Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
AMD Athlon 64 X2 2.6 GHz
AMD Radeon HD 4850
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft was quite possibly the most anticipated closed-beta of all time. Tens of thousands of codes were given away on various websites, yet more and more people wanted to play. Codes were going for hundreds of pounds on the black market and there were riots everywhere. People died, my cat was lost, and I am pretty sure several houses were ransacked during this cataclysmic period. Hearthstone has finally made it to open-beta...but is it worth the fuss?
First of all, let's address what Hearthstone actually is. Simply put, it is a card game akin to Magic: The Gathering. You have a health pool, a deck, you play cards, things die, and everybody has fun...apart from that guy who lost, of course. What makes it so good however, is Blizzard. Now I am not a Blizzard fanboy, but I must concede that everything Blizzard touches turns to gold. StarCraft is one of the most revolutionary RTS’s of all time, with professional tournaments and leagues; Warcraft spawned a community larger than some countries; and Diablo is directly responsible for a global decline in productivity. Hearthstone has some big boots to fill, and my god, they burst at the seams.
Even Leeroy Jenkins makes an appearance!
A game of Hearthstone is split up into a number of turns. At the beginning of the game you draw a hand of cards, with an additional card being drawn from turn one onwards. Cards are played by expending mana, which is replenished and increased each turn. The first person to hit 0 health, loses. It is a simple premise; but there is a lot of depth hidden beneath its simple exterior. Each player takes the form of a hero/class. There are 9 to pick from, all of which are based off popular characters in the Warcraft universe. Each class has a unique selection of cards to pick from (albeit mixed in with neutral cards) as well as a hero power: this allows players to expend mana to heal, draw cards, deal damage, etc., depending on the class. Whilst only minor differences, they make for wildly different play styles, with Mages utilising powerful spells to destroy the enemy, Warlocks using their own health as a resource, and Rogues...well Rogues are just sneaky bastards, aren’t they?
Whilst the game is the meat of the experience, to win you have to craft your own deck. A deck consists of 30 cards, with the only limits being no more than 2 of each card, or 1 copy of a legendary. There are a whopping 465 cards to pick from: simple spells that deal damage, massive cleavers that allow your hero to get into the thick of it, monsters that can dominate the field. How you build your deck is entirely up to you. Do you want to rush down your opponent before he has time to establish a foothold? Would you like to make an impenetrable line of defence? Do you just want to just blast them off the board with a flurry of spells? Whatever you want, you can make happen, one way or another.
Not the best pack I have ever opened...
You get a bunch of basic cards to start with. These cannot be removed and form the basis of your decks in the early game. Other than the basics they have a few special rules but generally are not very special. Obtaining more cards is done in a few different ways. The simplest way to get cards through playing the game: each class has a level and reaching level 10 gives you more basic cards for that class to use. Again, these cards are pretty standard, but free stuff is always nice. You can also purchase packs. Packs can be bought for gold (obtained by playing games) or with real money. Each pack contains 5 cards, with at least 1 being of Rare quality or higher. For the most part, this is how you will build your decks. Finally, you have the crafting system: unwanted cards can be broken down into Dust and that dust can be used to make any card in the game. The more rare the card, the more Dust you need. It is quite possible to get a competitive deck without paying a penny, but for those of you who want to pay, the option is there.
Unlike most card games, Hearthstone is not a trading game. There is no way to transfer cards, money or Dust to other players. This has its ups and downs. On the plus side, there is no pay-to-win so you can't just go to the auction house and buy the best cards. On the downside, you can't trade your spare cards to your friends. Overall, the lack of a trade feature does hurt the games social aspect, as you have little interaction with other players in the community.
There are hundreds of cards waiting to be crafted.
There are 3 modes in Hearthstone: Casual, Ranked and Arena. Casual is a fun, unranked game whereby you play a regular game against bots or a real person. Ranked is the same thing, only bots are not allowed, and your progress is tracked with rankings - ranks are reset each season. Arena mode throws away premade decks and forces you to create a deck from a random selection of 90 cards, with your hero being picked from a random pool of 3. You are then thrown into a knockout style tournament where you aim to get as far as possible with only 3 lives. Lose 3 times, the deck is deleted, you are rewarded based on how many wins you had, and you start again. Arena mode is the only one that requires coin, whether in-game or in real life to play, but the rewards for doing well are pretty significant and the thrill of “gambling” permeates throughout.
What makes Hearthstone really stand out from the crowd is its production value. The game looks and sounds fantastic. The artwork on the cards is brilliant and the attention to detail within the interactive environments is something not found anywhere else. The animations are slick, and smooth, and everything just screams quality. The gold cards and legendaries are especially impressive as they have animated artwork; and in the case of legendaries, unique entrances that just look awesome. Whilst there are a few graphical hiccups, this is just a beta. Every card has its own sound effect or voice clip, which can be slightly irritating at times, adding to the overall quality. Regardless of the bugs and minor gripes, Hearthstone puts every other card game to shame on the production front. Nothing even comes close to matching it.
For a beta release, Hearthstone is almost immaculately polished. It could very well be released tomorrow and nobody would complain. The game has depth, style, and replay value coming out of every orifice. You can sit and play it for hours on end, or for just five minutes and walk away, satisfied with the experience. This is one to look out for.