The tagline for Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (H:HOW) is “Deceptively simple. Insanely fun.” By all accounts, it couldn’t be said much better. H:HOW is brimming with outstanding presentation values and strategic game design that has even the most casual and hard-core players coming back for more. I find it hard most days to not play H:HOW because of its addictive nature, and with the newly released iPad version, I am quickly adding an iPad to my wish list. It’s safe to say that Blizzard has struck gold yet again.
H:HOW is a free-to-play collectible-card game that takes all of your favorite Warcraft heroes and characters and has them battle it out. For card game newbies like myself, the tutorial eases you into all of the mechanics at a great pace. Each turn, you draw a card, gain one mana crystal and are able to play cards based on how much mana you have. Minions played have standard health and attack stats that can fight enemy minions or go right to your enemy’s hero to take down their 30 life total to win.
The diversity comes in the form of nine different heroes to play as, with each having a unique set of cards and hero power that costs two mana to use. Jaina Proudmoore, the mage class, appropriately has a myriad of spells to deal damage. Garrosh Hellscream, the warrior class, contains cards that give your hero a weapon to beat down your foes. Every class feels very unique in their own right and allows for entirely different play styles and decks.
After the tutorial, three main modes open up: Play, Practice and Arena. Play mode is where you do most of your battling against other players, either to increase your rank or just for casual play. Practice mode is great for beginners to play against the computer and unlock basic cards. Arena, my particular favorite, is a draft mode behind a pay wall in which you draft a deck chosen from a random assortment of cards and see if you can win 12 times before losing three games.
For Play mode, you get to use your own decks that you put together, with up to 30 cards per deck and only two duplicates per card. Creating a deck feels daunting at first, but H:HOW is all about learning. You’ll play over and over again, learning which cards work well and which don’t necessarily need to be in your deck. Playing H:HOW is an ever-evolving process, and even after an embarrassingly large number of hours, I’m still learning after each game.
In order for H:HOW to truly flourish with strategic depth, it contains multiple types of different mechanics. A minion with Charge will be able to immediately attack the moment it’s laid on the battlefield. If you need some defense to protect your hero or other cards, minions with Taunt have to be attacked first. This is where the different play styles form and where your own creativity can proliferate. If you want to build a deck that rushes your opponent down, you can include a high number of low mana-costing creatures that deal damage quickly. If you prefer a more strategic and slow game, the Warrior class can use its armor-stacking abilities to outlast your opponent to play high mana-costing cards. This may sound cheesy, but the options are limitless, and it’s what makes H:HOW feel fresh even after hundreds of games.
The only complaint I have with H:HOW is that, no matter how well you make decisions and play the game, you can still lose due to randomness. It’s incredibly disheartening and frustrating to lose just because your opponent drew the right cards before you had answers for them. Of course, there will be elements of randomness in drawing cards with any card game, but H:HOW contains many cards that have impact out of your immediate control. For example, a card called Mind Control Tech steals a random enemy minion if they have four or more minions on the board. Soulfire is a spell that deals four damage but discards a random card, and if that card happens to be an important one, well, that sucks. However random these types of cards may be, the strategy comes from playing around them, and the skill ceiling rises due to the level of knowledge required to succeed.
In order to truly progress, you have to earn Expert Packs, which increase the number of cards from which you can choose for your constructed decks. These can be obtained in a couple of different ways, and this is the basis of H:HOW’s quest system. Each day you log in, a new quest is given to you that can range from simple challenges such as “Win five games as a Paladin” to more focused quests like “Deal 100 damage to enemy heroes.” Completing these quests awards you gold that can be spent on new packs or entry to the Arena.
The quest system exists for multiple reasons. The main one is that players need a way to progress without having to spend money. A large hurdle for free-to-play games is that they often become pay-to-win games. When first playing H:HOW, it can certainly feel like people with more unique cards have an advantage. After my time with H:HOW, it’s very clear that H:HOW hasn’t fallen into the pay-to-win pitfall. Having more cards certainly allows you to build more diverse decks, but in the end, skill plays a larger factor. Multiple professional H:HOW players — yes, that is a thing already — have started new accounts and made it high up on the rankings using decks for which they haven’t spent any money. Knowledge and understanding of the game take you much further than simply buying packs.
Obtaining new cards is really what keeps me coming back to H:HOW, though. Because a new quest appears each day, I’ll log in to play a few matches even if I had little desire to do so. The allure of getting a new pack or starting a new Arena run is absolutely addictive. What I thought would only be an hour of play time tripled because of the constant positive reinforcement from quests and getting new cards. A lot of this stems from the fact that it looks and plays so damn well.
Every ounce of H:HOW is polished beyond belief. The theme behind the card game is that it’s set at an inn in which classic Warcraft heroes battle it out over cards from the Hearth. The Hearth bursts open and contains multiple tabletops, each with their own unique flairs, for playing cards. Houses, trees and catapults litter the tabletops to effectively facilitate the overall feel of a battlefield. Cards played yell their battle cries as they enter the playing field, and certain cards even have their own flashy entry animations. Minions that have a large attack stat crash into other minions with an effective and satisfying crunch. This is all topped off with outstanding music that emulates the feel of an old-timey inn.
While the PC version of H:HOW has been out officially for a while now, the iPad version has just been released worldwide. If there was ever a perfect game to transfer to the iPad, it’s H:HOW. Tapping and dragging cards on the battlefield feels utterly intuitive. The menus and interface function similarly to the PC version, and your account and decks all transfer over if you want play on the go. Just be sure that you have an Internet connection.
It has been a very long time since a game has had its hooks this deep in me. At the moment I’m writing this very review, I have a famous H:HOW player’s stream on my second screen, studying how he makes certain plays. Countless hours of my free time now revolve around H:HOW, whether it be playing, watching a tournament or mentally crafting new decks while I should be paying attention in class. Casual players will find the fantastic presentation enjoyable as they first dive in, while hard-core players will find satisfaction in the deep strategy. So what’re you waiting for? Pull up a chair by the Hearth!
H:HOW is available for the PC and iPad.