Mind over Matter

If the past few years have proven anything for PC gaming, it’s that it’s very much alive, thriving  and here to stay. With the industry on the precipice of revolution under the ever rising popularity and success of the free to play model, more and more developers are doing away with standard retail pricing in lieu of micro-transactions . Not only do these titles not require any immediate cash up front, they are also extremely generous and rewarding in nature.  The latest entry in this bold new frontier comes at the hands of industry veteran Blizzard Entertainment with the incredibly appealing and addictive strategy card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft which has just transitioned into open beta.

Coming into the beta I had no idea what to expect having severely limited to no experience or finesse whatsoever when it comes to strategy card games. My grand sense of uneasiness rapidly dissipated however as Hearthstone does such an impressive job of easing the player into the experience without making them feel like they’re being thrown in the deep end.  Players are not only afforded the opportunity to learn all the ins and outs of the title’s combat system and mechanics through an incredibly helpful and intuitive tutorial system, but are also rewarded with a deep and diverse range of AI opponents for which they can hone their skills and confidence before taking the fight to fellow players. Combat is incredibly satisfying in Hearthstone due to not only it’s diverse array of cards, each with more interesting traits and characteristics than the next, but also for the ability for the heroes themselves to engage in combat, each with their own unique ability.

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Equally as impressive is how well the player is introduced to the game’s 9 different deck types which are unsurprisingly based off not only classes from Blizzard’s beloved MMO World of Warcraft but famous heroes from the lore themselves.  As the name clearly states heroes are a plenty in Hearthstone and World of Warcraft fans and newcomers alike can take great joy in playing as favourite heroes from the franchise; whether it be the honorable Uther Lightbringer the paladin, or the proud mage Jaina Proudmoore. However not all of these decks will be available from the immediate onset and with good reason. Some classes can prove to be far more complex than the next and it is for this reason that you will be starting off with a basic mage deck which serves to be a great learning point. Hearthstone is all about the cards however and you will be unlocking them furiously as you level up gradually adding more depth to your card pool and enhancing your strategy prowess.  Not only does this instill a profound sense of meaningful progression as you begin to see fruits of your labour come to fruition on your grand quest for better loot or in this case cards, it also adds a great sense of depth to what is essentially a very simple concept.

“it also adds a great sense of depth to what is essentially a very simple concept.”

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this grand package however is the game board itself. Not only does Hearthstone look gorgeous with its fantastically animated and vivid arenas, it also features the excellence in art design that has become a trademark of the Warcraft brand. Not only is combat a true pleasure to watch due to a flurry of exciting and clever animations, it also serves to encapsulate the player and hold their excitement and sense of immersion as you trade blows back and forth between turns.  Interaction between the games numerous heroes also serves as a great method of immersing the player in the exciting game world while at the same time interacting with the opposing player. Whether it be applause or insult, gratitude or disapproval it truly adds an engaging layer to the gameplay and serves to prevent longer turns from rendering the game stagnant.

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As you most likely guessed micro-transactions play a big part in Hearthstone. Don’t expect to see anything radically different from what we have already seen from most modern MOBAs in this regard as players can both opt to use currency they have generated in game through the completion of small quests or your own hard earned cash to splash out on new cards with the hope of landing the perfect card. Options include the ability to buy anywhere from 1 – 40 packs each consisting of 5 random cards of varying categories whether it be class specific or neutral with the guarantee of one rare card of varying scale in every pack.  Real money pricing for these packs can prove to be quite expensive however with some card packages costing in excess of $50 so be prepared to grind for many hours if you don’t have the spare cash to splash out on sprucing up your deck.

Crafting plays an integral role in Hearthstone  as players progress further and acquire rare and enchanted cards. Players can acquire a crafting currency called arcane dust by disenchanting rarer cards, the remnants of which can be used to craft new and more powerful additions to your deck. The ability to craft new cards works great in unison with the ability for the player to create their own custom decks allowing for seemingly limitless combinations and styles of play.

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As impressive as this preview build of the industry titan’s new strategy card game may be it isn’t without flaws. Although a great deal of the combat can boil down to the players ability to craft a versatile and viable deck, I can’t help but feel as if the playing field isn’t quite level just yet. The game’s arena mode and shop prices do feel a bit much also. However if this beta is any indication of what the future holds for this new and exciting entry in the strategy card genre, the future is looking appealing indeed.

Be sure to head over battle.net and get involved!  Happy Hunting.