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'Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft' open beta review

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Hearthstone is Blizzard's brand new online card game and it’s already caused a lot of hype despite still being in beta. This seems to be a trend as Dota 2 enjoyed a long beta period that included 2 international tournaments during it’s over 2 year beta. Hearthstone enjoyed it’s first tournament during Blizzcon and since has gained a lot of momentum in the streaming community as it’s generally one of the featured games on twitch.tv with plenty of people streaming it constantly. Recently the game has opened up to the public in an open beta which allows anyone to gain access. To sign up simply click this link.

Core game-play

Hearthstone doesn't break the mold of most collectible card games but it finds a way to make it feel more accessible than any other out there. Gaining cards and making decks is intuitive and satisfying. Progression is still in it’s early phases as this is a beta but there is still a quick system that teaches you the games simpler mechanics while helping you find your own unique play style.

Game-play consists of phases of attacking while mixing in spells, secrets, and abilities. The resource you use to play cards is mana, which is gained naturally every turn. It’s a familiar system that works while giving room for the game’s unique qualities to shine. One of these qualities is the weapon system which allows heroes to equip themselves and attack directly in combat.

Starting out

Your first games are played against computer controlled opponents who fit into the Warcraft universe. None are very difficult but each is intended to fit a play style and teach you something as you play against them. These early matches help you build your starting decks and learn each hero and what they have to offer. After completing this tutorial of sorts, various forms of matchmaking are unlocked as well as the ability to customize your decks.

From this point on you can gain cards from leveling heroes which you can do by playing them in matchmaking. Another way to gain cards is by opening packs which can be earned in Arena or purchased with gold or cash. Gold is earned through quests which are given out daily. Quests ask you to fulfill certain objectives, for instance kill 50 minions or win 5 games as a warrior or rogue. Outside of quest you gain 10 gold every time you win 3 games. If you play frequently and complete your quests the gold gain allows for quick deck completion and frequent trips to the arena.

Forms of matchmaking:

  • Casual- A non ranked form of matchmaking that will try to match you with a similarly skilled player. Wins and Losses are not recorded in this mode and it serves as a good way to learn a new hero or practice new techniques.
  • Ranked- Matchmaking that pits you against players within a few ranks of you. You start as an Angry Chicken, which is rank 25. As you win matches you will upgrade to a lower rank and slightly less embarrassing title. Your goal is to get your rank as low as you can and play the best players the game has to offer.
  • Arena- Players draft a deck of 30 cards for a hero they get to choose out of 3 options. The draft system allows players to select one card at a time out of 3 options 30 times to complete their deck. After the deck is complete they play against other players who have drafted a deck as well. With any given deck you can play a maximum of 11 games. If you lose 3 games your arena run is over and you are rewarded based upon your amount of wins. If you win 6 or more games you are guaranteed your entrance fee of 150 gold back, with a fresh pack of cards and enchanting dust on top. Every subsequent win after 6 only sweetens the pot until you reach 9 wins which gives you the optimal reward.

Micro transactions impact

Micro transactions are a controversial topic among gamers. In theory, they allow games to be free to play and give everyone a chance to enjoy them despite their ability to pay for the game but sometimes the in game purchases feel more necessary than optional and people who don't buy them end up feeling under-powered. Hearthstone finds a happy middle ground that keeps players from buying their way to victory. They achieve this by making rare cards have fun and valuable mechanics but not distinct advantages over their easy to obtain alternatives. In this system people can spend money to play arena more frequently or earn cards quicker but still not have a necessary advantage over their opponents.

Conclusion

Hearthstone is a polished game that mixes the thrill of chance with the satisfaction of skill. With a lot to learn and a large skill cap players can expect to spend a lot of time playing the various modes, seeking the perfect deck or chasing the coveted 9 win arena session. If you are a fan of card games or you want the perfect place to start, you owe it to yourself to give the game a shot. It won’t disappoint.

Pros:

  • Satisfying ranked matchmaking and incredibly fun arena
  • Clean and easy to use menus that get you right into the game
  • Charming characters and virtual tabletop
  • Balance between non cash shop users and cash shops users
  • A fresh take on a classic genre
  • Thriving competitive community

Cons:

  • Lack of long term incentives to reward players for their performance in ranked matchmaking

You can follow Jordan on twitter @JordanMBrill

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