After finally, finally finishing up Wildermore in LOTRO last night, I put out a plea on Twitter for a Hearthstone beta key. A friend quickly came to the rescue, and short story short, I enjoyed a couple of initial hours with the title.
I’ve always loved collectable card games since first picking up Magic in 1994 with my college buddies, but other than a serious stint with Magic Online in the early 2000s, I haven’t had a lot of time to devote to these games. I think Hearthstone scratches that itch perfectly by being far more accessible than Magic Online while presenting that Blizzard polish and presentation that we know so well.
Heathstone definitely delivers a more streamlined card battling system, starting with the absence of mana cards (which I really never liked and do not miss here). Instead, its system of automatically increasing your mana reservoir by one up to 10 each turn reminds me of Spectromancer. It leaves you to build a deck that doesn’t have to worry about how many mana cards you include, but you do have to keep in mind the gradual mana curve of the game.
The game initially puts you through a tutorial of five or six battles against the computer, each battle teaching you a little more about the game’s mechanics. You get a handful of cards that include minions to put on the board and other various spell effects. Minions can attack either other minions or the opponent, although in a switch from MTG, you can bypass the enemy minions entirely if you choose (unless there’s a taunt/tank minion on the field) to go for the enemy player. Another small change is that minions’ health will remain permanently depleted when attacked unless you heal them up, so over a couple of turns you can chip away at that big-health minion over there if you so desire. Also, each player controls a hero that has a specific power that can be used once per turn for a mana cost.
So far in my experiences (the tutorial, several sessions against the computer, and one vs. player that I lost), there’s a much more fluid progression of the game. Minions come and go rather quickly and I’m not so much setting up the board for a long-term strategy as I’m reacting to the immediate situation and trying to turn it to my advantage.
The look of the game is fantastic. The board is clean while being quite detailed, and I got a kick out of clicking on the various corner graphics to see what they’d do (like clicking on a campfire to light it or some vines to cut them). There’s a lot of animation and pizazz that comes with attacks and spell cards so that you get an almost visceral sense of what’s going on. That coupled with the sound — the beautiful music and the snappy sound effects — lends an energy to the game that Magic Online never had for me.
I barely scratched the surface of deck-building last night, but man I can see some potential for wasted hours there. Unless the game is just holding me back right now, you can only include two of any one type of card, which creates a more diverse deck but could be problematic if one is trying to make a specific build. There’s also an interesting crafting interface where old cards can be broken down and built into ones you want, which is definitely something I applaud.
Perhaps what’s gotten me most excited are the leveling and quests — yes, those MMO staples. Each hero you manage levels up and gets goodies along the way, and the game keeps throwing quests at you such as to play three live opponents. Through these and just normal play, you’ll get cards, packs of cards, and gold to spend on packs. Even so, man I can see this game making Blizzard rich as it would be totally easy to dump lots of cash into breaking open decks to see what rares awaited.
I appreciate that it’s got a generous free-to-play model, however, and I’m really looking forward to playing more (in short sessions, of course). Now that the game’s not going to be wiped, I don’t mind so much that it’s in beta. I just want to learn enough of the basics so I don’t get trounced every time I face off against a real player.
If you want to say hi and give me a challenge in the game, my Battletag is Sypster#1665.