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Review: Hearthstone

Table of Contents

Quick Info

Gore & Brutality Magic Sex Civility Religious Objections
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Additional Notes
This game is free! You can buy in-game items with real money.

Summary of major issues
This is a competitive card game, with the matches depicting battles between fantasy characters. Thus, you have card depicting violent acts, magic, and various fictional demons. Some of the cards also feature suggestive imagery, though this is isn't very common.

The most serious issue with this game is that, like the majority of collectable card games out there, new cards are typically purchased using real money.

Screenshots

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About to bring the heat

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Building a new deck

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A new batch of quests

General Information

Genre:Card Game ESRB Rating:T - Teen (13+)
License:Free to Play My Rating:Older Children (10+)
Played on:Thaddeus
Available from: PlayHearthstone.com
Save System:Your progress is saved after a match ends.

Note that this is an online game played with other people, so it cannot be paused during a match.

Game Overview

World of Warcraft is probably one of the most famous games in history. It's certainly the game that comes to mind when people hear the term MMORPG, as it was one of the games that brought the genre to mainstream gaming. It's not surprising then, that Blizzard, the company behind World of Warcraft, would look for other ways to make some money off their most famous property. Thus, we have Hearthstone -- a collectable card game based on the World of Warcraft franchise.

Like the real world counterparts, Hearthstone is based around the concept of collecting cards, strategically grouping them into decks, and "battling" other players. Speaking of which, Hearthstone is primarily played against other players rather than an AI opponent. When you go to start a game, the server will search for another player of similar skill. Since there's almost always someone out there looking for a quick game, I've never had to wait more than a few seconds for a match to start.

I can see why this game is so popular. Aside from being run and promoted by one of the largest online gaming companies out there, the basic rules are simple (at least as far as CCGs go), and casual gamers can enjoy the game without being driven away by the more hardcore fans. Additionally, while this game does revolve around the lore of the Warcraft universe, it doesn't depend on the player knowing about it. Thus, you could use Hearthstone as an abridged introduction to the World of Warcraft franchise (which might actually be the idea behind the game).

Keep in mind though, while the game is free to play, collectable card games are notorious for being money sinks. Play responsibly.

Gameplay Overview

Unlike the game it's based on, Hearthstone isn't an RPG. However, it does retain some of the more common elements. The most obvious example being that you play as one of nine characters, each of which represents a different class, and thus a different style of gameplay. This is implemented in two ways. First, each character has a unique "hero skill" that can be used once a turn. The second way character classes are handled is by grouping the cards themselves into neutral and class-restricted cards. Neutral cards may be used by any character, but the class-restricted cards may only be used by a specific character.

To begin playing a game, you select your character and the deck you want to use. The game will then either pair you with a random person, or you'll begin to play against the AI you've selected. Each of you chooses three random cards from their deck, and the match begins. The goal of these matches is to use your cards to defeat the opposing player by reducing their character to zero (or less) health before they do the same to you.

Most of the time, your character won't be attacking directly. Instead, you'll be playing cards that summon minions into the arena and have them do the fighting for you. Minions are typically asleep when they are first summoned, so the other player has a chance to prepare for their attacks.

Of course, minions can do more than just attack the player and each other. Minions with the Taunt ability are effectively defenders, as the opponent must defeat them before they can attack other minions or the other player's character. Others provide healing, increase the abilities of other minions, and so on. Thus, it's important to choose your minions carefully, as it's not always about who has the largest sword.

There are two other rules to keep in mind. Each turn, the player receives up to ten mana crystals. Using your character's hero power spends two crystals, while how many crystals are required to play a card varies. Generally speaking, the more powerful a minion or spell is, the more crystals required to unleash it. Once you're out of mana crystals, you can't play any more cards during that turn. Using a minion that has already been played does not use any crystals, however.

The other rule you need to remember is that there is a time limit. If you're taking too long to make a decision, a fuse will appear on the battlefield and begin burning. Once it reaches the End Turn button, your turn will automatically end.

