Unless you've been living under a rock and said rock is not equipped with access to the Interwebz, chances are that you've heard about Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft. Blizzard has a way of creating games that become pervasive in all facets of geek culture. In spite of how popular Hearthstone has become in it's few months of being available publicly (and for FREE, at that), there are still people on the fence about it. Today, I hope to share some of the recent developments in Hearthstone and why now is the time to dive in.
First, let's look at the common concerns buzzin' about. I've heard quite a few objections as I try to pimp out Hearthstone to friends. These are the most common barriers to entry (a.k.a. these are the crazy things gamers say before even trying out Hearthstone (come on, it's FREE):
- I'm not into and/or suck at that sort of game.
- I don't want to spend more money on another supposed "free to play" game.
- This looks like a game where you need to pay to win.
- Blizzard is evil because they are part of the evil EA empire.
- PvP does not interest me because I am not that competitive.
- This is the sort of thing I'd prefer on my phone/tablet.
These are all fair points so let's go through them a bit before we jump into PAX East announcements and the development road map. If you are cynical and doubtful, believe me I understand but open your mind. I will share the main reasons I feel Hearthstone is a game everyone should play.
The CCG For Non-Strategy Fans
Often, jaded gamers hear the word "accessible" and equate it with "watered-down". Hearthstone is by far an accessible game - in a good way! Blizzard is committed to delivering a gaming experience that is equally appealing to casual and hardcore gamers, no matter how competitive you are. As far as I'm concerned, they have succeeded in this.
The beauty of Hearthstone is that it provides tons of depth for seasoned deckbuilding game veterans while being approachable and fun for new players. Strategy games are often perceived as games for elitists and nerds (hey, we nerds are cool too) but everyone has a shot at competing and having fun in Hearthstone. There's good reason people that would never touch a CCG or TCG are enjoying this little gem. What's more is that they have borrowed all the good things from games like Magic The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and SolForge without the things that reduce the experience to a mere cash grab, grind fest, or random spin of the metaphorical wheel.
At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, I would say that Blizzard is the right company for this game. Many of their developers love deckbuilding games but they noticed they were not particularly inviting. They decided to build the CCG they always wanted to play. Hearthstone is beautiful, fast-paced, and balanced. When I compare Hearthstone to other favorites like Magic DotP 2013, Scrolls, or SolForge, it clearly stands out as the sort of game you can pick up and play any time. I find that I can enjoy quick gaming sessions and long marathon sessions equally. What's more, Hearthstone is employing a small-team approach which gives Hearthstone a nice indie appeal while creating a more tightly-knit community.
I believe this is the experience that awaits everyone that really gives the game a shot. You don't need to be a strategy buff but it certainly does not hurt. What DOES help is the interest in learning core mechanics, analyzing scenarios, thinking ahead (like in a game of chess), and customizing things to suit your own personal style.. Oh, and you have to value great gameplay over super-sexy graphics. That said, Hearthstone does look beautiful for what it is. If you're a graphics snob, well, you made the Mr. Ribbit sad.
This Is Not A Pay-To-Win Game
Before we get into this touchy topic, let's all agree that every game has to make money, whether it is free-to-play, a traditional off-the-shelf offering, or something in between. When I think of pay-to-win games, I think about games where the premium items offer more than a slight-edge advantage. When this happens, games become more about investment of money than development of skill. Pay-to-win games, especially in a PvP setting, are not just fun.
Hearthstone is NOT one such game. The game is much much more about skill than microtransactions or random luck (i.e. RNG). Sure, you have to put in the time but the commitment needed to be more successful is reasonable. You don't need to dump in tons of money or grind for hundreds of hours.. Unless maybe you desperately want to be a top-tier player. It's crucial to temper your expectations. I realize we gamers are a bit spoiled these days so that may be difficult for some.
Hearthstone is much more about skill than microtransactions or random luck (i.e. RNG).
If you look around Twitch and YouTube, you'll find plenty of Hearthstone players who have reached Legendary rank, the highest level in ranked play, consistently without spending much, if any, money. There are also examples of ranked runs where players did not spend any money and hit Legendary rank within two or three weeks.. Without spending a single red cent. Our friends over at The B-Team Podcast talked to Blizzard about this and they confirmed that part of their core design philosphies is to keep the game competitive for players of all types.
