Blizzard enters the arena of collectable card games like a seasoned veteran.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a strange bird in Blizzard's catalog. It is the company's first free-to-play game, and it has been developed with an unusually small team. Still, it may turn out to be a real winner in the CCG-genre.
Thematically, Hearthstone relies on Blizzard's Warcraft-universe with its many characters, creatures and spells. There are a little less than 400 cards in the selection now, but most of these are linked to specific heroes, so the selection at any given time is actually much smaller. That said, the selection is still wide enough to guarantee some very varied matches, while keeping things manageable.
The card battles are fought between nine archetypal Warcraft heroes. These range from the mage Jaina Proudmoor to the shaman Thrall, and once again, they offer enough variety without making things overly complicated or confusing.
Blizzard always wants to make their games easily accessible, and this is also the case with Hearthstone. The mechanics are streamlined, simple and quick to learn. Some may even feel that the game is too simplistic, but in the end, this is a matter of preference. I can say that the game does provide plenty of challenge on the higher levels, so it's one of those cases of "easy to learn, hard to master". Luck naturally plays a role in the proceedings, and a bad starting hand may mean an unavoidable loss, but in the long run, it's more about skill.
The smooth mechanics of the game have been coated with the sort of eye-candy one expects from Blizzard. The developers have wanted to include the physicality of card games in Hearthstone, and it's certainly present in a way that many of their competitors lack. The colourful effects, the clickable details on the game board, and the short audio clips that accompany the cards enrich the experience, though I must admit that the canned war cries can grow tiresome late at night or during a losing streak. Overall, I can't deny that the production values are simply excellent though.
I've played Hearthstone since its closed beta, and I've seen how it has developed and become more polished along the way. The card balance is pretty good right now, though some cheesy decks still await neutering (pro-tip: Warlocks and Murlocks are a terrifying combination). The game will no doubt continue to get added polish, especially since more cards and even game modes are now on the horizon.
As said, Hearthstone is a free-to-play game, in which players may choose to buy new booster decks. The game is generous enough with its gold so real money is not even a necessity. Of course I have invested in it due to being the impatient sort. A twenty pound/euro/dollar note will guarantee a nice beginning boost to deck building, but each to their own. The game can be a lot of fun with no money spent, and if you are iffy about playing against strangers, there is the option to just play against your friends as well.
The core of Hearthstone is in its Arena mode though, where the players discard their built decks for some semi-random ones. This is surprisingly entertaining, and because there are no limitations as to how many copies of a card one may have in the Arena, things can get awfully weird awfully fast. It does cost money or gold to enter the Arena, but once again, you don't have to drop any actual cash if you don't want to.
All in all Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a colourful, addictive and high quality collectable card game. One can of course ask if it is 'fair' that players can use hard cash to buy themselves a truckload of cards and then dominate the board with their Legendaries and Epics, but in the end, no one card will guarantee victory, and players will be paired with those of an equal skill level.
Hearthstone isn't without some minor bugs, but the developers have proven that they are able to improve the final product one step at a time. So, while the game isn't perfect, it's pretty damn close to being so.
9 / 10
Easy to learn but hard to master, high production values, offers something for all skill levels
Some random bugs still remain, the sound effects may annoy on occasion