Review Hearthstone: Where Does Blizzard's Magic Come From?

ClunyTheScourge Nov 22, 2017

  1. ClunyTheScourge

    XPG Administrator

    Nov 21, 2017
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    Blizzard has long been the golden boy of online gaming, even before World of Warcraft (WoW) became a staple in the world of massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs: real-time strategy franchises Warcraft and Starcraft have had huge fan-bases since their release, despite both beginning as mostly single-player campaign games.


    Since its birth in the early 90s, the billion-dollar Californian company has expanded its battle chest of franchises to include role-playing game series Diablo, team-based, online, multiplayer first-person shooter Overwatch, and, of course, the subject of this article: free-to-play online collectible card game Hearthstone.

    For the uninitiated, the most commonly known collectible card game is Magic: the Gathering (M:TG). The main difference is that, to play M:TG, players are required to own physical copies of the cards themselves. In Hearthstone, instead, one can complete daily quests through which they earn gold to purchase digital card packs, each containing five cards. The players then proceed to use their card collection with one of the nine different classes, each of which has its own exclusive cards and heroes from which to create a deck of 30. Players then use their bespoke decks to compete against other players from across the world in Hearthstone's different match modes:

    • Ranked- Hearthstone's competitive leg, where wins and losses affect one's ranking,
    • Casual- for those after a less stressful gaming experience or those who want to test a new deck before competing with the big guns,
    • The Arena- where decks are formed from random card combinations and players compete with each other until they are defeated three times in total,
    • Tavern Brawl- which provides special rules or decks and rewards for players, and
    • Solo Adventures- the game's single player campaigns, which will be far more important after the release of Hearthstone's upcoming new expansion, Kobolds & Catacombs.

    At first glance, Hearthstone does not seem like anything more than a casual, desktop-based pastime, much like now-antiquated PC games Solitaire or Minesweeper. So why, exactly, does Hearthstone boast a staggering 70 million users (according to Blizzard) after only three years from its release?

    To understand why Hearthstone's popularity has exploded, one has to also understand Blizzard's golden formula. The company has one of the most loyal and committed player bases in the market, and that is not by chance. First of all, the Blizzard aesthetics. Only Blizzard games look like Blizzard games. If you look at a character in Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, or WoW, their look is unique. The design is almost always chunky, over-the-top, yet somehow perfect for a fantasy or sci-fi setting. Hearthstone is no different. Every card is beautifully illustrated and voice-acted hilariously, creepily, or both. Every time you play a card, a satisfying effect goes off, like an explosion of light or a triumphant mini-theme tune. Playing your next move always feels special because the game is organic. Even the game board seems to be alive, with its interactive décor, bright colours, and overall silliness.


    More importantly, there is Blizzard's long-standing commitment to listening to its community. As with every multiplayer game, balancing issues will always exist, with one class being slightly overpowered due to a new ability or, in Hearthstone's case, having a 'broken' card. Blizzard has active forums for each of its products, with a devoted team of game developers and designers at the ready to respond to players' queries, complaints, bug reports, and suggestions. The moment that public opinion about a certain mechanic or feature is more bad than good, Blizzard's team immediately looks into the specifics and, if deemed necessary, re-balances the game. This fluidity separates Blizzard from similar, community-based companies that are far less likely to listen to their player base.

    Finally, Hearthstone is ridiculously engaging. The card mechanics are numerous and diverse, challenging and weird, and just plain fun. Winning always feels like a resounding triumph because Hearthstone is like chess on steroids: not only do you have to think two steps ahead of your opponent, but the potential outcomes are far more due to the abundance of card choices and combinations. Of course, Hearthstone, unlike chess, relies on Random Number Generation (or RN-Jesus, as the faithful call it). But also unlike chess, this randomness is part of the thrill - 'I am skilled, but let's see if I also have the grace of the gods.'

    However, Blizzard's capacity to enthrall the masses can't be completely rationalised. There is only so much to say about a company's upward trend before you realise that, perhaps, its popularity is thanks to a mythology it's managed to craft for itself. For both the reasons above, and for its reputation for excellence in online gaming, Blizzard is the king, and will likely remain as such for a long time. A testament to this is the sprawling elephant graveyard of MMOs that tried, and failed, to dethrone World of Warcraft since its birth.

    Hearthstone is no different. Its new expansion, Kobolds and Catacombs, coming out in mid-December, promises to bring back emphasis to the basics of digital adventuring: solo treks to creepy dungeons, shiny treasures to unearth, and a challenge for every player, casual or hardcore.

    Cluny The Writer - Content Contributor
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