First Impressions of Blizzard’s upcoming project: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (Closed beta)

Blizzard employees are nerds who like fantasy. Very talented ones mind you. Which such great skill that, what started off as a side project by a few employees, becomes their next big release. Hearthstone is a trading card game where you collect cards and build a deck to go up against your opponent and battle strategically and try to defect your opponents hero by reducing their HP to 0. The strategy comes from using different minions and spells while trying to counter your opponent’s moves using your set of predetermined cards.

Using a art style similar to Warcraft, Hearthstone focuses on colorful characters and a slightly cartoony art style. There is tons of detail, with the beasts looking meaty and the spellcasters well ornamented. The game has pleasant looking boards with aesthetics that match well with the Warcraft universe. The animation is smooth and tight, which is important so as they don’t get in the way by artificially prolonging the gameplay. The effects also ramp up with their power and damage shaking the whole screen to signify impact, this feedback makes big moves feel powerful and cards feel mighty.

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Audio is top notch with voice acting of the goblin announcer an apt impresario with the right amount of showmanship and cheesiness. Your heroes dialog options have just enough variety that the dialog never seems to get repetitive while the grunts of your minions to the sweeping winds of the which doctors’ heals sound impressive and give auditory feedback of the play on the board.

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The closed Beta version of Hearthstone has 9 heroes to choose from. You’re supposed to choose one, and build a deck of 30 cards around him. Each hero is distinguised by his/her unique spell and a dedicated group of (optional) cards that can only be used with the given hero. There are also neutral cards that can be used with any deck. Blizzard have simplified mechanics that make other TCG’s like Shadow Era and Magic The Gathering have a higher skill level for entry. Mana management is automated, similar cards are limited to a maximum of 2, all of these features make the learning curve of such a game easier. Blizzard has also added a ‘suggest’ feature for those new to the digital card game genre.

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Even in the closed beta version I have been fortunate enough to be matched with equal level opponents showing off Blizzards experience with matchmaking. Blizzard is the most experienced when it comes to matchmaking. The short length of the matches also make for perfect 10 min play sessions.

While the game is free, you will have to spend money to get new cards. The game does offer you some incentive for achieving daily quests, but in order to be competitive and make progress faster expect to shell out some cash. Also since the deck limits the use of only 2 cards of each kind, if you do get repeats you can turn them to dust in the crafting menu and after gathering enough this can be used to craft a card of your choice from the roster. The more powerful the card the more dust it needs.

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As is clear from the above I absolutely loved Blizzard’s take on the digital card game genre. It is easy to learn and hard to master, just like it should be. There will always be those who like more challenge and skill level in the game and there will be games for them, but what Blizzard has done to the TGC genre is the same to what LOL did to MOBA.

The game is currently in closed beta. Expect more coverage near release.

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This game was played on a Windows PC. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft will release for Windows, OS X, iOS and Android

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