As I write this, I’m thinking about how I’d rather be playing Hearthstone. That basically sums up the feeling you get from this game. People will be late for meetings, pizzas will be burnt, loved ones will worry as toilet breaks take hours, all because when you play Hearthstone it’s very difficult not to say ‘just one more game…’
Based on Blizzard Entertainment’s rather popular World of Warcraft video game franchise, Hearthstone is best described as a digital collectable card game. Played in one-on-one matches (at least for now), you pick a class and then use your deck to whittle down your opponent’s hero before they shatter yours.
During matches you’re given a growing pool of mana that’s then spent to summon cards, it ensures you can’t smack down your best minion right away. The first few turns you only have a tiny handful of mana to play with, which increases by one each turn. Mana is one of the many reasons this game feels so polished. Each turn becomes a game of micromanagement and risk. Do you spend everything to put down one critical card? Or hold it for now and put down three weaker cards, saving the important one for later? It’s all up to you to size up the situation.
Every class comes with a special ability, from the Warlock’s dark magical power that allows them to sacrifice some health to draw an extra card, to the Paladin who can summon a weak minion from nothingness. The classes are all very different but feel perfectly balanced. Class doesn’t just inform your special move, it indicates what type of cards you can place in your deck too. There are neutral cards that anyone can use as well as class specific cards. Customisation is where the game starts to get really interesting, Every class has a default base deck, which slowly bulks out as you claw your way up to level 10 for that hero, then you can also build a custom deck from whatever cards you own. The primary method of earning new cards is to purchase a card pack.
Card packs are where the monetisation of the game creeps in. I hear some groans out there from those who worry that it’s necessary to pay your way to victory. Fear not, so far I’ve never felt the need to purchase a card pack, but it’s nice to know the option is there should I want to. Instead I’ve been happily playing along with cards from packs bought with the in-game currency: gold. Gold is earned from fulfilling quests, such as dealing a particular amount of damage overall or winning three matches with a certain hero. You can have a maximum of three quests at a time with a single new quest generating at the start of every day. Although ‘start of every day’ generally means ‘dead of night in the AM’ if you play at the sort of hours I do.
In terms of how you go about getting into a match there are a few straightforward ways. Firstly you can simply fight someone from your friend list, which is linked to your Battle.net account. Meaning if you’ve not played World Of Warcraft for 2+ years, like me, all your old Battle.net friends you’d forgotten about will be right there in your list. You can also play a quick single match in the game’s ranked matchmaking, where you climb your way up starting at rank 25, or you can just play for fun where there’s no rank to speak of. Finally there’s the arena, where you have to build your own deck on the fly from random cards. Then you have to win as many matches as you can before you lose three. If you do lose then I’m afraid that’s you booted out of the arena and you’ll have to pay in gold or real cash to get back in.
All those modes wouldn’t amount to much if the core gameplay sucked, thankfully it’s actually fantastic. I could blissfully sit and play my friends all day and not care. Since there are nine classes to choose from and custom decks to build it’s incredibly hard to be bored even when just playing against the same few people. Getting out there and playing some strangers is where the game gets really exciting though as people of all skill levels, with all kinds of exotic cards, are waiting for you.
I have to take a moment before we close this out to simply praise the music. The game’s soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal. World of Warcraft has always had great music but Hearthstone is just brimming with catchy tracks. You’ll hear some subtle remixes of older music but otherwise all of Hearthstone’s soothing songs are brand new. It helps to show how every single element of this game has been meticulously built.
Unless you absolutely despise card games in every conceivable form, then there’s no reason not to try out Hearthstone. It’s completely free and you never have to spend any money! Just be warned, you will probably lose days to this thing. Enjoy!