Starcraft, Warcraft, Diablo. This is the holy trinity of franchises that appeared in the 90s and launched Blizzard to stardom. But, only with the release of World of Warcraft in 2004 did Blizzard finally achieve eternal glory, This is when the business world became aware that video games weren’t just a hobby anymore. There was money to be made. Lots and lots of money.
When the primary goal of Blizzard’s management became to make as much money as possible, the creativity and risk taking went out the window. In fact, not counting Overwatch, a Team Fortress 2 clone, Blizzard has been rehashing the same old material for the past 10 years. Cynics claimed that even the release dates of other Blizzard games were timed to not clash with any of the WoW expansions. Eventually, the epic storytelling and characters became secondary to making sure each game had highly addictive gambling mechanics.
And now here’s Hearthstone. Released in March 2014, this virtual card game already got an expansion, Curse of Naxxramas, and a whopping 20 million active accounts. So, how good is Hearthstone anyway? Is it worth your time? Did Blizzard come to its senses? Here is a detailed rundown.
The visuals are just gorgeous. Everything is animated to perfection, from the startup screen to how cards behave in battle. Depending on its strength, each card has a different impact on the hero and the battlefield. The rarest cards announce themselves in a bombastic way that will give you shivers over and over again. Even the puniest card comes with a unique set of sounds, so you can know what your opponent is doing while you’re alt-tabbed or away from keyboard.
Hearthstone is almost completely devoid of any player interaction via chat. If you enjoy chatting with others and making friends through video games or just plain trashtalking, tough luck. You can befriend the last person you played with or anyone whose battletag you know and also emote any of 6 canned messages to the other player, but that’s it. This creates a truly sterile atmosphere, and you’ll feel as if you’re playing against an AI.
Unlike Magic the Gathering, decks in Hearthstone are limited to 30 cards per player and the maximum hand size is capped at 10. There is no way to return discarded or used cards to your hand. Drawing cards when the deck is empty will cause the hero to take damage which increases by one with the next card. The mechanics are quite simple and there aren’t that many ways to break the game rules and create one-turn kills or infinite drawing. When players did discover a few of these, Blizzard promptly nerfed them on the grounds of “not being fun”.
While Blizzard has done its best to promote it, professional Hearthstone is disturbingly boring as a spectator sport. If you enjoy doing calculus in your head while watching a game of chess, then you’ll feel right at home. Otherwise, you will be bored to tears. Hearthstone is simply not fun to watch on a competitive level and there is no way to fix that. However, you should watch Trump, simply due to the fact that he is a professional poker player and has amazing analyses of his opponents.
Fight until the bitter end
People you play against will in general refuse to concede, dragging out the games they’ve clearly lost to 15 or 20 minutes each. If we presume that you will win 50% of Hearthstone games you play (which is a generous estimate), you are looking at 60 games played per day or 15 hours to acquire 100 gold. That’s your daily gold cap from wins and it’s enough for one pack of 5 cards. There are daily quests and they do help a bit, but you can only get one quest per day, and it is determined (again) randomly.
There is a special mode called “Arena”, in which you are given a selection of 90 cards from which you must choose your deck and then face opponents with the same win ratio as you. Once you’ve lost 3 games or won 12, the run ends and you get an appropriate award. Each run costs 150 gold or 1.79 euro. Unsurprisingly, this randomness is highly addictive and you won’t be able to stop dreaming of the perfect Arena draft.
Two resources in the game are Arcane Dust and Gold. The former is used to craft cards directly, while the latter can only be gotten from doing quests, achievements or winning three games. It is impossible to buy either of them with real cash, meaning Hearthstone is technically not pay-to-win. One pack of cards can be purchased for 100 gold, while two packs go for 2.69 euro.
Hearthstone is an extremely addictive game. It’s slick, tight and hours simply fly by when you’re playing it. However, playing it without paying any money is an exercise in frustration and no amount of skill can compensate for the fact that you simply don’t have good enough cards in your deck. If you do open your wallet, it will reportedly take you around 250 euro to get all the cards. Then, the real fun begins and you will steamroll everyone else. Unless you’re willing to commit this much cash, expect a lot of frustration.
I normally enjoy difficult games, but Hearthstone is beyond ridiculous because of how much randomness there is in it. There is nothing inherently wrong with a little bit of dice rolling to keep the game interesting, but Hearthstone goes overboard and layers RNG on top of RNG on top of RNG with a thin veneer of WoW lore. This will most likely stop it from becoming anything more significant than a quick respite from your daily grind in WoW.