A digital card game for the masses!
Of all the Blizzard games to get hooked on this year, Hearthstone was probably our least likely. Collectible card games have never really been our thing, and our knowledge of the Warcraft universe is only passable at best, aside from the occasional WoW expansion commentary. So when we sat down to play the game’s Beta, we weren’t expecting much aside from Blizzard’s usual standard of polished gameplay, yet Hearthstone hooked us in a way we haven’t felt since another equally multi-format turn-based strategy game, Hero Academy, landed in our laps.
At first Hearthstone’s gameplay formula comes across as rather simple. Players take part in one versus one matches, starting with a random assortment of thirty cards. From there they can deploy said cards as long as they have enough mana. At the start of every turn the mana count is refilled and raised by one, with one card chosen at random from the player’s deck also appearing in their hand. Only having one resource to think about means that turns are taken fast, with players commonly having the choice of deploying several minor cards or one powerful card – with different mana cost reflected appropriately.
The aim is to take out the other player’s hero character before he or she takes out yours, with deployable minions providing the primary method of attack in addition to mana costing spells like fireballs. There are a few mitigating factors to consider though, like taunt minions eliminating the ability for the opposition to attack a hero directly and other special minions whose attack power actually increases as they take damage.
This gameplay formula sounds complicated on paper, but six introductory matches against A.I explain these concepts brilliantly, before the world of competitive play, different playable classes and literally hundreds of different fancy card variants are introduced to the player. All this is achieved while maintaining Warcraft’s cheeky and breezy appeal.
Every day there are new quests to complete, such as taking part in a certain number of matches or leveling a character up to ten, with players earning XP for their chosen hero while they play and unlock new cards and gold which can eventually be spent on getting a pack of premium cards, which can also be purchased with real cash. There’s also the ability for players to create their own thirty-card decks, tailoring their character to be more minion or spell-orientated depending on their preference.
The board playing area is also brilliantly designed, offering various interactive elements to tinker with in addition to a live round-by-round turn report, allowing players to see exactly what points of damage or attack have been dealt during a previous turn. This is a great tool for learning from your mistakes, but it also functions as something to look at while the other player is considering their actions after you’ve made your turn.
The care and attention paid to Hearthstone’s sound design and soundtrack is also clear from even a brief listen. Even in Beta, Hearthstone comes across as exceptionally polished, even the animation for when players reveal the contents of a deck for the first time are particularly noteworthy, as it makes the moment of that big reveal just that little big magical.
Hearthstone overcomes any card-related prejudices you may or may not have to offer a strategy experience which is pretty, engaging, addictive and nuanced. No doubt it’ll be a big hit once the Beta opens up to everyone before the end of 2013.
This preview can be read in the latest issue of the free digital magazine, FirstLook, which is embedded below:
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