Overall - 80%
Overall, Hearthstone is another fantastic game from Blizzard. If you're even remotely interested in trading card games, you'd be crazy not to give it a go, especially as it's free. But beware, as always, the micro-transactions.
Hearthstone is blissfully simple. Learning how to play a new trading card game can be a daunting, and sometimes nigh impossible, endeavor. I still don’t know how to play The Lord of the Rings card game, despite owning multiple decks for over a decade, and there are nuances of Magic: The Gathering that are beyond me. Within minutes of firing up Hearthstone, I knew how to play.
As you might expect from a Blizzard title, Hearthstone is masterful at drawing you in. The game puts you through a five battle tutorial before releasing you into the wild, teaching you the few, but well executed, mechanics of the game. Playing cards requires mana, of which your maximum rises by one each turn. It caps out at ten, so you can’t devastate your opponent by playing two seven-mana cards in one go. I was impressed the game had a feature to compensate the player starting second, allowing them to not only draw an extra card, but also giving a one-time free point of mana to use at their leisure. Gameplay wise, effort has clearly gone into Hearthstone’s balance.
Before hopping into online games, you have to build a deck to play with. Each class (the same from World of Warcraft) boasts a different ability, but also access to different cards. For example, a Priest can heal two points of damage via his ability and has exclusive access to cards such as Mind Control, which essentially steals an enemy minion. There isn’t as huge a variety of cards as Magic: The Gathering (obviously), but it’s still possible to build themed decks, in case you have a particular love for Murlocs or ice spells. As with any card game, carefully crafting your deck, picking minions, spells, or having the game recommend you one, is almost as fun as playing.
At the time of writing, there are four modes to choose from: Play, Practice, Arena, and Duel, with a planned adventure mode being added later. Practice has a limited number of options for playing against the computer, while Duel lets you play against friends. Play is where you’ll spend most of your time – you’ll match up with someone of similar skill to test your custom-made decks against. It sounds great in theory, but there is a slight element of pay-to-win. Each booster pack of cards costs 100 gold, and the primary way to earn gold is completing challenges, such as winning three games to get 40 gold. If, like me, winning occurs once in a blue moon, scraping together enough gold to buy cards or play in the Arena takes ages. However, put down some real cash and you can skip over the grinding and buy a whole load of cards without doing any work. On the upside, there is a crafting mechanic. If there’s a card you really want, instead of buying booster packs and crossing your fingers, you can disenchant (i.e. destroy) the cards you own to gain Arcane Dust. This can then be used to craft a card of your choice. The rarity of the card affects prices though, so patience is key if you’re dying to have a legendary card.
The Arena eliminates the pay-to-win element of Hearthstone, but you have to pay gold – or real cash – to get there. That aside, Arena is my favorite mode to play. Instead of using carefully crafted decks, you’ll choose one of three randomly selected cards thirty times. You’re then thrown against other players who have gone through the same process, meaning everyone is on a similar level. You’ll have to rely on skill, not cards. For me, this is the best way to play, which makes it such a shame that I rarely get to do so.
Hearthstone scores top marks in presentation. The minions and spells will be instantly recognizable to anyone who’s spent any time in Azeroth, as will the classes, each of which is wonderfully voiced. And there’s no shortage of nice touches: when you exhaust all your options in a turn, the Peasant from Warcraft 3 says ‘Job’s done’ in that dopey voice of his.
Overall, Hearthstone is another fantastic game from Blizzard. If you’re even remotely interested in trading card games, you’d be crazy not to give it a go, especially as it’s free. But beware, as always, the micro-transactions.