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Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Open Beta Review

Playing the cards right.

by

GameSpot's open beta reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available to the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote time and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

I enjoy playing Hearthstone partly because I enjoy losing at it. Losing devastates your soul in most contemporary online games; bungle your first few matches in Dota 2 or League of Legends, for instance, and there's a good chance you'll be subjected to calls for suicide and wild, frothy epithets directed at your supposed race or sexual preference. No wonder the creator of Flappy Bird jumped ship. Hearthstone permits none of that against random players. It limits interaction to a handful of friendly preset responses and one "threaten," and you can even disable that if you wish. It gives you room to learn from your mistakes with dignity, and its great strength is that matches fly by so quickly that there's no reason to rage if you lose. Better luck next time, Hearthstone seems to say, and it means it.

Hearthstone is the kind of game that leaves you eager for that next time. Its enormous appeal springs not only from the inviting aesthetic and the catchy background tavern music, but also from the way it handles the conventions of collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, which has never been among the most accessible of experiences. This is Magic stripped of all the clutter that scares off newcomers and pushes matches to drag on for an hour or more. It plays snack to Magic's meals, thriving on one-on-one, 15-minute battles that will likely occupy scores of lunch breaks once it makes the inevitable leap to tablets.

The best matches go down to the wire.

What's most remarkable is that Blizzard manages to retain much of the feel of Magic while peeling it like a banana.It simplifies the mechanics of games like Magic considerably, but avoids losing their corresponding depth. The depth isn't immediately apparent in the compact 30-card deck, however, or in the way it discards Magic's complex resource requirements for a single mana state that automatically ticks up to 10 each round. If you've spent months learning Magic's subtleties, Hearthstone initially feels simplistic, but then few developers are so adept at stripping complex concepts down to their essentials as Blizzard.

In a characteristic Blizzard touch, not all of the fun comes from the play. In the idle moments when you're waiting for your opponent to sift through his or her cards, you might bang a gong on an inn nestled in the screen's corner or fiddle with a water mill and watch as the water comes pouring out. This interaction carries over to the cards themselves. The most powerful of them thump onto the playing field with the force of rhinos, and the chorus of orcs, dwarves, and pandaren in the background oohs and aahs as if awed by the new development. Hearthstone never eases back on the atmosphere, even in a match's final moments. When recognizable Warcraft characters such as Jaina Proudmoore die, you hear the agony. It's kind of tragic.

It ain't easy being green.

Don't worry if you don't know who Jaina Proudmoore is. A familiarity with Blizzard's Warcraft series isn't required to enjoy Hearthstone, but it's nevertheless astonishing to witness how effortlessly Blizzard managed to correlate the characteristics of each deck with World of Warcraft's classes. I played a hunter in WOW, and so I naturally gravitated toward the hunter deck in Hearthstone. Its vocabulary of snake traps and beast mastery was immediately apparent, and I liked the way that firing off an arcane shot pierced the enemy's portrait with a satisfying twang. The little effects give the decks some personality that's missing in Magic's own video game series, and thus coming across a player using one of the different decks always has the semblance of a duel.

You get some idea of what you're up against once Hearthstone boots you out of the short but effective tutorial campaign with the starter mage deck and into the larger world. To unlock the other classes, you have to fight the warriors that use them, whether they be AI or random players, and there's a frustrating sense of rock-paper-scissors mechanics in place as you combat the baddies. I found beating a warrior with the bare-bones mage deck all but impossible, for instance (in stark contrast to how things go in WOW), but I found I could at least hold my own against the shaman, thus unlocking his deck. From there, unlocking all the classes involved a zigzag of clicking on different AI decks and testing the waters until I found a deck I felt sufficiently comfortable with to level and thus gain more cards.

Hearthstone: easy to get into, hard to get away from.