I've found that legendary cards, the rarest of them all, are not auto-adds or auto-wins. As I write this, I have no legendary cards yet I've whooped on people with far more expensive, rare decks. You can do it too!
Go Ahead, Be Anti-Social!
Maybe PvP does not interest you. Maybe people in general annoy you. For me, social and online interaction is a must for any game I will be investing significant time into. I am not particularly competitive but I appreciate the strategies working behind the scenes. As such, I can definitely appreciate those that want to just play a game and not deal with cheaters, trolls, and elitist bums.
Hearthstone offers enough gameplay options to cater to those who prefer single-player experiences and more solo content is on the way. If you're worried about caustic encounters, you may appreciate the fact that there is no in-game chat. The only way people can chat with you is if you add them as a friend. This allows you to enjoy Hearthstone without the usual crap that comes with competitive games. Compare this to League of Legends, which boasts quite possibly the most toxic community in gaming, and you can see that Hearthstone is a much friendlier experience in many ways.
Currently, there are some issues with trolls who milk the timer or spam emotes. I have not encountered this much so it's almost a non-issue for me. Emotes are how you communicate with other players when you are not Battle.net friends and, as one would expect from competent developers, cooldowns keep people from going too nutty with the scripted messages. With regards to people that take too long with their turns, Blizzard is working on different ways to approach this. Perhaps they will implement a chess-style cumulative timer like we see on SolForge but, for now, you can keep yourself busy by interacting with the various environments. I am particularly keen on smashing the windows and launching catapult fodder.
The Biggest Hearthstone News In PAX East
Adventure Mode will be kicking off with Curse Of Naxxramas. CoN will be rolled out in five episodes, each with a major boss battle at the end. We go over more of the Hearthstone development deets over at GeekyAntics.net but the biggest part about this expansion is that the first corridor or wing, as Blizzard refers to each episode, will be free. From there, you will be able to purchase adventure runs with real or virtual money.
Arena works in a similar fashion so it's refreshing to see Blizzard following through with their promise. They are not trying to force purchases with pesky pay gates. Curse of Naxxramas will be a big win for Hearthstone players new and old. The anti-PvP players will have a deep single-player experience beyond the initial tutorial and practice options and 30 new cards will be introduced.
The addition of this campaign option will provide newer players new venues for unlocking rewards and gaining experience, both in-game and in-brain. This news combined with the many other things on the horizon, spectator mode inclusive, convinces me that the opportunity is ripe for new players to dive right in. There are just too many ways to experience Hearthstone to not give it a whirl now and, once CoN drops, there won't be any excuse at all.
For those who worry about rewards and fair play, there is practice mode and that can help you unlock cards and earn some gold. Better yet, I have a good feeling there will be more generous rewards in future updates. Sit tight: Blizzard has been updating all their properties and, as a flagship game, Hearthstone will get the same treatment.
Hearthstone Is Coming To Android And iOS!
The Hearthstone iOS app released in select markets earlier this month as a soft launch / test run. It's not officially in the United States (yet). I wanted to try out the app so badly that I moved to Canada for a few minutes. Let me tell you: it works great.. Except for a few random crashes here and there when multitasking.
Gamers I have introduced Hearthstone to have said that they rather play this sort of game on a tablet or phone. I agree that Hearthstone and other games of it's kin lend themselves well to the mobile experience. It's great being able to play while on the can or kicking back in your backyard. That said, I would not say this is the definitive experience but it is certainly going to increase the gameplay opportunities.
The full roll-out of the iOS app is expected to happen sometime this week or next week. What about Android? Well, that's supposed to hit the market this Summer and, while that is disappointing, I think the PC and iOS versions should tide us over. I'm sure Blizzard will get enough pressure from fans and speed up Android app development.
Don't forget to check out The B-Team's PAX East Blizzard interview. If I have not convinced you to dive into Hearthstone now, they sure will!
Learn More & Play Hearthstone For FREE (this is not a paid endorsement, I SWEAR) - http://us.battle.net/hearthstone/en/
UPDATE: Don't forget to sign up for the VGO Hearthstone Tournament - coming Summer 2014! Also, the iOS app is out. Get it on your iPad and enjoy Hearthstone wherever you are - even on the can! No ETA for the Android app yet, but we suspect it will be one of the major Summer 2014 updates.