Beta Time: Hearthstone

I have been harping on the subject recently, I know, but I still couldn’t get anything going on the MMO front. I tried Neverwinter and Rift again, and I wasn’t being picky — at all. Both games are simply unplayable on this machine. I gave up on trying to make EQ2 work, and I’m not feeling LOTRO or any of the other free to play titles. This leaves me at a crossroads: I either wait and dump some money on some of the expansions for games I enjoyed but haven’t played in a long time (EQ2, WoW), or wait until I can afford a new computer, or some combination of the two. Tax season is upon us, and I am getting a sizable return, so I am almost 100% sure that I’ll be building a new computer when I receive it. In the meantime, a game that I had never really thought about playing made its way onto my hard drive and has already stolen nearly a whole day from me. The game in question: Hearthstone.

News about Hearthstone, the new CCG from Blizzard Entertainment (or whatever hyphenated bullshit name they use today), has been appearing around the community for a little while now, and I was starting to think I needed to add in my two cents. My original idea (based on things I had already read) was going to be a protest about how computer based CCGs aren’t nearly the same as their hold-em-in-your-hands counterpart. But then I got to thinking about it, and decided that I needed to at least play the game before I could logically make such claims. The game is currently in open beta, and is free to play for anyone, so I downloaded it a couple of days ago.

Anyone who has known me over the years will know that I was a huge Blizzard fan before they got into the MMO business, but didn’t play that MMO until long after its release. I enjoyed WoW well enough, but knew more people playing and enjoyed EQ2 more early on. Despite enjoying the worlds of both Norrath and Azeroth along with the lore, I was firmly on the EQ side of the fence until I gave WoW a serious go in 2010. But I digress. Hearthstone is based on the lore of Warcraft, but it is a CCG through and through, so the MMO commentary wasn’t overly necessary, aside from now mentioning that EQ did this whole deal a while back with Legends of Norrath, but I couldn’t take that game seriously. I’m not sure if it was because I couldn’t take time away from playing the MMO at the time, or if LON just sucked. Hearthstone on the other hand, has Blizzard’s trademark polish, and the game is addictive as hell, despite a low barrier to entry. The comparisons to Magic: The Gathering are obvious, but most would argue that Hearthstone lacks the same depth. This is true, but its not necessarily a bad thing. Sure there are less cards (MTG has had over 20 years to create cards) and less mechanics, but this is only the beta. I’m sure cards will be consistently added, via “expansions” much like other CCGs are wont to do.The meta game for Hearthstone is what will keep people coming back for more. Not only are decks split into “classes” (class specific cards mixed with neutral cards) so each hero plays differently, you gain experience individually, so the potential for “rolling alts” is there. There is also a quest system that rewards packs of cards or gold that is the in-game currency to buy more packs. Buying is limited to 1 pack at a time for 100 gold, but packs can be purchased for real cash. The micro transaction system is non-intrusive (at this point) and I could see myself spending some cash on packs once the game is live.

When starting the game you are thrust into a tutorial that is easy enough to complete and gives a feel for the game. I was thrown off by the fact that minions weren’t able to block attackers unless labelled with “taunt”, as a MTG player that was disturbing. But once you get used to it, it isn’t so bad. Playing practice matches allows you to play against all the classes and beating the AI unlocks the class for you to play. Playing each class to level ten will open all of that class’s basic cards. Opening packs in the only way to earn expert cards, which have rarity levels (think colored gear in MMOs). Once you level past ten rewards are further apart, but I have yet to level up far enough to see what the next rewards will be. Playing against people is where the real fun lies, and as your deck becomes more powerful it is recommended to make a custom version of your class’s deck and fine tune things. Also part of the meta game, there is a crafting bit where you can disenchant cards you don’t want to earn dust that you can use to then create cards you do want. This appears to work on any rarity of card, though the higher you go the more they cost.

I leveled the Mage you start with up to ten, but wasn’t that thrilled with the class. The Warrior was what I played next, and he was fun for a moment, but still not exactly what I was looking for. Next I tried out a Warlock, which was the class I played in WoW, and I was in love! Despite the self-destruction and chaos the deck brings, the utility really shines. I may damage myself, but you’ll get damaged too! And then I’ll heal up and draw cards to boot! I still want to level all of the classes to ten just to see what the decks will be like, but I’m worried about the impending beta wipe that will most likely occur before the game is live.

So this isn’t quite an MMO but it scratches an itch nonetheless. CCGs are something I’ve always enjoyed, and this is a way to play one without having to spend a ton of money to buy actual cards, or without having to find like minded people with cards/time to play with.

Next up, more analyzing/strategy.