Yesterday, we took a look at what Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is all about, and today I’m ready to deliver my initial impressions of Blizzard’s latest title. But before we get into that, I must admit that I was not one of those people to be overly excited when the game was first announced. Naturally, every game by Blizzard gets my attention, but I didn’t bother digging deep into what Hearthstone was all about, believing that it was essentially created for its TCG fans. You see, the last time I played any form of CCG was the Star Wars CCG, which was introduced in 1995. As much as I tried to get into Magic: The Gathering and even the World of Warcraft TCG, I felt customizable (or collectible) card games and their rules were too overwhelming to grasp. Does this sound like you? You should probably read on before you miss out on a great game.
This past Friday, the Internet and Twitterverse exploded when beta keys for Hearthstone were sent out. At that point in time, there were essentially two groups of gamers left on this planet: those that were begging for keys, and those that were expressing how great the title was. It didn’t seem like there was a group that just didn’t care, or even thought the game was bad. And maybe there were those other groups of gamers, but they’d eventually fall into the first group of wanting a key once their friends shared their experiences, or they caught a glimpse of the game in a livestream.
So truth be told, I fell into the former category. But the game piqued my interest, despite the fact that I was very much looking forward to the open beta of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. So much so in fact, that it covered up the wounds that I didn’t initially receive a beta key for Hearthstone. But throughout the day Friday, I watched more and more livestreams, read more and more about the game, and suddenly I thought, “I really need to get my hands on a beta key.” The great folks at Blizzard obliged and suddenly the MMORPG I had so anxiously been waiting to play for literally years, got shelved for a game I originally had no interest in.
Hearthstone‘s build-a-deck assistant is a great way to start learning how to build a deck
Would it be possible that Hearthstone would tug at my inner child? The one that grew up playing the original Warcraft: Orcs & Humans when 11-year-old me was supposed to be asleep? I mean, I hadn’t even been back to Azeroth since Cataclysm, no thanks to the release of Diablo III, which I ultimately sunk over 1,300 hours into.
Then Hearthstone loaded up and in true Blizzard cinematic form, I felt like a child again. Not because I loved CCGs, or Warcraft in general, but from the outset of the game, you know it’s going to be light hearted with one thing in mind: fun. Dare I say it, it felt like Blizzard of old. The game immediately tosses you into a series of tutorial matches that has you competing against some of Warcraft‘s most memorable characters. “Hah! It’s Hogger!” I thought to myself. And that’s when you notice it. Hearthstone has amazing production value for a game that’s goal is to be free-to-play. It simply pays homage to the Warcraft franchise in a classy fashion, from quotes like “Back to the Stockades with you, Hogger,” to battling Hemet Nesingwary, Hearthstone blasted me in the face with all the fond memories I had playing World of Warcraft. From the gorgeous and colorful maps that take you back to some of Azeroth’s most memorable places such as Stormwind and Orgrimmar, to the fireworks display at the end of a victory, Hearthstone felt nothing like a beta should.
Now it’s no surprise that a Blizzard product is polished. But this polished in beta? As I stepped through each tutorial battle, learning more and more about the mechanics to the game, I thought to myself, “This might be too simple for hardcore CCG fans.” In fact, I shared that sentiment with a fellow staff member on Ventrilo, wholeheartedly believing that Hearthstone was that simple of a game. But therein lies the beauty to every Blizzard product. Some way, somehow, Blizzard always finds a way to balance simplicity with fun, and is truly one of the few developers that can embrace the cliché of “easy to learn, difficult to master.” Whether it’s World of Warcraft, or StarCraft II, you always feel as if you can learn how to be good at a Blizzard title right from the beginning
Hearthstone offers a great way to learn the game by battling against the UI with varying difficulties
After the quick tutorial battles, where Blizzard succeeds in teaching you the basic fundamentals of the game, you’re introduced to playing against the AI in order to unlock the rest of the classes. Reprising the role of the Lady Jaina Proudmoore, Mage of Azeroth, you’re armed with your basic deck and you select one of the eight remaining classes to do battle against. As a Mage, I thought battling a Priest would be a good way to get my feet wet, so I challenged good ‘ol Anduin Wrynn and promptly saw what it’s like to be overconfident and to lose a game. “I take it back, this game isn’t that simple,” I blurted out in Ventrilo.
And that’s where I got hooked. Hearthstone, and admittedly CCGs, aren’t just for people that like to play with cards. There’s a degree of complexity and strategy involved that makes your brain tick in a way that few other genres can offer. That was even before I scratched the surface of trying to build a deck of my own. Playing Hearthstone is like gambling while playing Chess. Different players will have different ways of playing, whether it’s being aggressive or defensive, but where the game shines is that there’s no wrong way to play. You want to build a deck a certain way? There’s a good chance you can win with it. There’s also a good chance you can lose with it.
But that’s what makes Hearthstone so fun: losing. Sure it’s always frustrating to lose a game, and the most competitive gamers (myself included) have a certain distaste to failing. However, even when you lose in Hearthstone you feel if you had only just played that one card at a different time, or your luck was on your side and you drew a better hand, you could have won. I supposed that’s the intrigue of the entire CCG community, but I’ll be the first to admit that I have no clue what that’s like. What I do have a clue of is how much fun Hearthstone is, even if you’re not winning every single match.
The CCG genre may not be for everyone, with its barriers to entry in terms of cost and time. But Hearthstone is able to take everything that’s enjoyable about CCGs, strip away the complexities, and leave you with a game that’s just simply fun. I have a feeling that even the most hardcore of CCG players will find Hearthstone appealing, even when they’re losing.
Even in beta, Hearthstone has more polish than certain games that were recently released
Of course there’s a lot of unknowns about the game so far, especially since it’s still in closed beta. If Diablo III can be taken as an example, Blizzard could make drastic changes to Hearthstone based on community and player feedback. But I honestly find it hard to believe that the team will make any monumental changes to the core of Hearthstone. It appears that the team would rather focus on finding ways to polish the game while balancing the heroes and cards in the game. Then there’s the question of whether or not Hearthstone will become a game that’s simply pay-to-win. Let’s be honest here, Blizzard is a video game developer, and as a video game developer, they need revenue to survive. This is however, Blizzard’s first free-to-play game of this scale, so it’ll be interesting to see how careful it treads in balancing between free-to-play and play-to-win.
As a closing note, it’s refreshing to play Hearthstone for one major reason. The past few years haven’t been the best for Blizzard when it comes to their hardcore fans that grew up playing the original Warcraft and Diablo games. Diablo III, by all means is a great game, if it stood on its own. Diablo II fans for the most part, found the changes in the game to be frustrating, and as a result, didn’t live up to expectations. World of Warcraft has certainly lost some of its luster with its core fan base as well, as Blizzard tries its hardest to balance between casual and hardcore gamers. And that’s where I believe Hearthstone will succeed. It’s a game that’s not just designed to appeal to CCG fans, it’s designed to appeal to everyone. As someone that simply enjoys playing fun games, Hearthstone is exactly that.
Please note that this isn’t a review of Hearthstone by any means, but rather my first, honest impressions of the game. It does have its faults, but a more thorough post on that will come in the near future. It deserves more playtime before I begin to criticize it.