Pros

More ways to play
The two player matches are the bulk of the game, but there are a few other options. There is a single player mode where you can play against the AI for practice, or you can play some preset "adventures" to try for prizes. There isn't much here though, so it'll get stale rather quickly compared to playing with someone else.

The Tavern Brawl is a scheduled event that's only available some of the time, but it might well be worth it. In this mode, the rules that govern how the game is played are changed around. You might be required to use specific decks or characters, the core gameplay rules might be altered dramatically, or you may have a chance to use cards that aren't normally usable by players.

The Arena on the other hand, is less forgiving. You'll be battling other players with decks you've created on the fly with cards drawn from a pool of possible choices, and the fights continue until you've either lost three rounds or won twelve games. There are greater prizes up for grabs in this mode, and the more you win, the richer the rewards. The catch is that there is an entry fee of 150 gold (or $1.99) to compete in the Arena.


Losing isn't much of a drawback
Hearthstone loves giving out prizes. When the game ends, your current character will earn some experience, and once they've gained enough, you'll win something like a new card or an ornate version of a normal card. Each mode has other prizes too. The normal two player mode offers a special card back awarded to those who have reached rank 25 or higher during a given month, for example.

The good news here is that even if you lose the game, you'll still get experience, and if you're rank 25 or lower, you don't lose your progress towards the next rank. Other modes still give something out even if you utterly fail. So, don't be afraid to lose occasionally; you'll still get some sort of reward just for trying.


Loaded with gaming references and humor
To say that World of Warcraft has made a large impact on gaming would be an understatement. Many of the internet's earlier memes, and by extension, many of the gaming community's memes, were drawn from things that players encountered in WoW. Blizzard has a strong sense of humor about this, and they've loaded Hearthstone with tons of jokes and references for everyone to enjoy.


Thousands of cards and possible deck ideas
Like any real world card game, you choose what cards you'll play with. This allows you to create your own strategies and design your decks around how you want to play the game. If you want, the game provides deck "recipes" that are pretty effective against what's currently out there. The deck building tool can also help you polish off your customized decks by suggesting additional cards based on the role they play in the game.


Crafting allows you to get the cards you want
A huge downside of collectable card games is that you'll often wind up with cards you don't want. For example, you're only allowed two copies of the same card in a deck, but you might have three or more copies of that card sitting around. Alternatively, you may prefer playing as a specific class and end up with a large collection of cards for the other classes. In real life, this often means you're just out of luck, but in Hearthstone, you can "disenchant" your unwanted cards to create "dust". Then once you have enough dust, you can use it to "craft" any card you want.


Daily quests and other challenges
Instead of playing to just win the card game, you can take on additional challenges to earn various prizes. The most common form of bonus challenge are the quests. These usually require you to do something in games against other players, but occasionally a quest can be completed via the single player mode as well. Common quests include winning a given number of games as a specific class, defeating a given number of minions, or playing a certain number of cards. You can have up to three quests active at any time, and you can decline quests you don't want to complete. The only catch is that you may have to wait a day or so for more quests to become available.

These challenges usually reward you with gold that can be used to buy things, such as additional booster packs, in the in-game shop.


Multiple device support
Hearthstone isn't just available on your computer. You can also play the game on your mobile devices. Even better, the game is designed so that you use the same account both places, allowing you to continue your game on the go.


Cons

Booster packs have random cards
The randomness of the booster packs, as well as similar features in other games by Blizzard, has been a point of contention and controversy lately. Personally, the randomness makes sense, as real CCG booster packs are supposed to contain random cards. At least you can get some use out of the unwanted ones via the crafting system.


Cards become obsolete
As time goes on, better cards and better strategies emerge. Along the way, some cards will be nerfed to keep them from being too overpowered or to discourage the community from overusing them. This is needed to keep the game fair and fresh for older players, but it can be frustrating considering how difficult it can be to get some cards.

Additionally, standard play restricts players to cards from the classic set or from recently released sets. This means that your non-classic cards have a shelf life of about two years, after which they can only be used in wild games.


