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Archive for the ‘Hearthstone’ Category

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Blizzard has finally put out the first details of Hearthstone’s long-awaited single-player “story mode” at Pax East and an online article.  The theme will be the raid of Naxxramas, which has long been one of the more memorable and popular dungeons in World of Warcraft; first appearing in the original game and then re-appearing in the Lich King expansion after being remade and re-balanced for the higher level content.

After reading the article, here is what I can glean:

– The adventure mode will consist of 5 separate bosses that must be defeated, one per “wing”

– Each boss will function as an AI controlled hero that must be defeated in 1v1 combat, and will have unique hero powers and probably unique cards also

– The first wing will be free.  Remaining wings will release one a week after the first, and must be unlocked via either gold or real money.  No prices listed.

– Defeating a boss will unlock one of the 30 new player cards associated with the adventure.  Defeating all wings of the adventure will reward players with a legendary, most likely the Baron Rivendare card spoiled in the article.  4 other player cards are also spoiled.  All spoiled cards have or interact with the “Deathrattle” keyword.

– The adventure will also include new “class challenges” for each class, the defeat of which will unlock a new card for that class.  Details are this are very sketchy though.

– The adventure will be played on a new game board themed to the dungeon

– No release date announced or hinted.

So, some thoughts.

First off, on the positive side I think this is a pretty cool development for the game.  I really loved the concept of the Raid decks for the WoW TCG and they really seem to be retaining the flavor of those, albeit as a single player experience which is too bad but expected.  I also really like the idea of opening the wings over 5 weeks, it will give the community something to talk about and will give players a reason to keep coming back.  Depending on how the class challenges are formatted, those might also allow for a whole lot of replayability as players keep coming back with different classes to unlock the class cards.  The new neutral cards spoiled seem pretty powerful to me and may make silence effects incredibly important.  Deathrattle was already a powerful keyword on it’s own even without these new buffs to it.

Still, though, there are a lot of questions.  How will the class challenges be formatted?  Will they be some sort of optional twist on the content?  Will they be specific to one boss or include multiple bosses?  It’s really unclear.  Also, the difficulty level will be interesting to see; there will be huge amounts of public decks posted for defeating the adventure immediately after it comes out, it will be interesting to see how the difficulty is tuned with this in mind.  Also, how many of the new player cards will be available via the single free wing?

But probably the biggest question of all is pricing for the 4 wings after the first free one.  This is the first micro-transaction added to the game apart from the basic purchasing of packs and arena runs, but surprisingly it will be available for gold also… Blizzard is being even more faithful to the Free-To-Play model than I expected, though this is also because presumably they want to ensure all cards can be acquired for free.  It will be interesting to see how they price it.  If it’s skewed too far in either direction they will suffer.  Too little gold and no one will pay the cash, too much gold and you’ll see massive whining about pay-to-win.  Currently Blizzard has established a conversion of 100 gold is approx. $1.25-$1.50 so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the wings cost 200-250 gold each or $1.99.  But we will see how much of a cash cow Blizzard is shooting for here.

 

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So I had been saving some gold for an arena run, but yesterday I was just finishing a game of Hearthstone and pretty much the whole family was watching me… wife and kids all ended up watching as I narrowly won a match with a big come from behind win.  Sienna (my 6 year old daughter) is starting to understand some of the mechanics of Hearthstone now (she loves Murlocs) which is pretty funny as she makes all sorts of comments while watching.  Afterwards I was showing the kids various cards from my collection, especially the animated cards, and I decided to go ahead and buy a pack which I let Connor (my 4 year old son) open.  First card:  Hunter common.  Second card:  LEGENDARY!  I got Lord Jaraxxus, the Warlock legendary that replaces your hero.     That was in addition to another rare!  So I think may have Connor open more of my packs for me from now on.

I haven’t played much Warlock yet but I think I may have to try them now as I hear that the Jaraxxus card is pretty powerful.

So that’s 2 Legendaries, in 28 packs opened and no money spent (yet).  I only have 4 Epics and certainly I’m missing all sorts of key cards for various decks, but I feel like I’ve had pretty decent luck so far.

For ranked play I’m currently stuck at about Rank 16 which isn’t amazing I’m sure but since I’m winning about half my games it seems it’s where I belong, at least with the Druid deck I have been playing.

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“Busy night, but there’s always room for another!” says the friendly dwarf voice, with the warm sounds of a cozy tavern playing in the background.

That’s how I’m greeted as I log onto my Hearthstone beta account.  It makes me think, is there room for another free to play digital card game on top of SolForge, Duel of Champions, and the multitude of other free to play digital card games out there?  The answer, of course, is sure; after all they are FREE and don’t take up any physical space.  Which means I have no pressure to play out of obligation by subscription or physical investment.  It’s a Darwinian world where my time and money will go to the game that is simply the most fun to play.  And right now, that game is Hearthstone.

A lot of it is still the cult of the new, and I only just got into the Hearthstone beta a little over a week ago so I’m still very much in the exploratory phase.  In addition, most free-to-play games tend to front-load new players with a lot of quick rewards that give a real feeling of value and that tends to fade as players get into the grind and become faced with the tough choice of either spending money or having their advancement slow to a crawl.  I’ll be in the “new game” phase with Hearthstone for a bit longer because of the clever class leveling system which means there is a lot of content just waiting to be unlocked as you explore each class, but more on this later.

