Hearthstone is a free to play card game by Blizzard that has really gained popularity over the past few months. With it's easy to understand rules, yet it's surprising amount of depth and great production values, it's not shocking to see why so many people are playing it. When games are only 5-15 minutes, how bad could it be to play just one more (Answer: Say goodbye to getting any work done.)
Free to Play:
As of right now, you, the reader, could go and download the game, and start playing immediately. Hearthstone's barrier to entry is essentially non-existent. If anyone even had the slightest inkling or urge to even just try it out, they can do so. It's this exact urge that got me playing the game in the first place. With no obstacles stopping you from at least trying it, you really have nothing to lose.
The gameplay of Hearthstone is very simple. Summon minions and cast spells to kill your opponent before he kills you. The game has an extremely well done tutorial that teaches you about all the aspects of the game. By the end of it, you'll know almost exactly how every effect in the game functions, and it's enjoyable to do at the same time. The rules of the game are simple, but there is enough depth for more interesting strategies to be available. The nature of the game can be quite addicting, as it's not bogged down by super heavy analysis you need to do each move, but it's just enough to feel rewarding when you figure out a cheeky move that your opponent may not have been expecting.
High Production Values:
As a game from Blizzard, you can be sure that the game has high production values. The art in the game is great, the effects/animations when you play certain cards look fantastic, and the sound of when you have a minion attack your opponents face is incredibly satisfying. It's very apparent that the game is well put together, and everything works in unison. Even just flipping pages and looking through your cards has that sense of high quality.
The Joy of Opening Card Packs:
This is mostly a consequence of the high production values, but it really deserves its own point. Opening card packs is incredibly addictive (I even caved in and bought $50 worth of cards, I'll leave that story at the bottom of the review). Opening a pack feels akin to taking a drug, even more so in Hearthstone than in other card games. When you open a pack, it doesn't just immediately show you the cards, it gives you the five cards face down.
When you hover over the cards, it will glow in their rarity.
And when you reveal a card that is of some value (rares and above), the innkeeper excitedly announces that in an enthusiastic voice that increases as the card value increases.
The moment you reveal a legendary card, you really get hyped and excited.
Opening packs can be just as exciting/fun as playing the actual game.
I know what you may be thinking: "THIS SHOULD BE IN THE TERRIBLE SECTION!", but hear me out, as it's not as bad as you may think. As a free to play game, the way Blizzard monetizes is through two ways: selling card packs, and selling tickets to the arena (more on that later). Both of which you can obtain for free in game. Now when you think about it, it seems like Blizzard is selling power because if you buy more packs, you have more cards, thus you can do better than people who don't buy cards. I will admit that is true, and compared to other free to play games, it does seem like pay to win. However, here's the kicker: then are all trading card games like Magic/Yu-Gi-Oh/etc pay to win? You can't just play some games of MTG and walk up to a store clerk and ask for a free booster pack. Yet that's possible in Hearthstone. It's kind of naturally how card games work. If you want to play the game, you have to be willing to spend money to obtain cards. Blizzard however, has implemented multiple ways to earn gold (winning games and completing quests), and thus buy packs and tickets to the arena. No matter what you say, as far as I know, Hearthstone is the only card game that will give you free cards just by playing the game. When you compare Hearthstone's monetization method with other F2P titles, it may seem unfair. But when you consider what it means to be a card game, then I think it falls more into perspective.
Its simplicity however can be a double edged sword. People who desire a complex game are likely to be disappointed. Hearthstone is never going to reach the complexity of MTG. It's not designed that way. So for people who want a really deep and intricate card game, Hearthstone may not be for you. There is room for it to be expanded through expansions, but as of right now, if you're looking for a vastly complex card game to dabble in, Hearthstone's not it.
Made for Competition:
As of right now, there are only three game modes in Hearthstone: Constructed, Arena, Practice. In constructed, you play with your own built deck and play other players with their built decks. It's also further separated into Casual and Ranked, so there's an option if you want to try out a deck without risking your rank. This is the most typical game mode.
Arena is kind of like a draft mode. It costs gold/money to get in (a bit more than what a single pack costs) and you can get a variety of rewards from playing in it. You start of by choosing the class you want to play (kind of equivalent to colors in MTG), and then start to draft a deck. How it works is that 3 cards of the same rarity are presented, and you are allowed to choose one of those cards to put into your deck. You repeat this process 30 times to build a deck of 30 cards. You then go and compete against other people with the decks that they drafted. Once you lose 3 times or get 12 wins, your run is finished and you are rewarded based on how well you did. You are assured at least one card pack as well as potentially gold/dust(used for crafting)/cards.
Practice is just a simple fight against the computer, with two difficultly levels. For most of the quests in the game, you cannot complete them in practice mode.
What this means is that, if you want to play by yourself, there are limited options. So if you're not a competitive person, this game probably isn't for you. Although Blizzard has announced that an Adventure mode is in the works, so you may want to check in eventually once it's implemented.
Kind of Buggy:
A gripe with the game is that during gameplay, there still are some bugs that need fixing. Although since the game launched, this probably has been dramatically reduced. Sometimes, cards switch around spots, and thus can mess up card placement, with the worst case scenario losing you the game. This was more prevalent in the beta, but still happens, if only very infrequently.
Hearthstone is a great game in the F2P category for people who are looking for a new fix. It's great whether you're there just to play a quick game, or if you're wanting to play a long set, Hearthstone's got you covered. With it's easy to learn but hard to master style, Hearthstone's a game you could be playing for a long time.
EXTRA: How a Man Caved in and Spent $50 on Virtual Cards
I mentioned it in the review, but opening packs feels really good. I'm not one to buy microtransactions, but Hearthstone really clicked with me. Normally microtransactions are either P2W and then I simply don't play the game, or they're cosmetic, and I convince myself I can live without them. However, as a person who enjoys card games, I felt at an impasse, as I had the knowledge to do well, but not the cards to do it with. This lead to me pondering whether or not to buy cards for a good while. It's especially crazy considering I'm extremely stingy when it comes to money, and buy almost all my games during some sort of sale. To think I would pay the price of a brand new game on a microtransaction still kind of surprises me today. Yet, I don't feel regret about it. When you consider Hearthstone as a card game, and you think about the amounts people spend on that, $50 is a piddly amount. I've also been enjoying the flexibility in deck freedom now that I have more cards. Not to say that you can't do that playing for free, as Hearthstone still very much offers that freedom, but I would consider buying packs a shortcut to getting there. It's not necessarily that cards in packs are better, they're just different. A variety of people have shown themselves getting to Legend (the highest rank in the game) without paying a cent and running very cheap to craft decks. All in all, as crazy as the title sounds, I feel fairly content with my purchase.