Beta Review – Hearthstone (PC)

hearthstone-heroes-of-warcraft

If you ask most people, including some gamers, what game franchises are eternal, chances are you’ll hear something along the lines of Warcraft, or Magic: The Gathering. So how do you make something even better? You combine them!

Enter Hearthstone.

Hearthstone, a semi-new IP from Blizzard Entertainment, combines the best of both trading card games (TCG) and the Warcraft universe (Warcraft RTS, World of Warcraft) in one game that allows users a different experience than usual from Blizzard games. Blizzard has three universes where they have excelled:

Starcraft – The SC universe has two games in it, both real-time strategy titles, with multiple expansions for each either out, or planned. Starcraft has been the pinnacle of competitive gaming until recently when many will say it has been passed by games such as League of Legends and DotA 2, both multiplayer online battle arenas or MOBA games.

Diablo – The Diablo universe has three games, all of them being action RPG’s, or dungeon crawl type games. The most recent release Diablo 3, is just over a year old, with an expansion planned soon called Reaper of Souls.

Warcraft – The Warcraft universe is no doubt the most diverse. None of the other games Blizzard has made has had a mod become more successful than Defense of the Ancients or DotA from Warcraft 3. Also, while the Warcraft RTS line of games was already the largest for Blizzard, the universe spawned World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online RPG which is now carrying the torch for the storyline.

And now we arrive at Hearthstone. While it’s a new game, it’s still using the Warcraft universe. Whether or not it will ever add Diablo or Starcraft remains to be seen, but for now, it is strictly Warcraft. The Hearthstone name actually comes from Warcraft, as a Hearthstone is something every player has, and it transports them to a home base of sorts whenever they need to fast travel.

The Game

The game is in closed beta right now, meaning that not just anyone can play it, but I was fortunate enough to get a key and start testing the game. You can watch streams of it all over Twitch.tv and get a feel for the game. I had never played a TCG before now. I collected Pokemon cards when I was really little and they had just come out, but I never actually played with them, and I lost interest about a month after they came out.

The premise in Hearthstone is simple – you choose a hero based on one of the nine original WoW classes, and try and use your deck of 30 cards to kill your opponents hero before he kills you. For instance, I am playing a warrior as my main hero right now. Each hero has one unique ability that costs 2 mana, and a special group of cards to use. There is also a general pile of cards that everyone can use.

My hero’s special ability is that I can add 2 armor to myself at any point, and it costs 2 mana. Mana in this game is what you use each turn to play your cards. Each card has a mana cost on it. There are spell cards, and minion cards. Spells do things to the board, like hurt or heal heroes or minions, or buff/debuff them. Minion cards put minions on the board, and each minion will have an attack/health rating. A good number of minions also have a special ability such as:

Silence – Silence another minion’s ability.
Battlecry – When the minion is played, whatever the Battlecry says, happens.
Taunt – All minions and heroes must kill this to move on to attack other things.
Charge – The minion can attack the same round it’s played. Normally minions are played, and then have to wait until the next turn to do something.
Windfury – The minion can attack twice in one turn.
Enrage – If the minion is hurt, he gains attack power.

Not all minions have a special ability, but a good number have something listed above or something similar. Like I mentioned, each card has a mana cost. When you start the game, you get 1 mana on your first turn. Then 2 on your second, 3 on your third, and so on. It stops at 10, and you stay at 10 mana each turn for the rest of the game if you make it that far.

Building Your Deck

Each player has to build a deck to go along with his/her hero. When you make a deck, you have to choose 30 cards from a collection of cards specifically for your class, and a collection that is usable by every class. In order to get more cards, you can level up you character to get basic cards, or unlock packs of cards by buying them with gold or real money. When you “buy” a pack, whether with gold or real money, you get a pack of five cards, with at least one being of “rare” or better quality. Cards with a higher quality usually tend to be better cards. There are five levels of cards: Basic, Common, Rare, Epic, and Legendary. There are also Golden cards, which are the same as their non-golden version, just shinier and with cooler animations when you play them. They are mostly for show. However, gold cards do disenchant into more dust. When you get dust, you can use that to make new cards you may not have gotten in a pack. The more rare a card is, the more dust it produces and the more if costs to make. Gold cards disenchant into double the dust of it’s normal counterpart.

For some people, this might sound way too complicated, but it’s really not. The game is easy to get into, but still decently hard to master. Never having played trading card games before, I assumed I was going to be in for a rough time, but it didn’t take long to get the hang of it. I’ve currently got a level 25 warrior, a level 14 mage, and a level 10 priest that I have worked with. I definitely like the warrior, but I feel like the mage, rogue, and hunter class are the best – at least from what I’ve seen.

Game Modes

There are three different game modes in Hearthstone.

