Grab a keg of ale, pull up a chair and prepare yourself for a tavern filling amount of card based fun! Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a two player card battling game created by the World of Warcraft creators Blizzard Entertainment. The game, while completely different from the massive MMO is still based on the Warcraft lore, from the cards to the boards you play on, even the characters you play as. The goal during a match on Hearthstone is to defeat your opponent by damaging them (each ‘player’ starts with 30 health points). Minions can be summoned to defend you and to attack your opponent. You spend mana crystals to use abilities/summon minions etc which steadily increase as the turns clock over (turn one you’ll have 1 crystal, turn two 2 crystals, and so on).
Regardless of your current level of experience when it comes to card-based battle games, such as the popular Magic The Gathering games (the original physical card game and the online offerings) you’ll soon get into the swing of how the gameplay works thanks to a comprehensive tutorial system. During the course of the tutorial you’ll play as Jaina Proudmoore, the Mage (one of a range of available ‘classes’ which I’ll discuss later). You’ll have to battle six different A.I controlled opponents which have all been programmed in specific ways to demonstrate key gameplay elements. For example the first of the six is Hogger, which will introduce you to the core basics of summoning minions and dealing damage to your opponent. By the end of the tutorial you’ll feel confident enough to delve into a competitive game and see how you fare.
In Hearthstone you have 9 different classes, each represented by a key player in the Warcraft lore, for example the previously mention Jaina along with Thrall, Ulther and others. The key thing about each class is their individual ability. Costing two Mana crystals they can vary between dealing damage (the Hunter can fire an Arcane Shot, which deals damage directly to the enemy player), summon additional minions (a Paladin can summon a 1/1 Recruit) or even heal yourself/one of your minions (Priest can heal 2 points of damage). As well as this key ability each class can level up by playing games against online opponents which unlocks class-specific cards. As mentioned you’ll start with the Mage unlocked so if you wish to unlock more classes you’ll have to beat the A.I in Practice mode, or play online and defeat a human player using a class you haven’t unlocked yet.
That leads me nicely onto the different modes available. ‘Practice’ mode is currently the only mode where you battle against A.I opponents. The ‘Play’ mode is where you’ll find yourself being pitted against human opponents in either a Casual game or a Ranked game. Finally you have the ‘Arena’ which is locked to begin with until you have unlocked all the different classes. By entering the Arena (which costs Gold) you’ll be given the choice of 3 classes at random, and then will have to create a deck again at random (the game which show you three cards, of which you choose one. This process repeats until you have a full deck of 30 cards). You rack up Gold as winnings based on consecutive victories in the Arena.
So what is this about earning gold then I hear you cry? This is of course a card based game, so as you battle away with your decks you're going to want to add new cards into the mix. This can be done by either spending in-game winnings (winning in the Arena, completing Daily Quests, and winnings 3 games online playing casually or ranked earns you gold) or buy using your own real cash to purchase packs of cards. Card packs contain 5 cards, which 1 will always be a rare card. If you’re lucky you may get a couple of rares...maybe even an epic...or perhaps even a legendary card! The price of the cards is very reasonable when you consider the game is free, with two packs of cards costing £1.99. Thanks to daily quests and earning while you're winning you may even find yourself easily earning enough gold to never finding yourself having to spend any money to buy packs.
As you unlock cards via packs and via leveling up your class you’ll want to start really tinkering with your deck of cards. The card building menu (entitled ‘My Collection’) is easy to use, showing you at glance the balance in cost of each of your cards (for example, you may have lots of expensive cards which you won’t be able to use until you have enough crystals during a game compared to not having enough low-cost cards which you could use early on in the match).
You cannot trade cards with friends, which is an interesting note. This was obviously something Blizzard thought about and decided against to encourage in-game purchases. You can however disenchant cards you get in packs that you don’t want, giving you dust which you can spend on creating new cards.
The more you play of Hearthstone, the more you’ll understand the different combinations of cards that the game offers you. While some cards are great on their own, combined with another card it could become an absolute monster. With a wide variety of special moves on offer, with cards that includes buffs, heals and death rattles (an ability that triggers when that card is destroyed) you’ll soon start hanging back certain cards until the right moment. I played a game the other day against a Druid, which thanks to a copy of quick spells and a minion almost cost me all my life points in two turns. Two! Obviously, it does depend on how the cards are dealt, but there is a great deal of strategy on offer here.
Progressing up the Rank matches is fun. Depending on your skill level you’ll probably find the difficulty level starts to really spike at around rank 20/21. Up and around 15/16 you’ll soon start seeing lots of decks with multiple legendary cards, which aren’t unbeatable but are still very challenging. You can still progress up the ranks without paying to purchase cards with your own earned money, but you will find the process slightly quicker than having to earn in-game gold.
I started playing Hearthstone on my PC via Battle.net. As you’d expect from Blizzard, this title is polished up to the eyeballs and it runs brilliantly. With it being a card game it of course doesn’t need Crysis style graphics or a massive amount of RAM, however the game still looks gorgeous and vibrant. The matches are played out on a number of random Warcraft-inspired boards, which are interactable (you can turn the lights out in the church on the Stormwind board for example, or load a light a fire on the Stranglethorn one). I particularly like the little comments when you view your cards in your collection, for example the spell Holy Light when you select it to look at it in closer detail has written to the side of it “If you are often bathed in Holy Light you should consider sunscreen”. Little touches of polish that add to the overall high standards of presentation.
While I’ve wanted one for quite some time, it did encourage me to pick up an iPad. I decided to go with an iPad Mini (based on my needs) and it works great on the little tablet. It does on occasional have the odd bit of slowdown mid-match, and navigating round the menus is a slightly slower process, but we aren’t talking about a massive amount of time difference plus you’d expect such a thing when comparing a gaming PC to a tablet. It still looks great and none of the features are missing from the PC counterpart. It is of course cross compatible too, so it doesn’t matter what device you play it on. Since getting it on iPad I do warn, it is incredibly difficult to put down, so download it on your iPad at your own peril! Blizzard are planning an iPhone version for the second half of this year, while they are looking to release an Android version at some stage in the future.
Multiplayer matches against your friends are easy to set up thanks to Battle.net’s friend system, with both versions of the game having in-game access to a little menu where you can select from your friends to commence battle with, and of course add new ones too. There is also a function to battle nearby players who are signed in on Battle.net on the same network as you, encouraging people to take part and host local multiplayer Hearthstone meets (or as Blizzard call them, Fireside Gatherings).
If you like the idea of a free card battling game on your PC or iPad, then you really can’t go wrong. If you have any kind of interest in the Warcraft series then this is probably up there as a must download title. While card games aren’t always everyone's cup of tea, I’d highly recommend giving this one a go. It’ll cost you nothing and the tutorial is very user-friendly, even if you haven’t touched a card game before in your life. Veterans of Magic The Gathering and so on will be right at home with the gameplay mechanics on offer here.
In my opinion, a great PC game in its own right, whilst the portable nature of the iPad makes it a must download app if you have one.