PAX East opened today, and fans of Blizzard Entertainment's “Warcraft” franchise were treated to the first big announcement of the weekend this morning, when the game developer announced it's first free-to-play game: “HearthStone: Heroes of Warcraft.” Blizzard calls it a “collectible strategy game,” but that's just their way of saying online collectible card game.
With a team of only 15 developers, Blizzard was going for something epic in scope, but small in scale. Play will be one-on-one, using Battle.net matchmaking. When the game launches for Windows and Mac, it will have over 300 cards, and players will be able to add to their potential deck with five-card packs. Packs can be earned via medal ranking or bought online. Right now, Blizzard's estimate is that each pack will cost about a dollar.
Blizzard wants “HearthStone” to have all of the excitement that CCG players are used to when opening a new pack, so just like everything else in the game, even revealing new cards is animated, with sounds that announce if you've gotten one of the game's rare cards. The rarity of expert cards is divided into categories like “epic” and “legendary” just like gear in the MMORPG.
If players don't get the cards they want, they'll be able to craft cards by disenchanting duplicate cards or cards that don't fit into a deck's strategy into arcane dust and using that to create more powerful cards. Decks look easy to build, and there are in-game tools to evaluate decks, suggest cards, and even create a deck by itself.
Anyone familiar with Cryptozoic's World of Warcraft Trading Card Game will recognize the Hero Card mechanic. Each deck should be built around a hero card, which can use its hero power every turn. Heroes come from the nine basic classes found in “vanilla WoW,” and players will recognize iconic heroes and their abilities from the games.
Blizzard says “HearthStone” is being released soon, “Not Blizzard soon, but IRL soon.” The beta will be open by summer, and players can already sign up for it using their Battle.net accounts. Those lucky ones at PAX East will be trying it throughout the weekend, so there will be lots of buzz about it over the next few days. The functionality for playing the game on an iPad is already in place, and the game should be released some time this year.