And with that, I took my first steps into the most intimidating part of the collectible card scene for newcomers. The pressures of deck building kept me away from Magic for whole years as a kid, and I only mastered it once someone was kind enough to help me through the process. In this case, the process makes you realize how much fun the game can be. Hearthstone periodically tosses new deck-specific cards your way, and in the Custom Deck panel, the Suggest a Card feature allows even the most hopelessly novice of players to craft something that at least has a fighting chance. In time, the knowledge of how to build your own deck clicks into place naturally, to the point that even using surplus cards to create new, specific decks is intuitive.

Hearthstone is at its best in those early hours, particularly in the sweet spot between PvVP ranks 10 and 30 when decks enjoy a decent semblance of balance with each other. Early on, the option to fork out a couple of bucks for the booster packs containing five random cards felt unnecessary, particularly since you can get the 100 gold needed to buy new packs by completing daily quests or, less efficiently, by earning 10 gold by winning three online matches. Powerful legendary cards occasionally pop up in decks around this time, but their appearances are usually common enough that they elicit little more than mere smiles and knowing nods. The balance works because even a "basic" deck can usually hold its own against one packed with legendaries if built properly; the better cards just speed up the already breezy matches. The bummer? Good cards get so numerous in "lucky" decks at higher levels that Hearthstone starts feeling more like roulette than strategy, and if you don't feel like grinding out the gold, hunting for new cards can get expensive.

Don't let the simplicity fool you. This stuff is enthralling.

Thankfully, Blizzard provides an alternative to any resulting frustration, even if it gets a bit pricey. That's the Arena mode, which requires either cash or gold to play (although you shouldn't expect to get into more than one or two matches per day if you grind it out). It's here that Hearthstone pushes your deck-building skills to their limits. It simply presents you with three random decks, one of which you need to whittle down to 30 cards. To stay in the Arena mode, you have to keep winning. There's little doubt that luck plays into victory--I once received three legendaries in one Arena deck--but achieving a victory delivers the satisfaction that you won the match on your own. No deck-building guides from Hearthstone strategy website Hearthhead simplify the process, and no YouTube videos ease your way; when you win, it's because you did it alone.

If there's any cause for concern, it's that so much of Hearthstone relies on the luck of the draw. Trust me, I feel the pain. My decks before the wipe in closed beta were beastly things packed with coveted cards, but I've had no such luck since the reset. I have one legendary, and it's not even for a class I like. It's a testament to the work Blizzard has done here that I don't feel as though this spoils my fun. The decks are remarkably balanced despite the potential for problems, and the small, dedicated development team removes troubling deck builds only when they prove insurmountable. In one notable example, Blizzard shattered the ability of mages to make "freeze decks," which left opponents powerless to do much else besides eat the spells.

Hearthstone is off to a good start, and I suspect that its popularity will further explode once it makes the leap to tablets. Like Blizzard's enduring juggernaut of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, it democratizes the arcane, and its atmosphere and gameplay help recapture the wonder that captivated millions in Azeroth during WOW's early years. Barring a failure of cataclysmic proportions, this is one open beta that should serve as a model for all others.

What's There?

A fun online collectible card game with nine decks modeled after well-known World of Warcraft classes.

What's to Come?Better balance, and possibly the introduction of cooperative play against non-player character "bosses."
What Does it Cost?

Hearthstone is free-to-play, although you can spend $2.99 for booster packs or $1.99 for Arena access. Both can be obtained with in-game gold, however.

When Will it be Finished?

There's currently no concrete release date, although Blizzard has stated its full release will be "later this year."

What's the Verdict?

Hearthstone has felt like a complete game for a while, and most of the time it's great fun against both the AI and other players. If Blizzard manages to iron out the kinks in the high-level gameplay, it has a clear winner on its hands.

Discussion

64 comments
VintAge68
VintAge68

This is the first time I notice an "open beta" review on GS... Is this since it's a Blizzard game with "success guaranteed"?

Janpieterzun
Janpieterzun

Why are beta's being reviewed? Is it becoming the culture now to rate and start promoting unfinished products? I understand if an impression is given, but calling it a review implies more than just an impression.

jk12324
jk12324

I wish they'd hurry up with the iPad version!

