If nothing else, Hearthstone is a beautiful card game that truly oozes with personality. It all begins as soon as you boot the game up and hear the Innkeeper beckoning you to, “Pull up a chair by the hearth!” Each card is also voiced and many feature incredible entry animations and quotes. My favorite has to be the Defias Ringleader card. The Ringleader will shout, “This is our town, scrub!” when played. But when combo’d (played after another card is played that turn), he will also spawn a Defias Bandit along with him who follows up with, “Yeah! Beat it!” In a more visual example, the Shaman card Feral Spirit features two ghostly wolves running across the screen and onto the board. Legendary cards like the aforementioned Ragnaros burst onto the board in a fiery eruption. There are tons of great examples and they all help to make Hearthstone come to life as you play it.
Each hero also features its own voiced lines when entering battle, attacking, or even emoting. Yep, you can greet or even taunt your opponents.
Even the sound effects of combat are a thrill. Cards smashing against other cards or the face of your opponent will come with an audible thwunk. Cards with huge attack values will make a much more visceral sound and come with cheers and applause from the ‘crowd’. It’s incredibly satisfying.
The cards all feature beautifully drawn art and golden versions of each card are always animated in some way. For example, the basic version of the card ‘Edwin VanCleef’ features the character on a ship in stormy waters. In the golden version of the card, you can see the sails of the ship blowing violently and a torrent of rain pouring down in the background.
Blizzard is well known for developing incredibly polished games and Hearthstone is no different. The beautiful art, visual and sound effects, and UI of Hearthstone all come together to create a slick, experience in true Blizzard fashion. Everything is neatly laid out and presented in an intuitive way.
That said, Hearthstone is a bit buggier than one would expect. Things vary from patch to patch, but graphical glitches, played cards visually stuck at the top of the screen, or cards switching around in your hand as you try to play them are all things that you might experience when playing Hearthstone. Sometimes these bugs are merely annoying, but other times they can really mess with your ability to play the game.
Truthfully, Hearthstone doesn’t really do a whole lot to innovate. The game is more of an expertly refined card game experience. Classes, their respective heroes, and their abilities are the more notable innovations here, but there isn’t really much on that front just yet. This isn’t a bad thing, either. Blizzard’s masterful ability to distill the often incredibly complex card game experience into an accessible game that doesn’t really sacrifice much in the way of depth is innovative for the genre in itself.
This is where the purely digital experience offered by Hearthstone is a bit of a double-edged sword. The naturally social experience of playing card games with other players is lost a bit in the sterile experience of playing online. Aside from emotes, players can’t communicate with each other during matches (in order to clamp down on toxicity often found in online games) unless they are already friends with each other on Battle.net. The lack of any sort of tournament or party mode doesn’t allow for groups of players to get together and play.
But possibly the worst of all? Trading isn’t possible in Hearthstone. If you’ve got extra cards or cards that you don’t want, all you can do is disenchant them for dust that can be used to create other cards. That’s it.
Hearthstone’s longevity is readily apparent from a cursory glance at the game’s history. The game started as an experiment. Blizzard wanted to see what it could do using a budget and team size that was more in line with back in the studio’s early days. It wasn’t necessarily going to be a big deal, but that experiment seems to have paid off immensely, as the game continues to grow in relevance with each passing month. There are tons of people playing the game and tournaments are really beginning to get rolling. Between all of that and Blizzard’s plans for the future (new card sets, single player ‘PvE’ content, and mobile versions) the game has a bright future ahead of it.
On a more personal level, Hearthstone is solid enough that if it gets its hooks in you, they will dig deep. The game takes on a Civilization-like level of addictiveness where instead of one more turn, you’ll often tell yourself “just one more game”. That one more game can quickly become five, or ten, or more depending on how much time you have to spend and I imagine this is going to only be amplified once the mobile versions of the game come online.
This is an area where your mileage may vary. Hearthstone is a free-to-play game, so there isn’t an upfront investment, but how far you can take that will depend partly on skill level. Pros like Reynad and Trump have demonstrated that it’s possible to climb the ladder using cheaply made or entirely free decks, but having access to a wide array of cards will definitely make your life easier. Many cards are earned while leveling a class, but the ones that aren’t can only be crafted or found via opened packs. Packs can be purchased for in-game gold or real money and if you focus on a single class or deck you can easily put together a competitive list without a huge investment.
Gold can be earned in a couple of ways. You’ll earn gold every few matches played, through daily quests, or playing in the Arena. The former two methods are a slower trickle, but if you’re patient, you can certainly acquire packs this way. Now, if you’re skilled at Arena play, this is where Hearthstone’s value will really jump through the roof for you. Arena will cost you 150 gold to enter, but if you win just a couple of matches, you’ll have more than repaid the entry fee in rewards. Skilled Arena players can earn gold quickly and end up with all the cards in the game and gold just sitting around.
Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB