Second Impressions: Hearthstone

Since my last post about Hearthstone, I’ve played some more. “Some more” might be a little inaccurate – I’ve played quite a bit more. I’m happy to report that while it’s still dripping in World of Warcraft, it’s actually a pretty damn good collectible card game.

The tutorial is great at getting you into the game’s mechanics, which are actually pretty straightforward. You play as one of the main classes from WoW, and build your deck out of a combination class specific cards and generic minion cards. There’s three main modes of play: Practice mode (against an AI), Play mode against other players (split into unranked and ranked games) and Arena mode.

Before each match you pick which class you’d like to play as. Each class has a level, and as you level them you earn more class specific cards every two levels up to level 10, at which point you’ll have the basic version of that class’ cards. The next card “gift” is a gold card at level 15, though I’ve not yet reached that level with any class so I’m not sure how much better the gold versions will be.

Practice mode isn’t much to speak of – you play the AI and gain some XP at the of each match. The AI is fine – not too tough ¬†and not too easy, and I never felt like it was cheating. That said, there’s essentially no upside to playing the AI over unranked matches against other people, so I’ve spent very little time there.

Paying against other players works about like you’d expect. Customize your deck – one (or maybe more?) per class – pick which class you want to play as this round and enter the queue. It never takes more than a few seconds to get a game going. Playing against other players in this mode can be either ranked or unranked. Apparently you get more XP for playing ranked, but it definitely seems like the people playing ranked mode have more invested into the game (both in time and in cards). It’s not insurmountable by any means, but there’s “better” players in the ranked queues.

While there’s a tooltip that mentions the extra XP for ranked matches, I don’t really see any other benefit to them. You earn a new badge periodically, but it doesn’t seem to do anything, at least yet.

Arena mode is my favorite mode so far. You pay a fee to enter the arena (either in actual cash or in-game currency) and then you’re in until you lose three matches, and you can play those arena matches over several days if you’d like. The catch here is that you don’t play with your pre-built decks. Instead, when you sign up for the arena, you’re presented with three class options at random. You pick a class, and then proceed to build a 30 card deck, one card at a time. For each slot in your deck, you’re given 3 cards to choose from. These cards come from the whole pool of cards in Hearthstone, not just from the cards you’ve personally amassed.

Once you have your deck built, you begin playing arena matches. Your arena “career” with the class and deck you built upon entry lasts until you’ve lost three matches. At the end that run, you’re given a prize, which gets “better” based on how many wins you racked up before the third loss. I’ve run the arena three times, and each time I’ve ended up with some arcane dust and one pack of cards. Arcane dust is used to craft cards for your regular decks, though I haven’t done any crafting just yet.

You can extend your personal deck of cards with booster packs. These cost 100 gold of in-game currency or $2.99 cash for 2 packs (with various bulk purchase discounts). Each pack gives you 5 cards, one of which is guaranteed to be rare or better. Again, I’ve also received packs at the end of my arena runs.

And now my biggest gripe with the game. Free to play. Ugh. I’m growing quite tired of anything free to play that isn’t just cosmetic stuff (think Team Fortress 2 or Dota 2). I get that companies have to make some money, and something like Hearthstone has an obvious path of monetization. I even went into things with an open mind, knowing that there’d be booster packs and such. I’m even happy to grind out in-game currency most of the time. The problem I have with Hearthstone’s specific monetization model is just how slow it is to grind out in-game currency.

If you want to play in the arena, you need to pay an entry fee. The fee is either 150 gold or $1.99. It can take quite a while to put together that 150 gold. To earn gold, you do (wait for it…) DAILY QUESTS! I’ve seen three varieties of daily quests (and you only get one per day) – win 2 matches with a given class, do xx total damage to enemy players or destroy xx minions. Each of these quests seemed to average between 3 and 4 matches to complete, and the reward is usually around 40 gold. You also earn 10 gold for every three matches you win. Doing the math, that’s a LONG DAMN TIME to put together 150 gold.

I get it. Blizzard needs to make money on things they make. I have no problem with that at all – it just feels like gaining the in-game currency is a little too slow. Being able to play in the arena every other day that you play feels about right to me, but at the current rate of gold gain, you’re looking at more like 3 – 4 days of playing and doing the daily quests before you can get back into the arena.

Maybe they’re still tweaking and tuning things – it’s still in beta after all. The game feels extremely close to finished to me (it really only lacks a little better documentation once you leave the tutorial), but I’m not sure I’ll stick with it if I can’t play the arena more often. That’s too bad, because the game itself is super fun if you can get past the paywalls.


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