The Amazing Spider Tank

The Amazing Spider Tank
Spider-Tank, Spider-Tank. Does whatever a Spider-Tank does. Can he swing from a web? No he can't, he's a tank. Look out! He is a Spider-Tank!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hearthstone Review

Have you heard of Hearthstone? It's officially called Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft so that should clue you in a little more. It's the next thing to come out of the industrial mogul Blizzard Entertainment, who has been riding on the coattails of the World of Warcraft forever it seems. At the time of this review, Blizzard has announced that it has cancelled its huge, multi-year project that was called Titan. Theories abound with why this was done but my money is bet on them realizing that a little game with fewer designers can turn quite a profit. Now enter Hearthstone.

That orc totally just pwned that gnome

Although this game is still relatively new being released in March, 2014, it has quickly risen the ranks to become a dominant force in esports. As of September the game has over 20 million registered accounts, including yours truly. Hearthstone is called a free-to-play digital collectible card game. It's available on the Microsoft and OS X systems as well as the iPad and Windows 8 touch devices. I believe iPhone and Android will be coming soon. The key point in that description is free-to-play or (f2p). That really does means you can play the game for free, and is obviously a great way to get people interested in your game.

New games frequently can have an issue grabbing onto a new audience. You either have to ride on an awesome game with great mechanics, you need to have a very popular IP, and you need it to be cheap or free to grab players. Hearthstone does it all. Set in the colorful and exhaustive universe of Warcraft, Hearthstone is simply an addictive 1v1 card game that one can play for free.

Now of course the next question everyone asks is if it really is free? Sure you can play for free, but what about micro-transactions or the concept of pay-to-win, which means that in order to be competitive one must spend money to actually succeed in the game. I am mixed when it comes to answering this question. On the one hand it really is free to play, you can play the entire game and even do it professionally without spending a dime. It might just take a long time.

You can get new cards by doing a couple of things: For one you start out with a considerable amount of basic cards as well as 5 cards for each class. There are certain cards that can be achieved by leveling up a hero, of which there are 9 classic Warcraft classes that include Druid, Hunter, Mage, Paladin, Warrior, Warlock, Priest, Rogue, and Shaman. At every other level up to 10 you unlock a pair of basic class cards. Once you've gotten all of the heroes to level 10 you will get a bonus pack of cards, which consists of 5 expert cards that can be any type of the 4 rarities (common - white, rare - blue, epic - purple, legendary - gold) but will at least include one rare. You can also craft individual cards using Arcane Dust (more on that later).

Why does the Paladin have a quest above his head?

There are a few ways to get packs: They can be gained as a reward from completing certain quests, or through the Arena (more on that later). They can also be bought with either gold or with real money. Packs cost 100 gold or $1.50 each (although you can buy the packs in bulk for a discounted price with real money). There is also the first expansion called the Curse of Naxxramas, which was a little mini single player campaign where you could face off against AI and get a lot of very decent cards by slowly unlocking the various stages.

Unlikely to ever happen...
There are also a couple of ways you can earn gold. 10 gold is awarded for every 3 games won in Play mode (vs real people, not AI), up to 100 gold max per day. There are regular quests that net you gold, which act more like achievements, such as unlocking every hero or winning 100 games. You can also earn gold through daily quests. Each day you get a new quest, and there is a variety of ways to complete them such as winning 2 games with a certain class or play 40 spells. These daily quests usually give you 40 gold but it can go up to 100 depending on the quest. You can also get gold from playing the Arena, where at the end you can get gold and packs and cards depending on how well you do.

So in theory one could spend 45 minutes a day playing, assuming that in that time you could finish your daily quest and win an average of 5 games. You'd make around 450 gold in a week, which is 4 and a half packs per week. However, keep in mind that you will get at least 1 rare in every pack, but most likely won't get a ton. So in order to get those really good legendary or rare cards will require quite a lot of packs.

So all that is the long way of saying that it is technically possible to earn every card by not spending any money, but it will take a long time. So it depends on how into the game you want to get.

Alright, I actually haven't even talked about gameplay! Yeesh. So the game is 1v1 and turn based. You choose a hero to play, build a deck of 30 cards, and the goal is to lower your opponent's hero's health of 30 to 0. Each turn you draw a card and get 1 mana crystal (the game's resource). During your turn you can play minions, equipment, and spells to attack your opponent or opponent's minions. Each card requires a certain amount of mana to be played, with the pool refreshing each turn (no carry over). With your mana crystal pool increasing each turn, this means that the big guys shouldn't be coming out until later in the game. Minions have attack and defense ratings and will lose health when they are hit and once they hit zero, they are discarded. Once you win or lose, you gain experience, which goes towards leveling your hero.

