Playing Your Cards Right
Ever since I began playing the Pokemon Trading Card Game and Yu-Gi-Oh! (go ahead, judge me), I have been a sucker for card games. I first started playing Hearthstone because a friend recommended the game to me. Familiar with Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, I already had an idea about what the game might entail: mythical creatures, intricate graphics, and lots of cursing whenever one of my monster cards were destroyed. After 100+ hours of playing the game, Hearthstone has met and exceeded my expectations. Plus, it’s free to play!
Hearthstone is reminiscent of physical card-games like Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! However, combined with the stellar graphics and sounds that Blizzard never fails to provide, Hearthstone brings an interesting take to what was a very niche genre.
As you might have guessed, Hearthstone doesn’t provide any sort of storyline for you. In fact, you aren’t even a character within the game; rather, you’re apparently one of the many Warcraft heroes that gathers around the game table (which, based on the sound reactions throughout the game, is surrounded by a number of mythical creatures eagerly watching your every move). You will occasionally hear the “Good to see you again!” or “There’s always room for another!” dialogue when you log in, but otherwise you exist by your deck of cards.
Presentation is probably one of the minor setbacks this game has. I am a huge fan of the graphics and sounds that Blizzard provides, whether it be the ogre’s angry snarling or the mesmerizing looks of the various jungles, cities, and countryside that surrounds the game table. Hearthstone is also presented with the same look of its graphics, with slight differences of the different artists being showcased on the card images. However, a downside to this is that it will make your computer run slower generally. I just bought myself a new Asus laptop, and after long bouts of playing Hearthstone I find that the game begins lagging in between turns or freezing occasionally after some time. I recommend using a Mac with this game, as it appears to run better on it. I will add the disclaimer that my Wi-Fi is pretty subpar which is a big factor in the lagging and freezing as well as getting kicked out of the application many times.
The game provides sound effects immediately when logging in, as well as during the card battles. Occasionally after very powerful attacks or spells, background characters will exclaim in delight or groan in response. Characters can even command their heroes to say a small light phrase, such as a greeting or a threat, that is different for each hero. I have never had a problem with the sounds, and I enjoy the different sound effects that the cards make when played.
Hearthstone is a turn-based strategy game. Turn-based games are for those (like me) who really like to take their time and think about each maneuver; there’s definitely a left-brained quality to it. The possibilities of monster plays, attacks, and spell cards are numerous per turn, especially when you acquire so many mana crystals (which are earned one at a time and establish how many monster cards you can play per turn). The diversity and verisimilitude of the plays per turn are satisfying when trying to achieve complex strategies, but just as frustrating when similar tactics are used against you. It definitely shakes things up and keeps you on your toes!
Users can choose to play in “Casual” mode, where opponents are chosen for them at random, or they can play in “Ranked” mode, where the players are matched against other users with the same ranked level offering more balance in expertise. The only drawback to this is that Ranked mode isn’t necessarily reflective on the other user’s experience; you may find yourself getting crushed because users have multiple accounts (it is a free game, afterall). Games can be over in one minute or they can be over in almost an hour- it all depends on how you play your hand!
Players can earn in-game money through winning a lot of battles, or through completing quests. Quests are created daily and usually have specific instructions such as “Win 5 Battles as a Shaman or a Warlock” or “Play 50 5+ Level Monsters.” Quests can be done later if you don’t complete them the day of, but a player can only hold three quests at a time. Players have a couple of options in what to do with their gold: they can buy more cards in packs or they can battle in the Arena. Buying packs is a great way towards building a good deck as you are guaranteed at least one rare card per pack of five cards. However, as with most things in life, it isn’t as easy at it sounds–the cards you tend to get most of the time are very basic, filling your collection with many of the same cards. If you’re really lucky you’ll get a legendary dragon card (I’m still hoping to nab a Ysera one day). I’m not personally a big fan of the Arena, which allows you to battle as many people as you want until you lose three times, but that is likely due to my poor drafts than anything. You get a pack no matter how you place, but many victories will nab you in-game currency, rare cards, and additional packs. However, I have heard of people getting fantastic cards (like the fabulous Leeroy Jenkins!) through the Arena, so it definitely is worth checking out and seeing for yourself.
Decks can either be created for you or customized. I recommend customizing the cards, because if you get the computer to do it for you then they will give you the most basic and possibly useless cards that you have. Users can customize up to nine decks, which can match up to any one of the nine heroes that you can play. Each hero offers different cards and hero powers (which are essentially cards the hero can utilize during their turn) that can prove to be beneficial depending on how you like to play the game. For example, Valeera the Rogue hero is a great character to bum rush opponents against for a quick defeat. Consequently, Anduin the Priest hero is great to bide time until using more powerful cards that use up more mana crystals. I think the diversity among the heroes is a great idea as it allows me to change up my strategy depending on my mood. Lately, I’ve been really digging Gul’Dan the Warlock hero and his soul-eating, life-draining deck I’ve created for him.
The Verdict: 9.0 out of 10
Hearthstone is a fantastic game for all ages, even if that sounds cliched. The gameplay and rules are really easy to pick up on. Coupled with the potential for complex strategies, the game can be just as much fun for you as for your little brother. I mentioned the downside of the occasional lagging and freezing, but the game more than makes up for it with its vast selection of unique cards, tactics, and characters.Too often I will sit to play a round or two; six hours later, my entire Friday night is gone and I’m a few Knife Jugglers richer. Finally, if there is anything I can say that can convince you to at least try this game out, it would be that… IT IS COMPLETELY 100% FREE!
Audrey Lips is MONG’s newest editor. She is currently balancing a Journalism major while secretly hoping to get her Hogwarts acceptance letter. You can follow her TMI posts on Twitter.
This review is based off of the Free-to-Play PC copy. The reviewer spent 100+ hours with the game.