Thanks to my wargaming friend, Jay, I got into the Hearthstone Beta. My expectations were of a Magic: The Gathering game, and not much else. While looking around for Beta key invites/giveaways for my fellow podcasters, I stumbled on this article, and my experiences and thoughts aligned with it almost identically. At first, it felt like a very generic M:tG. I battled AI and sampled different decks, both using and against. Without even realizing it, 3 hours had passed and I had the urge to play more!
Without going into detail about the gameplay, I figured that I would share my thoughts and experiences about how and why the game had appealed to me.
Generic M:tG? Not in the least!
Hearthstone may seem “simple” in its mechanics and card abilities, but there is so much depth! I’m constantly thinking and strategizing, planning my next few moves or throwing it all out the window to react to the opponent’s action. Rarely am I ever sitting and waiting on my opponent to finish their turn – I’m crunching numbers or trying to “read” my opponent by looking at what cards they are highlighting or targeting, which could simply be me playing mind games with myself. The streamlined nature of the game and cards also makes it easy to interpret the battle log, in case you turn your attention away and wanna know what happened.
The opening tutorial “quest” is a series of fights that concludes with a boss fight. Besides that, the only other Player-versus-Environment/computer option is the “Practice Mode”. Players unlock additional class/heroes and their starting decks by defeating the AI-version in Practice Mode. The classes can gain levels up to 10 in Practice Mode, after which that class will have unlocked all available “Starter Set” cards specific to that class. Facing against each type of class (to unlock the Neutral cards within those decks) is a way for players to get a taste of what other classes are capable of. In a way, I consider Practice Mode an extended tutorial of sorts. Once every deck has reached level 10 and unlocked all their starter cards, there are no further rewards from playing Practice games (other than the secret 300-game achievement). Practice Mode can be used to test out custom decks.
I can see Hearthstone having more quest lines similar to its opening tutorial quest. One mode could require the player to complete a string of quests with only a single deck, but the player has 3 “lives”. Instead of 3 “lives”, the player can bring in 3 constructed decks and lose access to that deck as it gets defeated during the quest. Completion of these quests would reward the player with exclusive cards (or randomly selected from a pool of exclusives). The quests can have a mix of themes or conditions, and players will only discover them when they get to that point. “No minions > 5 cost” or something like that. Players will have to exit the quest and refine their decks to meet the challenges, but these quests would yield more worthwhile rewards. Lastly, these quests would have an “entrance fee”, real cash or in-game gold. Blizz has to make some money, and there’s potentially worthwhile rewards from these.
Player-versus-Player is where it’s at in the Beta. I feel that this is the only way to play at the moment. PvP comes in two modes: matched against a supposedly equally-skilled opponent, or the “Arena” which is a card draft and you play until eliminated 3 times, or win 9. The Arena has an entrance fee of $1.99 or 150 gold. Daily Quests can only be accomplished in PvP. I save up my shiny gold to enter the Arena. Card packs are 100 gold, but for 50 more gold, you can also get at least 3 games that reward you with a card pack and extra goodies. This leads to my next section…
While Hearthstone can be played with just the Starter Set, there are many more cards available through the “Expert Set” card packs, which can be purchased for real money ($2.99 for 2 packs, or 10 cards) or 100 gold for a 5-card pack. While the cards should technically be balanced by their mana costs, some cards to definitely stick out more than others. Regardless of balance, having cards from the Expert Set gives the player more options, tools and strategies in the form of card synergies and combos (not to be confused with the actual game term, “Combo”). The fear is that players who want to remain competitive will have to “pay-for-power”.
Fortunately, Hearthstone provides a way to earn gold so that players do not have to spend real money, but gold trickles in slowly. Daily quests reward between 40 and 60 gold per quest, but only one Daily Quest is unlocked each day, and the player can only have 3 in their queue at most. Assuming Blizzard gives you 100 gold worth of dailies every two days, they are basically giving you the opportunity to save $1.495 every two days 🙂
There are also some “secret” achievements in the Beta. I believe you get a 100 gold reward for unlocking every class, or leveling all of them to 10. I do know for sure that playing 300 games (including Practice Mode) gives the player 300 gold.
For me, the fun is in the Arena. I don’t want to spend my gold and open Booster Packs. I rather spend the extra 50 gold for the experience of combat, in a mode where I feel everyone is on equal footing – draft mode. “Equal” should be taken with a grain of salt because I’ve drafted a deck with two legendaries and two epics once. Ignoring the tangible (as digitally as you get) rewards, I enjoy deck construction on the fly and coming up with strategies as each card choice pops up. Early in my Hearthstone career, draft mode also forced me to adapt new play styles as I was using cards I had never seen before. I was inclined to craft those cards with my “dust” after the game for use in my non-Arena decks!
I’ve mentioned this on the last podcast and offline: if you do not enjoy plopping down and playing a collectible card game against a random opponent, you will not enjoy Hearthstone. The single-player Beta experience is lacking, but I do hope Blizzard expands on this with the game release, or with additional content afterwards. The game is about strategy and quick-thinking on the feet. I’ll probably discuss the finer points of Hearthstone in future blog entries, so stay tuned!