Yesterday morning in Boston, Blizzard Entertainment announced their next game. During their announcement panel at PAX East, they revealed Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a collectible card game similar to Magic the Gathering. Unfortunately, I could not be at PAX East this year, but the announcement was being broadcast on the official PAX livestream. I’d like to think that the live audience was excited, despite the livestream chat having only negative things to say about it. I’m sure many of the people playing the game on the show floor right now like the game; comments on the Hearthstone subreddit indicate as much. I would envy them, except I know how the queues are. There are many other panels going on at PAX, and I could only be in one queue at a time. I wouldn’t be playing the game this weekend even if I were in Boston.
That’s not to say I won’t be playing Hearthstone when it comes out. I will! It has sufficiently piqued my interest. I like the Warcraft universe, and I like the major characters. Well, most of the major characters, anyway. Death to Garrosh! Victory for Sylvanas! Death to the Alli—sorry, went a bit off-topic there. I like Warcraft. I like the exaggerated-yet-whimsical aesthetic. But there’s something more to Warcraft that I like—World of Warcraft, specifically—and I trust Blizzard to follow in their own footsteps.
At the end of 2010, I became acquainted with LoadingReadyRun. The troupe’s videos, anyway. One of the earliest videos I saw was “It’s Magic.” A sketch based around playing Magic: The Gathering (and buying more cards) was novel to me at the time. As I continued watching their (then) new videos, I saw more sketches involving Magic. It looked rather fun. I bought a premade starter deck.
Fast forward to early 2012. LoadingReadyRun had recently begun streaming drafts of Magic: the Gathering Online (MTGO). During these drafts, I had heard rumblings about “Friday Nights,” a mini-series that focuses on playing Magic. In February, they launched the first episode of their four part mini-series. Anyway, when PAX East rolled around in April, I visited the Wizards of the Coast booth and played an actual game. It was just Duels of the Planeswalkers, but it wasn’t a deck gathering dust either. I earned a pin for my efforts!
So I have the inclination to buy and play Magic: the Gathering. What I don’t have is anyone to play with. A few people in my guild do share an interest in the game, although whenever we talk about it no one ever mentions actually playing it. It is all disappointing, to say the least. It tempers my expectations for Hearthstone.
During Blizzard’s announcement of Hearthstone, Rob Pardo said what Blizzard is best at doing is taking core game mechanics and making them more accessible. This is absolutely true. I dabbled in EverQuest in the late 90’s. I didn’t have much playtime under my belt, but I did understand one thing: while I liked the game concept, I didn’t enjoy playing it. When World of Warcraft came out, I had recognized many of the same mechanics from EverQuest. There was something different about WoW, however.
A few days ago, I was watching the Behind the Scenes commentary from the World of Warcraft Collector’s Edition. In it, the developers say that what Blizzard did to separate WoW from other MMOs was the questing system. Greeting players with a quest introduced them to the world. Instead of just killing 10 rats because there is no other way to level intuitively, you were killing 17 rats because someone wants 10 rat tails (not every rat has a tail, you see). It also allowed players another path of progression outside of the endless grind. Blizzard’s game was more accessible. Subsequently, I invested more time in the game than I did with EverQuest.
So I’m optimistic about Hearthstone. I have the inclination to play a TCG. The game is free to play, so the barrier to entry is low. The presence of both online matchmaking and practice AI is very attractive. Whereas matches in MTGO can last up to 40 minutes in length, Hearthstone is going to be designed to accommodate faster matches; a live, shoutcasted game during the announcement indicates they’re on track for that. I trust Blizzard when they say they can make the game accessible. I am confident of it.
Not only that, but it is possible that Hearthstone will be playable from within World of Warcraft itself. No longer would guildmates just talk about cards. We could be able to play while we wait for the Looking For Raid queue, or between boss attempts during the raid, or whenever there is enough downtime.
Hearthstone excites me. It’s a collision of collectible card game culture with Warcraft. If that’s not love at first sight, then I don’t know what is.
Hearthstone will be coming out sometime in 2013.