Bakutakamine
Bakutakamine

WOW. GS have really had to start scraping the bottom of the freaking barrel for reviews and news stories in the games industry these days.I mean, open beta reviews? Early access reviews?? WTF. You know, maybe gamespot should maybe do focused articles on the fact that THE GAMING INDUSTRY IS DYING. Do the research and find these "new consoles" barely have anything coming out for them this year. Most games that are coming out this year and sequels to series that already have waaay to many. MGS5??? Can they even live up to MGS4? Snake'll need his fucking diaper changed way too much.

hitomo
hitomo

I fully aprove of this, best game Blizzard has made so far, good free to Play value if you are into iCCGs


its amix of MTG and Yugiho / you can develop strategies but everything can be put up side down by

summoning big Monsters or heavy spells


you can buy every Card directly through the crafting.system

Bamul
Bamul

We're actually doing reviews of beta stage games now?

Bowser05
Bowser05

Love this game. Thanks for the beta reveiw.

Vexov
Vexov

Game is painful playing F2P, its really much more of a pay2play.

DiamondDM13
DiamondDM13

It's a fun game. I've been playing about 10 matches a day, and it's great to end the day.

koraak
koraak

I have a surface pro (first gen) and it runs awesome on it, plus the tablet controls work like a charm. No need to wait for ipad version, windows 8 tablets already have it :)

BurningUp99
BurningUp99

This game is ok but I'm on the fence about it.  After having played MM:DoC for a while before I played this I feel MM:DoC is a little more interesting.  Maybe once they add more cards to this it will captivate me a little more.

I just think it comes across as really really casual like it's an IPhone game for people on the bus or something.   If you are really looking for an online card game I suggest trying MM: DoC it's up to a set of over 600 cards now I believe.
 Also the art in that game is a lot darker and not so kiddie looking.

prats93
prats93

Paying for digital cards? Aint nobody got time fo dat. I'll stick to Card Hunter.

notsonegi
notsonegi

Great game, so much fun to play and even better if you are a WoW fan

Jah_Glow
Jah_Glow

Not a fan of Warcraft lore, but I've wanted a basic card game to play for a while now -- one that doesn't require spending hundreds to enjoy -- and I have no desire to start MTG, so... huzzah. :)

DigitalDame
DigitalDame moderator moderatorstaff

Lets see how many times he can drop MTG in the review. #Annoyed. 

Bregzeinkul
Bregzeinkul

It shows how much weight the Blizzard name still has. Or rather its lore and and all the things that come along.

mariocerame
mariocerame

It's good, but it wore on me after a while.  The meta thins after you get past about rank 10. There are nuanced differences among the decks you'll see, but they're nuanced.  Some of the recent nerfs have really reduced options for some classes, such as warriors and priests, and some other classes continue to be very popular and frustrating to play against, such as mage.  The best part of the game is while you're learning to play.  There is strategy and tactics but--eventually you "get the joke" and although it's a good joke, you've already heard it. 8, maybe 7.5 if certain classes remain in the shape they are and options remain so thin at later play.

jimmy_russell
jimmy_russell

It's a casual game designed for tablet PCs. There's an emphasis on random numbers and the game's tactics are dumbed-down to a level that an 8 year old could fully grasp. It's a highly casual online-only card game. If you've played Magic the Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh before, you will probably find this game boring and imbalanced.

ShimmeringSword
ShimmeringSword

The game is fun and free, there's not much else that needs to be said here.

Hurvl
Hurvl

"This stuff is enthralling?" En-Thrall-ing, you say? If you lose, will you then unleash a Hellscream?

zura_janai
zura_janai

i played hearthstone for few days, the game is fun and requires some strategy but you need to grind a lot of arcane dust to craft powerful cards, it's not a pay to win though, powerful cards doesn't always make the deck powerful

imo hearthstone deserves 8.5/10, not more, not less

Hakkology
Hakkology

I'll stick to Magic the Gathering, thank you.

bluefox755
bluefox755

15 minute matches? I've never timed one, but they don't feel that long, not usually anyway.

