Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Blizzard’s latest mega hit is their brand new collectible card game. I’ve been lucky enough to receive a beta key a few weeks ago and would like to share my impressions and any improvements that I feel like should be made. I haven’t played Blizzard’s original World of Warcraft trading card game but I believe it has had a large amount of influence on the way Hearthstone was designed. I have played a few different card games in the past and Hearthstone feels like a more simplified version of Magic the Gathering. However even though the basic concepts are very simple, Hearthstone has great depth with regards to strategy and play styles provided by each class type. I won’t go into the basics of how the game works or any particular strategy since most gaming sites have flooded the internet with those types of posts. I want to give my personal impressions of playing through the beta in the last two weeks.

So far I’ve loved the game. I’ve been looking for an entertaining card game to play and Hearthstone has hit the spot. I generally prefer playing in the constructed play mode over the arena mode. Arena feels too RNG for me, since I never get any of the useful class cards and I generally avoid things that involve RNG. However Arena has the most value in terms of gold spent. You can buy regular sets of booster packs at 100 gold or enter the Arena at 150 gold. Basically it comes down to spending 50 extra gold on the chance to make more gold, arcane dust, gold cards or an extra pack. Arena mode will always give you one pack no matter how many wins you have. I don’t feel like this is a problem since I’m not forced to do arena and people who really despise arena can just use their gold on buying regular packs. You also always break even at 7 wins and anything higher will always be a profit. However 7 wins isn’t always possible since the deck you have might just be truly awful or just run into some bad luck with card draws.

Arena mode is probably where most people will want to spend their time. The Arena mode gives you a chance to sometimes use the cards you normally wouldn’t and see some awesome combo’s that you would have normally disregarded. It’s definitely an interesting mode that lets you come up with some very random decks but I feel the randomness can sometimes be a bit too much. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and get a bunch of cards you need and other times you’ll end up with a terrible deck. Arena also throws away the 2 card limit rule and allows the player to have as many of the same cards as they want. This becomes a problem when trying to predict what an opponent can do because you can no longer rule out cards just because they used two of them. However this isn’t much of an issue if you always expect the unexpected in Arena. I think the RNG issue of getting the right cards is something that needs to be addressed.

The first solution is to allow the player to postpone some of their selections until the very end. This would allow players to return to that selection with a better idea of how their deck will work. I’m not sure how many selections they can postpone but I think the range from 3-5 should be enough to allow the player some flexibility and still have a randomness associated with the deck that gives the player a unique play mode.

The other solution I have is a bit more dramatic in terms of the change to arena. The player would be able to see all 30 sets of selections and then would be able to pick one card from each set in any order. This would greatly minimize the randomness associated with deck building in arena but it would also make Arena much more like constructed play mode. I’m guessing this won’t happen since people generally like to be surprised in their decks from Arena.

Hearthstone lacks any social features at all other than incorporating your friends list. During player matches in both arena and play mode, both players can only use six different emotes, a greeting, a well played, thanks, sorry, oops, and a threaten. This works for most of the time since I feel like most online communities end up having people curse at you for playing certain cards or just talk nonsense which really hurts the long term community.  However I would like the ability to add players I face as a friend after a match so that I can eventually have a rematch against them. I’ve had quite a few matches where both us were pretty much even for most of the game. There isn’t even a general chat where you can discuss the game or find players to match up against. You pretty much have to become an active member of a forum to find new friends to play against.

Another feature I would love to see is a tournament mode where players can face off against each other in a tournament fashion and crown someone the winner. It would be nice to have a tournament mode for both random players and one with friends. Logistics would be the biggest problem for the random player tournament since not everyone can dedicate an entire afternoon to gaming. However I think a friendly tournament mode would work best for people who just want to make a day out of the event. Maybe even allow for an entry fee that gets split up among the top three winners which would give incentive to play in this mode.

One thing I noticed about the game right away was the fact that the basic deck can only take you so far. Eventually you will reach a point where you’re only facing people who have bought a good amount of packs and will end up losing to them constantly. Farming for packs doesn’t seem reasonable since it takes at least 30 wins in play mode to get enough gold for a single pack or 45 wins to get an arena entry. However that first set of 40 packs for about $50 will help you secure a lot more wins when you end up in the higher ranks. It’s hard to resist the temptation of buying even more packs since there are so many cards available.  Even after buying 120 packs, I’m missing about 128 cards (this includes 2 copies of regular cards to make complete sets) with about 25ish being legendary. I’m tempted to get another set of 40 packs in order to close out that gap but I think I’ll resist my urge in order to conserve some money. I’m sure Blizzard has made a killing off Hearthstone since almost everyone I know that has a beta key has spent on average about $50.

My overall experience with Hearthstone has been great.  I believe Blizzard has created an awesome cash cow with a lot of opportunity to expand their future revenue. Hearthstone is very welcoming to new players who may have never picked up a card game before. It also has enough depth to keep players entertained for months especially with all the different types of decks available. I look forward to Blizzard continuing to add new cards classes through future expansions for Hearthstone.