Monday, September 30, 2013

Play Hearthstone Overview & First Thoughts - A Guest Post

Today I present to you an excellent guest post submitted by TheRuling from  He has been in the Hearthstone Beta now for about a month and he shares his first impressions on Blizzard's new Collectible Card Game.

Play Hearthstone Overview & Thoughts

Hearthstone Impressions & Thoughts

If I had one statement to describe Hearthstone I would say that it was made to be played on a tablet. Everything from the design choices with the size of elements on the screen to the cost structure is perfectly suited for a mobile game. If they don’t launch with an iPad version I think they are sorely mistaken in their strategy.

Now that is out of the way I will take the liberty of being long winded. Before I get into my various thoughts I’ll preface with some information. I have had Hearthstone beta for almost a month. I spent time in ‘Play’ mode without having bought packs; I have completed around 7 Arenas, and then did buy ~$16 in packs. I haven’t played enough to get a single character into level 30+ but do think I have a solid basis for opinion without having drained myself of the gameplay before it even comes out. I will try to limit comparisons with tabletop card games to the areas of game flow and design while areas relevant to the format will mostly be compared to MTG: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 which I believe is the closest ‘competitive match’ to Hearthstone.

First Experience:

Immediately upon entering the game you are forced into the tutorial which uses the Mage class hero. I would have liked to be able to pick which class you start with as some people are very attached to their ‘favorite’ class. Tweaking the tutorial slightly to integrate different class cards would not have been difficult, but since the head start you get is small anyway this isn’t a big issue. The tutorial itself is adequate for teaching the basis of how the game progresses. After the initial matches further instruction takes the form of various voiced pop ups explaining game elements and directing you to what the game wants you to try next. Here I do wish that they did a better job at directing people through the ‘My Collection’ area where you build decks and create or disenchant cards (which is a system in which you destroy unwanted cards to get ‘dust’ used to create new ones).


You get three modes of play; Play, Practice, Arena. I suggest anyone start by reading something like Cold’s Hearthstone Gold Grinding post or you are going to start at a major disadvantage in certain modes. Practice will unlock all your heroes while introducing you to their powers and basic cards. My one wish here is that there was a ‘Master’ difficulty where the AI had great decks and made better decisions so you could use Practice mode to actually practice new deck ideas. Currently even on ‘Expert’ the AI is some of the worst I’ve seen. MTG:2014 I think gets the right balance here where some of their AI scenarios really keep you on your toes so moving between the games I can see the difference.

Play is your basic player vs. player (PvP) mode where you take either the base decks or custom ones you’ve created from a selection of basic cards and ones you’ve unlocked and it randomly matches you against an opponent. You can play unranked or ranked but at the moment in beta there is really no reason at all to play ranked matches. All ‘rank’ does is count your wins (not losses) and give you a medal at a certain number of wins that doesn’t influence the game beyond matching. There are daily ‘quests’ which are little challenges to for example win 2 games as a certain class and these do not even require playing in ranked mode.

Arena is a ‘draft’ style mode where you are given specific heroes to choose from and must construct a deck only out of randomly generated card choices that it provides you. Your first Arena entry is free and
beyond that will cost you a little more than the price of a booster pack to join in either gold or cash. You play matches until you either win 9 times or lose 3 times and are given a reward based on how many wins you had including packs, gold, dust, and special ‘golden’ cards. This mode is a real treat as it best tests your ability to construct decks effectively and respond to uncommon card choices and combos. While not on par with real draft style formats in tabletop card games I will go out on a limb and say I enjoy it better than the sealed format of MTG:2014, mainly due to the range of available cards where you do not see the same things every match.


So is the card game actually fun to play? Let me explain how it is different from other games in good and bad ways. Your resource for casting cards is fixed. You do not waste room in your deck on resource cards eliminating the struggle MTG has of getting potentially too many or too little resources. In probably the largest move it has eliminated interaction totally. What I mean is there are no responses or playing of cards during your opponent’s turn. You do have ‘Secrets’ which play like Trap cards in Yi-Gi-Oh but you don’t choose the trigger it just triggers off the next action described on the card (such as when the opponent attacks). You basically just set back and watch what they do and try to think of how you’ll respond on your turn. As a plus you do not have structured ‘phases’ to your turn so you can attack or play cards in any order you like which is nice. It does take a strategic layer out of the gameplay I think though.

All of the next paragraph is subject to change especially with the first balancing patch coming soon, but right now whichever player sets the tempo in I’d say the first 3 turns is usually going to win which has left a couple of classes that excel in board control, lead mainly by the Rogue, as the top dogs. Two drop minions define the game with powerhouses like Knife Juggler, Pint-Sized Summoner, and Defias Ringleader. There is also so much drawing power for some classes (example: Starving Buzzard) compared to other card games that classes that lack it like the Warrior are often left at a card disadvantage. There are many cards that are under cost for what they do as well. This isn’t simply due to rarity either as many of the legendary cards (the top rarity) are fairly useless flavor cards.

The elephant in the room is obviously whether the game is ‘play to win’ or not. They have given you a method of obtaining any card you want through the disenchant system but do not be fooled as it will take forever to assemble a range of fun decks to try like this. If you pour all of your resources into one class you can get a wide array to choose from fairly quickly but at the cost of gimping every other class for a very long time which not only isn’t very fun but will bite you with the hero class specific daily quests. I would not however call it completely pay to win as some classes perform nicely with few rare cards and there is Arena mode which if you are good enough can be completed on end with little to no cash investment. Paying the money out buys you mostly time and variety of play. This can be a problem itself though…

Final Thoughts:

The problem I am experiencing with Hearthstone and from listening many seem to be is that there isn’t enough to keep the average person signed into the game. Blizzard needs that casual person as they will be the ones periodically paying little micro transactions and if they aren’t logging in to the game they aren’t being tempted into paying. My first suggestion was achievements. I was very surprised that they did not have a loaded and fully functioning achievement system yet. They are easy to implement and they know
from WoW and other games that people go crazy for completing as many achievements as possible. This is a perfect way to tease someone into the transactions. Example, you need to play in say 5 Arenas and just need one more and have no gold you are very likely to just pay $2 to get in instant gratification style. As I mentioned at the top getting this game onto tablets ASAP must be a priority as the stop and go simplicity and shorter matches are perfectly niche for that market.

To keep someone that is into card games and to provide that extra something for others I hope that expansion sets bring varied gameplay mechanics and new modes would set it above the competition. People have mentioned easy tournament interfaces as a possibility for a new mode and I like this idea.
If you are interested in anything else I have to say about Hearthstone, MTG: 2014, or anything in general follow me on Twitter @Formerruling


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1 comment:

  1. Hearthstone Beta Key Scavenger hunt starting soon!

    Here's a Hint: 84

    Good luck!


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