Video Game Review: Hearthstone

Details: Released on the PC and mobile devices. Originally released in 2014, but paid expansions are released periodically. Not really sure how many hours I’ve played since Blizzard doesn’t show that information in their client.

Hearthstone is a free to play online trading card game. Two players play against each other, summoning monsters and casting spells. When one player is out of life points, the other player wins. It’s very reminiscent of Magic: The Gathering, but so are pretty much all other card games in the genre.

I want first say that I do not like Hearthstone. Before going into why, I’ll go over some good points. Firstly, it’s a video game, which is great. When you play a trading card game like this in real life, there are always questions about rules and what is allowed, and, generally, you just make it up as you go. You do whatever sounds right. Not so for a digital trading card game. If the game allows you to do it, it is not against the rules. The video game itself is the referee and enforces all rules, which is far better than either player doing so.

I like the animations. I like the rules. They are somewhat simpler than Magic: The Gathering, but complex enough for there to be a lot of depth. Now what I don’t like about this game: like most trading card games, it’s a cash grab. And Hearthstone does it in the worst way possible, the way that games like League of Legends do it. They put money barriers barring gameplay in exchange for money.

Like real life trading card games, you buy packs that have random combinations of cards in them. There are also expansion packs that unlock more cards you have to buy. In essence, if you need to pay in order to win because you need those cards in order to play against those cards. Otherwise, you are at a perpetual disadvantage. You could theoretically unlock all the cards in the game, but that would take a ridiculous amount of time and luck. You still wouldn’t have access to the cards in the expansions. Furthermore, even if you paid money, that would still require a lot of luck because the packs of digital cards you buy are random. You may never get the cards you want. And that’s the point. The game makers want to siphon as much money as possible from you and that affects gameplay.

When it comes to games that are free to play and make their money off subsequent digital transactions after installation of the game, I usually refer to Dota 2 as the prime example of free to play done right. In Dota 2, all gameplay elements are available from the very beginning. There are no gameplay barriers that require money to unlock. A ten year veteran of the game has access to as many things as someone who started playing today. Skill and experience determines who wins games, not money. Money is made off cosmetic purchases, not gameplay related purchases. That means hats or skins that change the appearance of your character. In this way, games like Hearthstone and League of Legends are inferior.

Because of this, I cannot enjoy Hearthstone. Every time I play someone, they have a bunch of new cards I’d never seen before. I played for a while, unlocking new packs and gradually building a more powerful deck of cards. Unfortunately, the meta game of Hearthstone, as in many card games, is fixed to certain kinds of decks. What that means is that if you really want to win, you go online, you google what the winning decks are right now, then throw money at Blizzard Entertainment until you get the cards for that deck, then build that deck and win. It’s not complex, there are no surprises, and it sucks the money out of players.

There is a game mode where two players are forced to play against each other with cards from a randomly generated pool. This mode is called Arena and really helps even the playing field. Unfortunately, in order to play this mode you need to either win a bunch of games and earn the admission fee or spend real money to play. If you’re cards are bad to begin with, it’s going to take a while to earn your admission fee and this game will go back to seeming like a money wasting slog as you desperately try to win games against people with better cards.

Overall, I do not recommend Hearthstone unless you’ve got money to burn. The business model is set up to attract addictive personalities, similarly to Diablo III and how the auction house was originally set up. If you do have money to spend, I can see how Hearthstone would be fun. With money, you’re already one of the most powerful players in the game. Without money, Hearthstone is just a bad business model that I do not recommend anyone play. If you’ve got time to waste and don’t mind being beaten down by people with more money, then enjoy the game. I won’t because I get enough of that in real life.

Score: 4.8/10

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