CoRiNi
CoRiNi

Everyone is just humping the bandwagon because it's Blizzard and because of its Warcraft relation. I played the game, and not just one game, I played for at least 20 hours, and what I saw was a very basic card game. There was nothing special, no tactics, no strategic play potential. I compared this game to Yu-Gi-OH, probably the best card game out there. very deep, and there are many tactical options that you can come up with. This on the other hand, is very basic with 0 tactical potential and as someone already stated, imbalanced. 

JustPlainLucas
JustPlainLucas

@Bakutakamine  First of all, blame the shift in the gaming industry for putting out more and more open betas and early access games.  GS is doing what any journalistic publication is doing: covering the industry, and this includes changes to it.  Also, notice there's no score attached to this review, which doesn't really make it the same as an actual review.  Why are you getting upset?  By the way, your remark about MGS5 means you should probably do a little better at following the industry yourself... 

benelori
benelori

@Bakutakamine  

OH MAH GAWD! DOOM!

Please...the industry is doing better than it did before...in your opinion it is dying, but that's okay...in the end, GS is a site that provides information about the industry and the games, so I find nothing wrong with this review...

The industry won't die, because two sad consoles, that are in their infancy btw, don't have many games to play on...

KiraDEATHNOTE
KiraDEATHNOTE

@Bakutakamine  

You don't play as the (old) snake from MGS4. You play as Snake a.k.a big boss and It's before MGS4.

d1versify
d1versify

@hitomo  Warcraft 1,2,3 Starcraft 1,2, World of warcraft, Diablo 1,2 and you call this the best blizzard game

ArataWata
ArataWata

@Bamul  I'd say this is more of a preview/impressions.


I have no idea why they're calling it reviews when they already had names for these kinds of things.

Pyrosa
Pyrosa

@Bamul Yep, for a few weeks now.  Several sites are.

koraak
koraak

@prats93 you don't have to though, the in game currency rewards come fast enough that you wont need to spend money. Of course you can if you want to build your collection even quicker, but I've found that between arena, quests, and class leveling, rewards come at a very satisfactory pace.

Def_Defyin
Def_Defyin

@DigitalDame Play the game and try not to think of it. It takes A LOT of it's mechanics from MTG.

nicolasetespqr
nicolasetespqr

@Bregzeinkul  


The game itself is pretty good lore aside. I actually like MTG artistic style more and still i prefer to play this. It's a really streamlined and extremelly well designed game. The pacing, the sounds, the menus, the particles, all the stupid stuff you can do to burn time while your opponent plays... I think this shows Blizzard's attention to detail at its best.


That said, being a Warcraft 2, Warcraft 3 and WoW fan helps a lot. There is a lot of nostalgia inducing themes in this game (them loading screens ^^).



To me, this is so far the best game Blizzard has made since The Burning Crusade (newer WoW expansions suck, Diablo 3 was extemelly disappointing and while SC2 is well crafted, the single player campaign is insulting when compared to the original Starcraft), and remember that WoW was not that revolutionary when it came out, it just picked ideas from everywhere, streamlined them and made a flawless game. And there you have it, arguably the biggest game in gaming history.



I think this game cleverly fills a pretty much empty gap (when it comes to lightweight but high quality games, which are rare) and I would not be surprised if it became the best and most played game in portable devices (low-mid end laptops and smartphones/tablets).

Compact87
Compact87

@nicolasetespqr  Heh, so true, installed game on my old laptop, was very happy to see my old baby run some new game :)

mariocerame
mariocerame

Also--I like the first screenshot.  It's also a case in point; the warsong commander nerf has his warriors stupid hard.  That hand, though really interesting a bit ago, is no longer viable.  The game has narrowed what creativity you can bring to bear.

