Coming to PAX to hear that Blizzard was making an announcement really was a big deal. For weeks we went back and forth about what it was. Blizzard All-Stars was our first guess. Then came the idea of a Diablo expansion. At last we sat down to see Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft a collectible card game for the PC, Mac, and soon after the iPad. I know it does not really fit into the MMO genre, but Hearthstone is a good step for Blizzard in a business sense, and it was certainly unexpected by those in attendance. If nothing else, it shows that the core of Blizzard's team are true gamers, that they love all sorts of gaming experiences. The WoW card game has been a money-maker for years now, and this seems poised to go even further when it hits the iPad.
At first glance Hearthstone looked a bit all over the place. Then we watched a match during the presentation and it took on a life of its own and really became fun. The game is simple to learn, and like most CCGs has levels of mastery. The graphics were fun and kept you engaged in the choices you make. However, there is one element to the game which Blizzard continues to do better than anyone: making the player feel powerful.
There is playing a card game, and then there is Blizzard's version of that. Everything in the game has an epic feel to it. From ending a deck, to casting spells, the power is in the players hands. Blizzard does spell effects the best and even in a small card game, you feel and see power in every turn. It is what sets them apart from other games. Hearthstone's spell effects really jump off the screen and engage the player.
By now you have seen the videos and the preview that we saw at PAX. What I wanted to mention was that this small game really is a big leap for Blizzard. They built a small team to release the game. They had access to a lot of resources and art and decades of Warcraft, and they produced something truly new from the Irvine studio. I think Hearthstone is their answer to the mobile and independent market in Blizzard's own unique way.
Something to note about Blizzard is they test the waters a lot. I think all of us would love to see Diablo on the iPad or even older versions of Warcraft and maybe even Starcraft on mobile devices. Well Hearthstone may just be the beginning of that trend. As mobile games continue to grow and take more players away from their desks, it may be time we see giant studios building games for our smaller devices. I think Hearthstone represents the first step down a new road for Blizzard. That road will continue with more games released in faster development cycles, something Blizzard is not known for at all. My wish is that we see a mobile RTS from Blizzard, something even in the Warcraft universe which really shines on tablets.
Hearthstone may not be a Diablo expansion or Titan, but it does show that Blizzard can still be versatile and grow. It may not be what we expected, or even wanted, but I know I’ll be playing it on the iPad when it launches, that’s for sure.