Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft mixes Magic with Peggle to take you home again
In World of Warcraft, a Hearthstone is an object that instantly transports you back home. No matter how far away you've strayed, the Hearthstone can teleport you back in an instant.
It's hard to think of a more appropriate name for Blizzard's new free-to-play collectible card video game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. After I played this game a single time, I was lost to its grasp as it brought me home to two of my favorite games of all-time that I strayed from long ago: World of Warcraft and Magic: The Gathering.
I don't think I was alone in this, either. Mere minutes after Blizzard sent out a batch of closed-beta invites to press and well-known Blizzard community members, Twitter was alight with comments about how great Hearthstone is. Suddenly, Hearthstone was the toast of the town, and Blizzard fans were desperate to get their hands on a beta key of their own.
It only took minutes for this game to win over the community, but the spell it casts is going to last quite a bit longer.
Heroes of Warcraft
If you've ever played Magic: The Gathering then you'll have a pretty good idea of what Hearthstone is all about: two dueling heroes try to reduce each others' life to zero by unleashing creatures and casting spells.
Hearthstone consists of two main sections: deck-building and dueling. In the deck-building phase, the player chooses a hero to base their deck around. Heroes are based on the nine main classes of World of Warcraft (Warrior, Paladin, Shaman etc,) and each has their own unique ability.
The Hunter, for instance, can strike the opponent for two damage. The Warrior can give itself two hitpoints of armor. Once you have a hero, you try to select thirty additional cards that will synergize well with your hero. As with Magic, this is where the bulk of the game's strategy comes into play as you need to strive to build a deck that is effective in both the early and late game, and that is viable against all 9 different hero classes. It's no small challenge.
My first custom deck was based around the Paladin, Uther Lightbringer, casting lots of small, cheap, weak creatures and then buffing them all to become a much stronger force. This deck was unstoppable against most heroes, but when I faced players playing Jaina Proudmoore (Mage) I rarely got even a single hit off because her playstyle focuses so much on the ability to kill many creatures at once.
No hero or deck is necessarily a hard counter to any other though. Good players will always have the ability to deceive their opponents into using their best abilities before the optimal time. Eventually I was able to defeat a couple of Jaina Proudmoore players by learning how to bait her best abilities.
The deck-building portion of the game gets even deeper with the game's crafting system. You can buy new cards with real money, but you can't trade with other players if you don't like the cards you find in the packs. You can disenchant many of the cards, however, and use the Arcane Dust gained in that process to craft new cards. It will take more Dust than you'll get from one card to craft a card, but Blizzard has to make their money somewhere.
A touch of Peggle
Out of all of the games I thought might inspire Hearthstone...Peggle was never on that list. Regardless, Peggle comes to mind as a possible major inspiration for Hearthstone's presentation.
Peggle managed to make the relatively obscure game of pachinko into a global hit by mastering the art of audio visual feedback. Peggle is great because every single thing you do sets off a barrage of rainbows and fireworks. It just feels good. Hearthstone does something similar for the collectible card game.
Blizzard could have released a spartan CCG along the lines of Magic Online and it still would have been popular, but instead they opted for a game that lavishes praise upon the player's every action.
If your creature attacks, its card jumps up off the board and smacks its enemy. The bigger your attack is, the bigger the crunch when it hits. If you cast a fireball card, an actual ball of fire shoots across the screen. And yes, if you win, fireworks light up the stage while horns and banners surround your character's portrait as you're congratulated for being such a magnificent you.
Hearthstone makes you feel good for playing it. Part of the way it accomplishes that is through the audio visual feedback described above, but it also does it through simplifying the mechanics of a Magic-style card game. There's considerable depth here, but it's not as deep as other similar games. That's actually a good thing for most players, though.
Some layers of strategy, such as Magic's creature blocking/attacking mechanic, have been removed from Hearthstone. Which makes decision-making much simpler. All of the most important strategic elements are there, but some complexity is lost.
You'll still ponder over the best time to play certain cards, how to distribute your damage output, and how to properly construct your deck, but Hearthstone isn't so deep that you drown under the waves. Magic is a phenomenal game for those who take the time to understand its intricacies, but it can be too deep for some players.
Hearthstone is considerably more simple, and as a result it's a far more relaxing experience. Hearthstone is a fun card-battling game, not an anxiety-inducing clash of mega-minds like Magic or Mage Wars.
The name, Hearthstone, is rich with meaning. It teleported me back to two of my greatest obsessions in gaming, sure, but in a sense it's also about bringing World of Warcraft back home again too.
Hearthstone is filled with all of the humor and light-heartedness that filled World of Warcraft in its early days. The game had a bit of a tonal shift in the Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, and Cataclysm expansions. Mists of Pandaria was…different. Hearthstone brings Warcraft back to the mixture of epic heroes and goofy humor that gaming fell in love with back in 2004.
Hearthstone isn't the style of game that most players will play exclusively like WoW, StarCraft or Diablo, but it will be there for a long time. Ready to teleport you back home at a moment's notice.