When it comes to deck building Hearthstone takes a unique and refreshing approach in that you cannot have any more than 2 of any specific card in your deck (except for Arena mode). Also, you cannot have more than 1 of any specific Legendary card in your deck. This goes a long way to making the game accessible in my opinion. No more will you have to grind and hope to get lucky to get 4 or more of any card. It can still be a grind to get 2 but at least it's a little easier.

Another way Hearthstone does a great job of making the game accessible to new players is their crafting system. Using a resource called Arcane Dust. You can get Arcane Dust as a reward in the Arena, or by disenchanting (destroying) cards. So you open a few packs and get 5 copies of a Leper Gnome? Well just disenchant 3 of those for some Arcane Dust. You can now use that Arcane Dust to craft any card of your choosing. With enough Arcane Dust you can craft any card in the game (except for promotional or basic cards) and that is awesome. What isn't awesome is how much Arcane Dust you need. For example disenchanting a common card only gives you 5 Arcane Dust, while crafting one is 40. Of course there are the legendary cards that while disenchanted give you 400 Dust, crafting them cost 1600! So obviously you won't be crafting entire decks soon after you start playing, but I'm glad that the system exists at least.

So much Dust!
 There are 5 modes in Hearthstone that you can play: First there is Practice mode which allows you to play a deck vs AI. You can choose an easy or hard difficulty as well as the choice of which hero you play against. This is the easiest way to learn the game without consequence and a great way to level up your heroes in the beginning. Next is Play mode, where you will be matched up against a real player with "equal" skill. You can play a friendly match or a Ranked match. The latter consists of a 26 tier rank system in a month-long season that can get you cosmetic alternate card backs but not much else at this moment.

Next is Arena mode (finally) which is my favorite. It costs 150 gold or $1.99 to enter. You are given a random choice of 3 heroes to play with, and then you draft a 30 card deck and then play matches against real opponents until you lose 3 games. While drafting you are given a choice of 3 cards at a time, pick one, and then continue. It involves a ton of luck but I really think it's a great equalizer as everyone is picking from the same pool of cards, meaning it doesn't matter if your opponent owns all the legendary cards in the game, what it comes down to is a good draft. You get rewards based on how well you do before you lose those 3 games, with the higher tiers (up to 12 wins) getting you enough gold to pay back the entry fee, a pack of cards, as well as the possibility of single cards and Dust. You are always awarded with one pack so at worst you will lose 50 gold (and you usually get some gold even if you don't win). This is the best way to get packs in my opinion. My current record in Arena is 9 wins and I got almost 300 gold and a pack as my reward so that was pretty slick.

Mmmmmmm loot

Then there is Adventure Mode, which is Hearthstone's answer to single player content. You fight against various bosses who have unique powers and cards. They are a fun puzzle to solve and I really hope they add more stuff like this. The Curse of Naxxramas was an Adventure Mode and it was great. Plus, there are some really good cards you can get by unlocking everything. Unfortunately, it costs gold or real money to unlock the various stages of Naxxramas, but the cards you get are totally worth the trouble in my opinion.

You beautiful OP Sludge Belcher you

You can also Duel people on your friends list but I have not been able to do that yet. I've wanted to, but I must have missed something about it because I was not seeing a way to play against a friend. So far I can only talk to them.

Although I have loved Hearthstone, and expect to play it a lot more, I do still feel like it's a young game that needs some more stuff in it in order to last. There needs to be a tournament structure built into the game. There are ways you can have tournaments outside of the game but it's always through a third party, and it's not intuitive to a layman like myself. The ranked play is fun but it just isn't enough. I want to see brackets and rewards that go beyond an alternate card back (although those are still fun).

Nothing says "I play this game a lot" like a good alternate art card back

I also have issues with the grind aspect of the game. Yes it is free to play and yes you can eventually get all the cards, but the game still feels like you have to grind a little too much. But then again since it is free maybe that's too much of the entitled gamer in me.

I love how quick the games are though. You can finish a match in 5 minutes and that's awesome as a filler when you have some spare time. It's very easy to just pick up and play this game as well. The concepts and strategies are simple to learn, and difficult to master. I like that in games. Heroscape, although being a board game, did that. A little kid can play Hearthstone and have fun, but there is room for a professional community in the game where the best usually win. That is a hard balance to get and I think Hearthstone's gotten it.

The game is also beautiful despite being able to be played on most computers. Warcraft has always managed to be a very pretty theme with the cartoon aspect of it's characters, but they are rendered beautifully in Hearthstone with good battle animations on the cards. You can even get lucky and find gold versions of the various cards that have fluid animations on the cards themselves, adding a collectible and bragging rights aspect to the game.

All in all, however, Hearthstone has provided many hours of entertainment and I'm sure there will be many more. Apparently there is a new expansion that should be coming out before the year's end and I can't wait to see where they go from here.

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