I don’t play collectible card games and I have no real connection with the Warcraft universe. These are just two things I have never really dabbled with, not out of any dislike but out of a lack of want. Why this is relevant is because Hearthstone (a collectible card game with a Warcraft theme) seems like completely not my kind of game. However – and this is high praise – in spite of this, I think Hearthstone is spectacular.
So what is Hearthstone anyway? It’s a virtual card game where you pick a class then battle online opponents. Outside of this there’s a practice mode against AI, but it’s a multiplayer game really. Each class comes from Warcraft and each has a special ability and unique cards. This means different classes match different play styles, or just require separate strategies. This adds a nice variable to each match where you have to be aware of your opponent’s style of play, their strengths and weaknesses.
Hearthstone manages to achieve that rare feat of being accessible yet deep. It’s completely unintimidating, the tutorial may not give you a great idea of how you should use cards but it gives you all the basics you need to play. After this point you learn by playing and the gameplay is so well presented that you will start to pick things up. You feel yourself improving as you realise how different cards work with each other and see what kind of tricks players pull against you.
Something that’s key to this is how Hearthstone is laid out. It’s all very clean, there’s enough detail to make it pretty but all the necessary information is handled in a straightforward manner. There aren’t wordy descriptions on your cards, purely the details you need. A lot of cards fit into similar categories, having a shared characteristic or ability you know you want, varying only in core stats of health and attack. These abilities are really well implemented into the balance and strategy of the game, allowing for deep play with an easily understandable rule set.
The core rules are very simple. Each player has thirty health and loses when that runs out; you attack them with your cards and you use cards to try and defend yourself. A huge suite of varied and interesting cards make this interesting, but there are enough similarities between cards to allow for clear strategies. The core gameplay of Hearthstone is incredibly strong and just really enjoyable. Matches are usually wonderfully dynamic, allowing for amazing comebacks or just pure nail biters. It’s a very satisfying game that’s full of strategy.
There’s a lot around this core that helps to make the whole package really compelling. You level classes up, complete challenges, unlock new cards over time and there’s even a ranking system. There are plenty of hooks that the game puts in you, keeping you playing game after game. Tangible rewards and the promise of more around the corner make it hard to step away from Hearthstone, making it compelling beyond its amazing gameplay.
There are a number of other clever features too, one being the arena mode. If you have one hundred and fifty coins (you get coins by completing challenges) you can enter the arena. This works out so that you will probably get the chance once a day, if you put a small amount of effort in. What the arena does is present you with a choice of class, then a choice of one of three cards until you have built up a thirty card deck. You then have to defend this makeshift deck – if you lose three times you leave the arena but gain prizes for participating. This mode puts the focus on clever deck building and puts you against players in a similar situation, highlighting player skill even further.
With just hundred coins though, you could buy a card pack. Levelling a class up to ten unlocks all of their basic cards, and you are given a number of neutral cards, but the rest are out that in packs. Buying a pack gives you rare cards, but it’s complete luck what you get. This fits the established model for collectible card games and the visual treatment and animation for opening a pack in Hearthstone makes getting new cards feel awesome. You can also buy card packs with real money, but you never need to. You never feel like you are at a disadvantage because you haven’t paid, because the quality of cards is still down to luck. You can also unlock card packs through playing the game, so you never have too few options.
Hearthstone is a super robust and utterly excellent virtual card game. The main gameplay is incredible, it will steal you away for hours and leave you wanting more, more, more. The touches on top of this (including deck building) add a degree of depth that caters to the hardcore. The end result is something utterly compelling that is incredibly well presented, making it highly accessible. However this presentation is never a sacrifice, you still have all you need for a complex and enjoyable experience. It doesn’t matter whether you are into cards or Warcraft – or neither – if you like superb multiplayer games then this is for you.
Hearthstone is an accessible and complex collectible card game that will take over your life. You may not have been into cards before, but you will be now!