Practice – Practice is simply where you play against AI characters. There is a normal mode and a hard mode that you unlock after beating all of the heroes on normal. This is good for practicing decks against an opponent that doesn’t think and act like a human would.

Play – Play is pretty straight forward. You choose a deck, either the pre-made ones that come with each character, or one of your own design, and then play real life players out in the world. This is basically custom deck vs. custom deck. I prefer this mode over the Arena, which I’ll talk about next. I feel that this let’s you play a certain style that you might like over others. For instance, I have two main decks I play as a warrior – an “enrage” deck, and a “charge” deck. I talk about them below.

Arena – Arena is what most competitive players seem to prefer. In Arena, you don’t play with your custom decks. You choose a hero, and then you build a deck specifically for that Arena run. You are given the option of three cards from the general pile and your class pile to choose one from. Then you do that 30 times to get your deck. Other players have gone through the same process with their hero, and then you play. You win pretty good rewards from playing in the Arena, and are always guaranteed a little bit of gold and at least one pack of cards. You have three strikes before you are kicked out of the Arena (so three losses). You can win, however, as many times as you want. The first Arena run is free to try it out. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and so I went 0-3. Playing in the Arena costs either 150 gold, or $1.99. You’ll get your money’s worth out of it with winning a couple of games between the cards and gold you’ll get.

In both “Play” and “Arena”, you get medals as a type of ranking, somewhat similar to what Starcraft or League of Legends does. While I’m not 100% sure on how medals work, I am pretty sure it is based on a mix of your winning % and how you play the game. I don’t think losses will ever drop you down, but I do think it will slow your progress moving up. I got up to 3-star Silver pretty quick, but then lost a bunch of games in a row, and even though I am back winning, I still haven’t moved up. The list of medals, in order is: Journeyman, Copper, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Masters, Grandmasters. And for each medal starting with Copper, you get 1-3 stars for it, so you start at Copper 1, Copper 2, Copper 3, then Silver 1, Silver 2, etc.

The medals for Play and Arena are separate, so I probably haven’t progressed at all in Arena since I only did it once and didn’t win, but I am Silver 3 in normal Play mode.

My Favorite Decks

As I mentioned, I mostly play a warrior. I like the armor stacking, and I like being aggressive with my cards. To accomplish this, I have two main decks I use.

My “Enrage” deck is made to put a couple of low costs minions out that have “Enrage” on them. Enrage basically means that if the minion takes damage, it will gain a higher attack power because of it. Basically, it gets angry that you hit it, and so it hits back harder. Then I support these minions with spells that boost their attack even more. There is a specific minion that costs 3 mana, and has 3/3 attack/damage. It has “Enrage: +1 Attack and Windfury”, which means that if it gets hit for 1 health, it goes from 3/3 to 4/2, hitting for 4 now instead of 3, and it also can hit twice because of Windfury which gives a minion two attacks per round instead of one, but it also has one less health. These minions can combo together to put a major hurting on someone early. I’ve taken opponents out in as little as six rounds with the right cards. The biggest problem is that the deck is very spell heavy, so if you don’t get minions early, you could be way down by the time you start to combo them together.

My “Charge” deck is built around doing minimal damage, but quickly and a lot of it. The deck has mostly charge minions and hero weapons and buffs. I can play a charge minion, or play a regular minion and give it charge with a 0 mana spell, and do a lot of damage in the same turn, therefore my opponent doesn’t have time to buff up for an incoming attack, or to try and kill my minions. I find this deck works a little better than my enrage deck because the enrage deck relies too heavily on getting the right cards at the start, and also has too many spells and a small number of minions and weapons. Since it shuffles and picks cards at random, you don’t always luck out.

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So I’m definitely getting into Hearthstone, and if you can get your hands on a beta key, or if it hits open beta anytime soon, I recommend you try it out. The good thing about it is that the average game only takes about 10 minutes. I’ve had games last over 20 minutes, and I’ve had games end in 5. But it’s much shorter than pretty much any other game you play. That makes for a great experience if you only have a short time to play something, and can’t get involved in a major story line or level in another game. The simplicity of it is great, but it’s still complex enough that I feel there is a lot to learn and a lot more playing that needs to be done to fully understand it.

Here you can check out a match from Blizzard. I would link mine, but I’m having difficulty cutting them up right now. I’ll stream them every now and then if you can catch it there.

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Jon Lunceford is a sports media broadcaster and digital professional. Jon is a graduate of the University of Alabama school of journalism, and played football at Birmingham-Southern College. He has also won two AHSAA Football State Championships while at Homewood High School and was a two-time World Cyber Games Team USA representative. He currently hosts Primetime on WJOX 94.5 and runs the high school athletics site JoxPreps.