Hearthstone Hands-On Preview – For Great Honor!

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Blizzard Entertainment is one of the biggest companies in the gaming biz.  Warcraft set the gold standard for all Real Time Strategy games. World of Warcraft is practically a decade old, and people who are not even gamers can recognize the name. Diablo? Loot grinding and hack and slash perfection. Starcraft  has the RTS E-Sports community in a vice-like grip. Hell, its practically even a national sport in Korea. So what should one expect from such a titan of a game company when it announces a Collectible Card Game? Casual perfection…and Blizzard is pretty damn close.

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Hearthstone is a card game currently in beta on PC and Mac, with a mobile release soon to follow. It conforms to the mold of other card games, focusing on deck building and strategic execution. Players are allowed to have a deck consisting of 30 cards, which are shuffled randomly at the beginning of the game. Each of these cards have varying costs and abilities. Resources in Hearthstone are know as mana crystals. Players each start out with one crystal and gain another crystal, and card, at the start of their turn until they reach the max of ten. Spending these resources allows players to either play a minion, ability, weapon, or spell in the form of card. The ultimate goal of the game is to reduce the opponents health to zero.

Cards in Hearthstone are beautifully designed. They read well, have no clutter, and provide the necessary information with a quick glance. This is crucial when you are in the heat of a battle, as downtime is pretty frustrating in a 1v1 game. All cards, at most, have three numbers on them. The cost of each card is in the upper left corner, attack is in the lower left, and defense in the lower right. Restricting the cards to just three different digits allows the game to be supremely streamlined and casual, which perfectly matches the pace of the game. Most cards have abilities, which are actions that get performed at some point during the game. For example, a 2 attack /2 defense /2 cost Dire Wolf Alpha will give all adjacent minions +1 attack; pretty self explanatory. Other cards have terms which some people may not understand. Blizzard fixes this problem by allowing players to right click on any card, which gives a zoomed up view of it, and explains what each ability does. Deathrattle effects are played upon a cards demise, Battlecries are activated when played from your hand and many more.  Between abilities, varying cost/attack/ defense numbers and beautiful art, Blizzard seems to be nailing the most important aspect of a card game: The cards. While this may seem as a standard run of the mill card game, there a few things that make it unique.

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#onlyvanillakidswillgetthis

Classes in Hearthstone are comprised of the original nine classes from vanilla World of Warcraft. Sorry Death Knights and Monks, you all aren’t implemented…yet. Each class has levels, which grow as players compete in games. Gaining levels unlocks new spell for that class to use, all of which fit the theme of that class. Each class also comes with a unique ability which can be used at any time during the game for a cost of 2 mana crystals. Priests, for example, rely heavily on healing and shielding their minions. Warlocks, on the other hand, benefit from inflicting pain on themselves to get better cards. This leads to a nice system of  part discovery and part challenge. It is fun adapting your deck to different classes. While my Hunter may destroy Priests before they can get rolling, I will get destroyed by Warriors with their high armor and weapon damage. That is one of the main draws to card games, adapting and fine tuning your deck to take on all opponents. How does one earn cards to tune a deck?

Quests are daily objectives which earns you gold, which can then be spent on buying booster packs. A booster pack unlocks 5 new cards for you to use. These quests make players want to change up their formulas, with some being “Win 2 games as a Hunter” or “Deal 100 damage total to opponents”. Quests are a nice little feature which makes players earn rewards for playing whether they win or lose, and since games are so quick you won’t mind losing. You could also go the real money route, and spend cash on booster packs if you are so inclined.

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Cards better have good art when you spend most of your time staring at them

Hearthstone is showing a lot of promise. While I did not get to high tiered games, I saw no one class destroying the ranked game system. As long as Blizzard keeps adding and fine tuning cards, I see this game being another hit among their numerous successes. Hearthstone is currently in Closed Beta, with an Open Beta starting at any time now. If you are one of the 14 million people who played WoW, give Hearthstone a try. Seeing your favorite classes abilities adapted into a card game is a sight to behold. If you are a fan of card games, this is a no-brainer. Sign ups are available in your Battle.net account.

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Jason's the name, gamin' is my...game. I'm a Kansas City boy (yes, its an actual city with buildings!) who is a cook by trade. Earliest gaming memories are JRPGs, but my tastes have evolved into loving all types of games, both electronic and the board variant. Half-Life, Zelda, and Grand Theft Auto are among my favorites.

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