There are people in the streets selling their children and kidneys to play Hearthstone, so I thought it might be worth me playing it for my 24 Hour Time Limit feature, to see what all the fuss is about.
After 24 hours, I'm scratching my head wondering what all the fuss is about. It's a card game using the Warcraft IP and...that's about it. It's fast to play (refreshing in many ways in comparison to the likes of Magic the Gathering) and contains our favourite classes from World of Warcraft, including enemies, NPC's and skills as cards. In all honesty though, I can't understand how people are so desperate to play this game. Have we been starved of a good card game all this time?
Like all Blizzard products, Hearthstone is incredibly polished. The user menu is slick (though lacks any tasteful art direction, but it is in keeping with the styling), animations play out wonderfully well (even if they are a little garish) and the deck building more than fulfilling. The annoyance in all of this however is the fact that I can picture the scene at Blizzard all to well when they thought of it. It must have taken minutes to discuss and draft on paper before they ripped the existing genre format into their own and plastered Warcraft over the top. It's a licence to print money and epitomizes all that I dislike about Blizzards practices (don't get me started on Diablo III, I might just have a melt down).
Perhaps this 24 Hour Time Limit has gotten off onto the wrong foot, because it isn't all bad. What I've always loved about card games (and I've sunk hundreds of hours into Magic the Gathering, in real life and in the video games) is their tactical depth and deck building. Hearthstone mixes this up somewhat and as mentioned above is a much faster, aggressive game. There's no defending your hero here (per-se) but it's more about choosing whether to clear the board or bash the opposing hero. The tactical depth does feel less than Magic and it doesn't necessarily feel that you can play defensively but I don't think the game suffers because of it. It's nice to play a card game that can be over in seconds, though you still feel very much at the behest of the gods sometimes when it comes to the luck of your cards and your opponents.
I might be particularly aggressive when it comes to my deck, but I quickly reached 10/10 Mana as a Druid and burnt through my cards so quickly that if I hadn't succeeded in overcoming my opponent during that window, I was sure to lose. Worse still, my burning through cards so quickly left me fending hand to mouth all too often. I think my deck needs some tweaking, but I like taking the risk.
As far as other things I like are concerned, it probably has to be the use of Stealth and Taunt on particular cards that draw the attention of your attacks. You can't, for example, attack your enemy hero if a taunt card is in play. I think that's snazzy design that ties in wonderfully with World of Warcraft. The same must also be said for the adaptation of World of Warcraft skills into particular cards (though lets face it, not a difficult task). I would have liked to have seen this concept stretched out much further, so that each deck and “class” really has a more unique feel.
What I'm not so comfortable seeing is “neutrals” in my deck. As a Rogue I don't want to be playing my hand with Goldshire Footman or Novice Engineers, I want something much more in keeping and stylised specific to me. Better yet, I want to be able to choose the appearance of my Hero and have much more cards flavoured around what a Rogue, Druid, <insert class here> really is about. I don't feel Blizzard have really discovered yet what each class represented in World of Warcraft and while there couldn't be an accurate transition, playing a Druid deck doesn't feel anywhere similar to the role a Druid fulfilled. Cards like “Sap” and “Backstab” make me feel like they're half way there, but not entirely.
There's also part of me that feels this should have been similar to battle chess as opposed to a card game. There's little logic in this besides it being much more appealing from a combat and hero perspective but I feel it would have been a better fit for the animations and speed of gameplay. It would have also set Hearthstone apart from Magic the Gathering and the numerous other card games out there. Admittedly it's much easier for Blizzard to churn out cards using the concept art in their bulging libraries, which is no doubt why they pursued this route.
So there we have it. Hearthstone is a polished, quick and relatively soulless card game. Blizzard have got the march on the competition by the fact it's free to play, decks are super cheap and it has the infrastructure of Battle.net. As for it being a good game, well yes it is and it's also one I'll keep on my desktop because I suspect friends and I will have good fun over it. But like most Blizzard products, I wish they'd have used all their industry might and wealth to create something revolutionary as opposed to once again tinkering at the edges of someone eases ideas.