As you probably know from my recent Twitter activity, I’ve been playing in the Hearthstone beta for the past month. I play about 4 to 5 hours a week, which most likely qualifies as “casual” in the time investment department, but as a Magic player, I wanted to share some of my impressions about the game.
Gameplay-wise, it’s very similar to Magic. You cast dudes, you cast spells, and you try to kill your opponent with damage. The turn structure is simplified and stripped down. Triggers aside, the only time each player takes actions is on their own turn. Turns are fairly fast in all but the most complex of board states, when more thinking is required to properly sequence your actions. There are aggro decks, midrange decks and control decks – and to some extent (mainly in constructed), combo decks.
The game itself isn’t anything innovative. It’s essentially a bare-bones version of the WoW paper TCG. But where I think it shines, and is the reason I keep playing, is how well Hearthstone functions and presents itself as a digital game. Blizzard knocked it out of the park by perfectly incorporating sound effects, voice acting and animation into the game. The effect of every play is palpable. Hitting your opponent with a 1-power minion elicits a minor “thump”, while attacking with a 7-power monster literally smashes their avatar. A majority of minions have beloved, quotable catch phrases. Understanding that some players may be waiting for their opponents to think out their turns, they put clickable, animated set pieces (such as a church or a catapult) on each corner of the game screen. Each card has a comedic flavor quote you can read from the collection screen, and golden (foil) cards have uniquely animated frames. The music is beautiful. Hearthstone’s presentation wins your heart with the little details.
You can grow your collection whether you’re a grinder or a casual player, although there are stipulations. If you’re a casual player with limited time investment, you can probably make a decent amount of gold every few days, but your collection will grow at a slower rate. If you’re a grinder, you can acquire cards much more quickly through the Arena – but you need to be a competent player or repeatedly mediocre results will cause you to lose too much gold. For the impatient or those with disposable income, you can simply buy packs or Arena drafts with real cash money. There is no trading between players, so duplicate cards can be converted to “dust”, another currency that can be used to craft specific cards.
So I’ve briefly sung Hearthstone’s praises, and I’m a fan of the game. What can be changed?
Provide material rewards for the constructed ladder: I have no desire to reach Rank 1/Legendary status – currently the only persistent reward for continued constructed success – and so I have no incentive to play ranked constructed. Gold or another incentive for reaching ranked milestones would be a strong draw. Alternately, create constructed tournaments with a gold/cash buy-in and a similar prize payout.
Incorporate recorded stats for players: While there are some great utilities such as ArenaMastery.com that help record your game results, having something in-game would be cool to have.
Improve dust returns for duplicates: The current rate of return for duplicate cards is abysmal. While I understand that it shouldn’t be too easy to create new cards, the current system is almost punishing to players who want to craft cards but are afraid to, in case they open them in packs down the road.
This has the side effect of making constructed much less viable for newer players such as me. Because of my smaller collection, I am limited to only 1 or 2 viable constructed decks.
Buff cards instead of nerfing them: When you consistently nerf overpowered cards, the perception of the player community is that you’re taking something away from them. While buffing cards requires more testing and thought, there are a number of cards – both neutral and class-specific – that are languishing because they are utterly shit. The real tragedy is that some have very cool abilities, but are otherwise unplayable.
All told, for a closed beta Hearthstone is an incredibly polished game. I feel like there’s a segment of Magic players that look down on Hearthstone, but I’ve learned to love both. Maybe you’ll give it a shot in the upcoming open beta. Feel free to challenge me to a game sometime!