DigitalDame
DigitalDame moderator moderatorstaff

@jimmy_russell  I agree, this game has a weird curve where you can literally just start slamming high end spells once you get to 10 resource. With no real way to interact with your opponent beyond the occasional secret HearthStone lacks the definition that i need from a CCG / TCG.

faizanhd
faizanhd

@Hurvl  

I face-palmed so hard I'm going to need reconstructive surgery. ;)

BurningUp99
BurningUp99

@zura_janai   I wouldn't give it 8.5 at this point honestly maybe down the road but now right now.


Llama345
Llama345

@CoRiNi  There is some skill. But this game was never designed for hardcore card players. My girlfriend (a non gamer/card player) enjoys playing this game because there isn't that level of commitment that turns her off from MTG 

ShimmeringSword
ShimmeringSword

@CoRiNi Do any of the card games you like come in the form of a digital game, with heavy atmosphere, high production values, zero required cost, ease of access, and are fun? No? That's what I thought.

Blizzard is making a game for regular gamers to enjoy, not for card gaming elitists, you can go play elsewhere.

MonocleOwl
MonocleOwl

@CoRiNi

Look at it this way: If people jump on the Hearhtstone bandwagon because it's Blizzard and 'cause it's Warcraft, if they come to like the game, they may want to get into something more tactical and deep (Yu Gi Oh, Magic, a new game Hex is in alpha, etc.)

Hearthstone is fast paced, "jump in and out", 5min match, kind of game. There are some tactics to be found but it's not that complex compared to other games in the genre.

I played all the games mentioned but got into Hearthstone mainly for the casual felling the game has, yet it can be competitive.

bluefox755
bluefox755

@CoRiNi  I dunno about these bandwagon humpers, but I'm playing it for one reason, it's fun. Never played any other TCG so I can't speak of Yu Gi Oh, but this is fun, why do you have to hate on people because they like something. As far as the balance goes...well, it's beta.

DigitalDame
DigitalDame moderator moderatorstaff

@Def_Defyin It also takes elements from a number of other card games. Sure they're not as well known but to imply that this game is so much like magic is a dis-service. Rather, HS is more like.... a CCG. 

nicolasetespqr
nicolasetespqr

@DigitalDame @jimmy_russell  


"Baaaaaaa"


gratz, your 14/22 buffed Gurubashi Berserker just got polymorphed.




Honestly, I hardly have any games that last longer than 2-3 turns after you hit 10 mana... and you have plenty of control cards available, the beauty of it is measuring the risk/reward of knowing when to play them. Seriously just check the basic spell cards of the mage or the paladin, you can negate pretty much everything.



In any case, that's not the best feature that Blizzard brings into the table. I honestly think that if Magic (duels of the planeswalkers) had the same quality and polish Hearthstone has, everyone would play it instead... but the thing is... it doesn't.




Now you can only wonder why the all-powerful Blizzard didn't more artistically appealing liscenses such as Magic:TG (Hearthstone) or Warhammer (Warcraft/WoW/Starcraft) when they could and somehow decided that murlocs were more interesting than epicness (they are actually pretty cool xD, but still).

DigitalDame
DigitalDame moderator moderatorstaff

@jimmy_russell @Hakkology  HS is actually a nice reprieve from MTG when you're tired of seeing nothing but a sea of UDevotion / BDevotion. Seriously, screw standard right now. At least last season had fun combos like RestoAngel + Thragtusk... 

CoRiNi
CoRiNi

@bluefox755 @CoRiNi  I don't hate the people. I hate over-hyping a mediocre game. You like it, that's fine but compared to all card games, it is a very basic game with no relation to skill. I did not say it was a bad game but as someone who cares for card games, this would be a disappointment. Anyone who played Yu Gi Oh would most likely feel the same.

ganondorf77
ganondorf77

@CoRiNi @bluefox755  Compared to all card games, including pricing and that it is a beta, this is way better than all those, wich are better played with real cards with friends, not digitally. I played all of them by the way.

Milennin
Milennin

@CoRiNi I've played Yu-Gi-Oh for some years and like the game, but Hearthstone is just as fun... but in a different way, which is good. I wouldn't bother with Hearthstone if it was just a Yu-Gi-Oh clone, cause what would be the point in that?

Variety is a good thing.