a key difference between Hearthstone and other cards games, digital or no, is that you can’t trade them. Instead you can turn excess cards you don’t want into Arcane Dust and use that dust to create any card in the catalog, provided you have enough. You can also earn this dust in the Arena, of which you have to pay to enter where you earn better rewards for winning with a deck chosen from random sets of cards. But is it necessary to plunk down real money to get cards to make a viable deck? At this point the answer is no, but that doesn’t mean it will stay that way. In its current state you can earn enough gold fast enough through daily quests and bonuses for winning enough games that you can easily buy a new pack every so often or save up to get into the arena where you could potentially win a ton of prizes on relative equal footing with other players. It’s also quite possible to build great decks with just the standard cards earned through leveling up a class to level ten, and some of the decks considered to be at the “top tier” include very few rare or hard to get cards and are comprised mostly of these standard starting cards.
This is something that always changes as trading card games evolve over time, as the developer’s goal is to earn more money and the best way to do that is to create new kinds of cards you can get when you buy packs. They get you to chase after ultra-rare and powerful cards that you have as much luck as winning the lottery to get in a pack of five cards, and those that do happen to have them usually have a considerable advantage at the end of the day. I will reiterate that at this juncture Hearthstone doesn’t have this problem, but how long it will stay that way is anyone’s guess.
The one flaw that easy to see at this point is that the game has some serious bugs in it. During the game’s lengthy open beta the game had virtually nothing but superficial graphically issues that would occasionally mess with card placement, but ever since the launch patch people have been playing games against players who are actually playing games with other players causing considerable confusion when the cards on the virtual table don’t seem to match up at all with the action going on. Hopefully these bugs will be squashed soon, as Hearthstone has already begun to grow a massive professional gaming community and this has put a huge hamper on tournaments being put into motion very soon.
When all is said and done Hearthstone looks like a solid game to play a few rounds and can be quite addicting. It defiantly favors a touchscreen based mobile environment, which Blizzard plans to move into in the near future with a completely free iOS and Android version coming out sometime in the near future. Until then it’s still a great time killer, and maybe with a little luck they won’t ruin the balance the game currently has and turn the game pay to win as they add on to the game’s card library.