CCGs are expensive
This is a trait found in every CCG ever made. You get a few cards to start out, and from then on you need to buy booster packs and hope for the best. While each booster pack is only $2, you still only get five new cards. There is a starter pack set that gives you a lot of cards for a nice discount, but you're still spending money to play this "free" game.


Concerns and Issues

Microtransactions are the name of the game
This is the nature of CCGs, and it's pretty much just accepted. To get an idea of how this sort of game works, head to your local pharmacy, game store, or grocery store and look for the isle or display with small foil packages. If you see playing cards with names like Yu-Gui-Oh, Pokemon, or Magic the Gathering, you're in the right place. These are popular CCGs, and you can see for yourself how much it'll cost to collect a handful of cards.

Hearthstone is a virtual CCG, but it works exactly the same way. There is the option of using gold to buy cards rather than real money, but while this can allow you to amass a powerful deck for free, getting enough gold is slow and often difficult, so if you're not patient, this still doesn't help much. On the other hand, you can discard unwanted cards for what are effectively credits. These credits can then be spent on the specific cards you actually want. Doing something similar with a real CCG is rather difficult (if not impossible), as you'll typically need to trade cards with someone else.

On a side note, if you do want to spend money on this game, you can purchase gift cards at various stores and use these instead of directly using a credit card. You're still spending money, but now there's a physical barrier between your wallet and your game. If you run out of money from the gift card, you can't spend any more until you go out and buy another gift card. Sadly, the smallest Hearthstone gift card is $20.

A word of hope though: after playing regularly for a few months, I was able to acquire enough cards to complete one of the more powerful deck recipes for my favorite class. I had to discard nearly everything else I had, but I proved that it can be done without spending a dime.


Magic, demons, and other dark forces
This game is based around WoW, which takes place in a fictional world that has its own gods, demons, magic, and lore. Thus, there are going to be plenty of elements that won't easily mix with strict Christian values. Undead monsters, dark magic, and demons are fairly common, but at the same time, Hell as we know it from Christianity does not exist in this game's world. Some of the magic does have real world counterparts in pagan belief systems, and each of the heroes has their own way of interacting with their world's magic. Shamans use totems, Warlocks use self-harm, Priests call upon both light and shadow magics, and Mages just blast everybody with fireballs.


It's basically a war game with cards
Every game of Hearthstone is a battle to the "death". Two heroes enter the arena, one leaves. In the meantime, countless minions are summoned and killed in battle. While this sounds really really bad, keep in mind that we're still ultimately talking about a card game. The actual "fighting" only involves the pictures of two characters klinking together like glasses at a New Year's party. When defeated, the fallen character's portrait cracks apart and shatters.

Even the really violent events, like the spell that bathes the battlefield in a hellish inferno, just show a neat graphical effect followed by the portraits bursting. There's no blood, nor gore, in the battle itself.

This is important to keep in mind, as some of the terms used in the game sound horrific without context. For example, minions can enter the field with a "battlecry" (an ability that activates when the minion enters the fray), or they may possess a "deathrattle" (an ability that triggers when the minion is defeated).


Some cards depict problematic content
Naturally, cards depicting magical attacks, demons, and other monsters are going to look threatening and dramatic. Realistically, the graphics on the cards are the probably the worst content this game has to offer (excluding the in-game purchases). If you're okay with modern high fantasy movies like the Lord of the Rings or The Mummy (either the one with Brandon Frasier or the newer one with Tom Cruise), then you're probably not going to be too worried about the images shown on the cards.

That said, a rare few of the cards also depict women in revealing outfits. The most obvious example is the Succubus, who is also likely to be the most revealing of them all, considering that a succubus is a female sex demon. Even then, the card is just barely risque enough to be considered PG-13, since everything is still covered in one way or another, sort of like the costumes worn by heroines in comic books. Of course, using this card is optional, and since this card is also class-restricted, it's only an option for the Warlock hero.