Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Huge Hearthstone Preview

Hello again, internet!

You may recall, I joined the Hearthstone Beta Club way back on September 5th.

Now (months later), I have the privilege of providing you with my insights into Blizzard's upcoming game. Since Blizzard just announced the start of the Hearthstone open beta, I thought this was a perfect time to share my thoughts.

About The Game

For those of you who haven't heard about Hearthstone, the game is a free-to-play digital strategy card game. Players choose a Warcraft hero and then take turns using cards from a customizable deck, with the goal being to defeat the opposing hero using the spells and creatures at your disposal.

Initial Reaction

Blizzard touts the game as being "Deceptively simple" and "Insanely fun" and I can't disagree with them.

The first thing you'll notice about the game is how bright and vivid it is. The art, though very different stylistically than what most Warcraft fans may be used to, is gorgeous and vibrant.

Once you've had a chance to start the tutorial, you see just how simple the game actually is.

Fans of Magic the Gathering in particular will feel right at home with the game, as it is VERY similar in play-style to a simplified version of MtG.

The Gameplay

Set up as a 1v1 card game between Warcraft heroes, Hearthstone attempts to create a simple-yet-satisfying game… and it succeeds.

Players unlock cards and build customized decks with their selection of unlocked cards, using a Warcraft hero as the base of their deck.

Cards and heroes are unlocked by winning matches.

In addition, cards can be earned by completing daily and weekly quests.

Once you've customized a deck (or if you use one of the pre-crafted decks), you can challenge opponents.

When the match starts, each player is given a hand of cards and the option to swap cards in their hand for cards from their deck. The goal of the match is to reduce the opponent to 0 health.

Looking at the cards below, you can see on my initial draw, I received a Murloc creature, a Wolfrider, and a Fireball spell.
Cards are played using a mana resource that grows every turn. On turn 1, each player will have 1 mana - gaining an additional mana each turn. Additionally, your mana resets each turn, so if you used all of your mana last turn, you get it all back each subsequent turn.

Each turn, you'll also draw an additional card.

In the top-left corner of each card, you can see the mana cost. To cast a creature or a spell, you need enough available mana. In the case of the image below, you can see I have 2 available mana (indicated by the glowing blue mana crystals in the bottom right) and the "Arcane Explosion" spell costs 2 mana.

To cast the spell, I would click and drag it from my hand into the play-area.

In addition to the cards in your hand, each hero has a special ability. In the image below, Hemet Nesingwary has spent 2 mana to use his special ability "Shotgun Blast," which deals 1 damage.

Though the hero can use direct damage in this case, the primary way you'll attack your opponents is with creatures. When you cast a creature, you'll pay it's mana cost to summon it into battle. Creatures summoned into battle will be unable to attack on their first turn.

Creature cards have an attack power (indicated in the bottom left of the card) and a defense power (indicated in the bottom right). In addition, many creatures will have special abilities.  For example, the card below has 3 attack power (meaning it will deal 3 damage), 1 defense power (meaning 1 damage is enough to kill it), and it has charge as an ability (meaning it doesn't suffer from summoning sickness).

Once you have creatures in play, you can engage in glorious battle! One of the biggest differences between Hearthstone and MtG is that the attacking player can choose to attack a creature or the hero. In the image below you can see one creature attacking the hero (though astute observers will note an issue). The creatures that appear to be asleep have summoning sickness.

Another difference between this game and Magic, is that damage taken by a creature is static, and doesn't reset after each turn (think Infect).

In addition to spells and creatures, there are also equipment cards which can be attached to the hero.

The Humor

One of the absolute best things about the game, is the humor they developers have managed to squeeze into such a simple game. For example, in the PvP matches, rather than a typical loading screen, you see a spinning dial.

Take a look art some of the opponents you narrowly missed out on:

Losing is also fairly humorous:


Graphics - 8/10

Personally, I love the style of the game - but knowing Warcraft fans, there's the distinct possibility that the term "childish" may come to mind.

Playability - 9/10

The controls and gameplay are mostly intuitive.

Difficulty - 9/10

This game is easy to pick up, yet reasonably difficult to master. It offers a fun experience for beginners, and a challenge for pros. I'll say that there were matches where I got absolutely slaughtered by more experienced players with polished decks - but there were matches where I pulled off victory with clever tactics - the sign of a good, balanced PvP experience.

Replay Value - 8/10
I found myself getting VERY hooked on this game when I first started playing. Though, my interest has since waned - it's still a nice distraction.

This game is begging for a mobile version.

Overall - 9/10

I look forward to seeing the finished game.