Review – Hearthstone Beta – PC

Card addiction beta

It’s like Magic the Gathering, but quicker and better adapted for an online environment.

For a lot of you, that’s all you need to know.  For the rest, Hearthstone is a collectible card game based on the universe of Blizzard’s Warcraft.  The game is wrapped in an online candy coating that makes playing easy and buying cards even easier.  It lures you in with a technically free-to-play premise, and keeps you there with a self referencing environment.  In short, it’s addictive, it’s fun, and it’s going to leave you destitute.

The basic premise is simple:  Two players draw cards that they use to damage their opponent.  The cards are either spells (one use cards that have a wide variety of effects) or creatures (cards that stay on the board and can deal damage the opponent or other creatures each turn).  Players wail away at their opponents through a wide variety of strategies and card combinations until their opponent’s life total is zero.  As anyone who has played a collectible card game knows, the depth is in the variety of effects that the cards provide.  While Hearthstone Beta’s depth doesn’t rival older games, like the aforementioned Magic the Gathering, it still has plenty of interesting card combinations on offer to entice experienced players.  Hearthstone introduces one truly unique idea in the form of heroes.  When creating decks, players must choose a hero who has a special ability and access to unique cards.  Each hero lends themselves towards different strategies allowing many different styles of play.  Players have the opportunity to experience each hero for free to determine which one best fits them.

The gameplay of Hearthstone Beta is functional and fun, but it doesn’t explain the popularity of the game.  For that, you need to look to the brilliant online implementation that makes playing simple and easy.  It begins with the tutorial that is fast, interactive, and rewarding.  Hearthstone Beta walks you through several show matches before guiding you towards games against AI, games against players, and ranked matches.  Along the way, it grants you in-game currency for winning matches and achieving daily goals.  Players may then spend the currency for new packs that provide cards for decks.  They may also spend real money.  Extraneous cards can be destroyed for another currency called “dust” which can be exchanged for specific cards.  The end result is a constant incentive to keep playing to earn more packs and purchase better cards to earn more rewards.  It’s a vicious and compelling cycle.

Hearthstone Beta may be good at keeping you playing, but it’s not without its faults.  In particular, the free-to-play promise is undermined by the reality of a subtle pay-to-win mechanic.  While you could grind for the necessary cards, the process takes too much time.  It’s hard to get to a competitive level with a pack a day (assuming dedicated daily play).  For most players, they’re going to want to treat this like a $30 – $40 dollar game.  That should buy you enough cards to put together some competitive decks.  Even then, it’s extremely disheartening to watch your finely tuned strategy wrecked by Mr. Moneybags and his wad of legendary cards.

Hearthstone Beta is an extremely refined experience.  It establishes a vicious cycle of play and reward that will both encourage players to keep playing and keep buying.  Players who fall easily into the loot trap should be warned: this game will clear you out.  For all others, Hearthstone Beta is a deep and rewarding experience that will return to you what you put in.  Sit down, play, and enjoy the ride.

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