How I Fell Down the Hearthstone HoleAugust 6, 2014
I have never been much into collectible card games (CCGs). I had my time in grade school where I fell deep into Pokemon, like most kids my age. I even had a brief stint playing Magic: The Gathering in middle school. Beyond that, I was never much into them. The same goes for free-to-play games. I have found most free-to-play games to be subpar, boring, and trying to grab money from you at every turn. Lastly, I have never played a single moment in World of Warcraft and my exposure to the Warcraft RTS games is minimal. So, why does a game that combines all three of these elements draw me in? Quite honestly, I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that I have dumped dozens of hours into Hearthstone with no intention of slowing down.
I had only downloaded Hearthstone on my iPad because I was looking for something new to play. I was hesitant by the free-to-play nature of the title, as I had recently been disappointed by PopCap Games’ Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time. Despite this, I decided to give the game a shot. I had enjoyed playing Magic in middle school, and wanted to see if this was anything like that.
The first thing that drew me in was the simplistic nature of the game. Upon opening the game for the first time, it is recommended that you complete some practice matches against AI in order to learn the basic rules and subtleties of the game. Matches play out fairly simply. A coin is flipped to determine which player goes first. The winner of the coin toss starts with three cards which you can swap out for another random hand if they aren’t good for starting out. You draw one card at the beginning of each turn and gain one mana crystal. Mana crystals are used to play cards. After ten turns, you reach the maximum of ten mana crystals, though that number can be boosted via special cards. Play goes as it does for many CCGs; you play cards until you run out of mana, with the end goal of reducing the enemy player’s health (which starts at 30) down to zero. There are many small strategies and subtleties that I won’t dig into here, but trust me, they’re there.
Upon completion of the training, I now had multiple character classes unlocked and a majority of the basic cards. Each class (which include Hunters, Mages and Warlocks) has class-specific cards which can be unlocked as you level up that particular character. At this point, you could either continue in the practice arena, or jump into online play. I decided to jump online, as the XP gains were much higher. Needless to say, I got stomped. Over, and over, and over again. For some reason, though, I kept coming back. This was mainly due in part to the brilliant quest system.
The daily quests in Hearthstone kept me coming back to much longer than I would have, considering how much I was getting destroyed. Each day, a new quest opens up, which, upon completion, will award you with gold. Gold is then used to either purchase more cards packs, or buy entrance into the Arena. These quests range from winning X number of matches with a particular class, to dealing 100 damage to enemy heroes, etc. This had me coming back to Hearthstone on a daily basis, just to keep earning gold. Very slowly, I started to get better. Then the winning streaks started coming. I started building my own custom decks. I’m now realizing that there are certain cards that I really want. All of a sudden, I had given Blizzard my credit card number and gave them $15 for a game that was completely free. They had their hooks in, and weren’t letting go. That being said, I didn’t and still don’t regret dropping that money into the game. I got some really nice cards that I still use in my current deck builds.
There is a point to all of this. Hearthstone is proof that a free game based around a microtransaction economy can work, and really well at that. I’m still playing Hearthstone every day and have put dozens of hours into it. The game has made me more open and accepting to games that adopt the free-to-play model, as long as it isn’t dirty business. You can, theoretically, unlock everything in Hearthstone and not drop in a single cent. Granted, it would take a very long time, but it is possible. This gives me hope that other developers will take some cues from Blizzard, and make their games fun to play, increase production values, and really focus on making the players want to give them more money. When the player feels like they’re being forced to spend money because the game has gotten too hard, for instance, you have lost that player. Luckily Hearthstone hasn’t lost its way and I encourage everyone who is looking for a great, free game to play to try this one out.
This article was written for publication on geekchicelite.com by Erik Davis