The purpose of this post is to give my thoughts on why my initial experience makes me think Hearthstone will see a huge amount of success.  I see the potential of Hearthstone as resting on 3 legs:  IP, Polish, and Gameplay.

The intellectual property of Blizzard and more specifically the Warcraft Universe is clearly a huge leg up over, say, the Might and Magic IP of Duel of Champions.  Just the Warcraft brand alone will ensure a pretty high minimum sales figures from all the Warcraft nuts out there with way too much money.  And Blizzard’s interesting choice to avoid tying Hearthstone too specifically to the “World of Warcraft”, combined with the casual and humorous manner that Hearthstone treats the lore with, ensures they have a bit more flexibility in applying the Warcraft IP and timeline to the game that might draw in some people who have developed an aversion to the MMO itself but still like the larger IP setting.

The IP and Blizzard label will certainly draw a lot of people in, but what will really wow them once they try it is the tremendous graphical and audio polish of the game.  Blizzard is, after all, renowned for their high release standards and tremendous levels of polish in all their games, a trait which has earned them a lot of purchases from me.  Hearthstone has allowed Blizzard to pour their money and resources into carrying their tradition to a new genre, the digital card game. The result has easily set a new industry standard.  The overall atmosphere of the game creates an amazingly pleasant experience, from the rich sound effects to the shiny stylized Blizzard graphics to the fantastic and functional UI.  The crowd sounds ooing and ahhing when you land a big hit, the magic missiles arcing across the board, the excited cheers when you flip over a legendary card, all of it creates a sort of tactile feedback that simply makes you want to play the game more.

Of course people may come for the IP, and they may be wowed by the polish, but the only thing that will really keep players for the long-haul is good gameplay mechanics.  Here Hearthstone manages to impress also, borrowing heavily from the now defunct WoW TCG while also managing a delicate balance in terms of complexity so that it can appeal to the largest possible audience.  The resource system is a very simple stepping system going from 1 to 10 so there are no concerns over mana screw or complex resource curves.  The game gives you pre-built decks for every class once you have unlocked them, and can even complete a deck for you that you have partially built.  The decks are only 30 cards with a max of 2 cards per type which makes constructing even totally custom decks not too daunting, while at the same time maintaining the same statistical control over the consistency of your deck that the Magic 60 card deck/4 duplicate max rule has.  The tutorial provides a nice easy intro into the gameplay itself and explains all the main concepts.  All this combined with the gorgeous graphics and interface makes the game very simple to ease into even for someone who has never played a DCG before.  On the other side of the coin, the persistent minion health, carefully developed set of keywords, and class variety provides for much more depth than initially meets the eye.

What is dominating my early game experience is the very cool class leveling system.  The game starts you off with a Mage deck at level 1, which means it has 5 of the 10 Mage-specific “basic” set cards.  Basic set cards are permanent, once you have them you have a full playset basically bound to your account and you cannot remove or lose them.  As you play your Mage deck you earn XP and it levels up, unlocking a further basic card every 2 levels (2, 4, 6, etc) until at Level 10 you have all 10 basic cards for that class.  You have this same process for every other class, except you have to win a single game against the AI to unlock each other class.  This means there are 45 basic cards to unlock and it will take you maybe around 200 games to unlock all of them, which is a pretty huge amount of gameplay with steady rewards to keep you going.  This isn’t even counting the fact that you can earn gold (in-game currency) by winning PVP matches and by completing specific quests (such as winning 3 games as a Warlock or Shaman) which allow you to buy packs of cards.  Packs only have 5 cards but since a deck only has 30 anyways it actually feels about right.  Cards from packs are “expert” cards, of which there is a set number of neutral and a set number of additional cards for each class.  These expert cards can be recycled into “dust” which can then be crafted into cards of your choice, based on rarity and a very inefficient formula.  This gives players the opportunity to obtain any card they desire provided they have cards they are willing to burn to get them.  Playing the game for free appears perfectly viable, at least for a while, though perhaps I will hit a wall once I have leveled all the classes to 10 where the grind for more gold starts to become less bearable.

Of course free to play card games tend to have some of the worst pay-to-win problems and you can purchase expert packs for cash which means some elite players have dumped a few hundred bucks and already have a huge collection of higher rarity cards.  The ranked match-making keeps you matched against similar tier players so you aren’t facing elite players until you rise to their level, but progressing to that level is probably going to mean spending some cash.  It just depends on how important that is to you I guess vs. the gameplay being it’s own reward.

For now Hearthstone is riding a huge wave of popularity, and there is a lot of development room in the game for new card sets, new features, and tie-ins with other Blizzard games.  I haven’t even gone into the Arena format yet which is interesting in it’s own right as an alternative game mode that uses more of a sealed draft style to put players on an even competitive footing.  I would say opt-in to the beta if you are interested and have a Battle.net account, and give the game a spin.  I think there is a lot here even if you only play casually and who knows where Blizzard will be able to take this with the kind of resources they have.  It should be a fun ride, made all the more fun by the fact that I’m not shackled down by a subscription.

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