Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft, An In-Depth Review

Gameplay: 9/10
Sounds: 10/10
Graphics: 9/10

Fast-paced, exciting combat. | Best free-to-play model around.

Online play is very competitive. | Legendary cards are expensive to craft.

PC, Mac, iOS, and Android

Free to Play / Freemium

March 11,2014

English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish

Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft is an online strategy card game by Blizzard set in the universe of the immensely popular World of Warcraft MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). It has been incredibly successful so far and is arguably the most popular online card game at the moment. Featuring fast-paced combat and a rich, living, breathing world of characters and magic, Hearthstone brings one of the most well-designed modern gaming experiences to the collectible card game genre. If you haven’t heard of it or tried it out yet, you’re going to want to know what all the fuss is about. Read on and find out.

A game of Hearthstone in progress, Paladin vs. Druid decks.

A game of Hearthstone in progress: Paladin vs. Druid decks.


Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft sees players taking up a chosen Hero and their deck of Spells and Minions to summon onto the battlefield and fight in short-lived, tactical combat. Each player has a deck of 30 cards. These will be a mixture between Neutral cards, which are available to all Classes, and Class-specific cards. Each player has one of the Class Heroes: these have their own ability that costs 2 Mana, with a single effect, such as healing friendly units, to dealing damage, to drawing cards. Each Class’s exclusive cards also retain their own mechanical and thematic identity, offering different play styles.

You start with an opening hand of 3 cards if you are going first, and 4 if you are going second. You get a one-time chance to send back any of those cards and draw new ones, but you must keep whatever you draw the second time around. This is called the “Mulligan” rule. A player’s total Mana refreshes each turn, and you gain an extra Mana Crystal each turn up to a maximum capacity of 10. Since the resource system is steady and consistent, this ensures that no player falls behind in gaining resources as is possible to do in some other TCGs.

There are cards that manipulate Mana and Mana Crystals, but these tend to be outside the norm, except for The Coin: a card that the player going second automatically gains in their opening hand, which allows them to play it at any time for a temporary gain of 1 Mana that turn. The Coin is one of the great innovations of Hearthstone that helps to balance out the advantage that the first player has for going first: since The Coin doesn’t force you to use it right away either, you can choose to hold onto it for a future turn when you might want to be able to play a 4 or 5 cost Minion before you have that many Mana Crystals yet.

Choosing which cards to keep and which to send back to the deck.

Choosing which cards to keep and which to send back to the deck.

The core mechanics of Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft are simple: you spend Mana to play Minions to the field. Minions have Attack and Health points. They are summoned to the field exhausted so you must wait a turn before they can attack, but if they have other effects these will resolve immediately. When attacking, you choose both the attacker and who is defending the attack. Both units deal their Attack to the other’s Health, and Health points do not regenerate at the end of a turn. Therefore you must manage your Minions’ Health and Attack order strategically. You can also play Spells which have a one-time effect.

The overall aim of the game is to reduce the opponent Hero’s Health to zero. Heroes can attack as well, but only when equipped with a weapon or using their ability. If your deck runs out, the game continues, but each time you should have drawn a card you will take damage to your Hero’s Health instead, ensuring that games will always come to an end even if the board is gridlocked into a stalemate. When a Hero is defeated, they amusingly shatter in an explosion of pieces all over the battlefield, which never seems to get old and really punctuates your epic victory (or defeat).

Gameplay itself is immensely satisfying. The amount of audio and visual detail in the battlefield, Heroes and cards really makes you feel like you’re playing with living, breathing entities rather than just pictures on a card. Everything talks, yells, screams, explodes. It’s just hands down the most lively, enjoyable card game experience you can find around at the moment.

My Hero exploding everywhere after a defeat.

My Hero exploding everywhere after an epic defeat.

How Free-To-Play Works

The Quest Log is the heart of the free-to-play model in Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft. Here you can see what your current Quests are and what you need to do to earn the gold they offer. Quests are easily completed by anybody since they don’t require anything that you need to have paid money to own. An example of a Quest might be to cast spells 40 times, or win 5 games with either of two particular classes. Since these are accessible to everyone for free, you can quite quickly accumulate enough gold to buy a booster or go for an Arena run and earn yourself even more rewards.

Unlike a lot of other free-to-play games, the rewards are large enough and are gained quick enough that it doesn’t feel like being punished with a slow grind because you aren’t putting money into the game. In fact, quite the opposite. It seems like Blizzard realize that for the health of the game, there will always be people online to play against in Ranked matches and in the Arena if access to these isn’t hindered by a pay wall. You can buy booster packs if you wish, but it’s not really necessary to play the game even at a higher level of competitive play. Crafting is much more important, and that will be discussed further down.

Opening boosters is always an exciting moment.

Opening boosters is always an exciting moment.

Game Modes

When you first start playing Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft you will be taken through tutorials that teach you the basics of the game and help you start unlocking some of the cards for each of the available Classes. You can choose to practice against AI opponents or you can play online. Online play of the usual kind has two modes: Classic and Ranked. Classic play will just attempt to pair you up with someone of similar skill for a casual game, whereas Ranked play will start taking you through leveling up your Rank by earning stars. Ranked Play has Seasons: each Season, all players’ Ranks are reset and this provides a level playing field for everybody so that newer players also have a chance of climbing through the ranks based on skill alone.

However, there is also the Arena and it is one of the best things about Hearthstone, because it is such a rewarding game mode that gives out very decent prizes and is based nearly entirely on your own skill level rather than pure luck. The Arena is a “lite” form of drafting, where instead of drafting full packs with other people the game will give you a choice between three options and you pick which one you want to go into your deck. This starts with the option of which class you will be playing.

Sometimes this can be disappointing if your favorite class to play doesn’t come up, but the best thing about this is that it will force you to work with classes and cards that you may not be too familiar with, but this can be really enjoyable as you learn to think on your feet. The cards it presents to you are only semi-random, as the draft picks are tailored to help curve out your deck properly with increasing Mana costs so you have a well-built deck that should fare well against nearly everything else you come up against in the Arena.

The Arena is one of the best things about the game.

The Arena is one of the best things about the game, hands down.

You will keep playing Arena matches against other players with Arena-drafted decks until you either lose 3 games in total (not necessarily in a row) or win 9 games before you can lose 3. As you win more games, the prizes you will get increase in value. This can be any combination of boosters, gold, dust for crafting or rare single cards. There is even the possibility of earning so much that you can replay the Arena again without any further cost. This is called going “Infinite” and it is a great option for playing for free, you just need to be good enough at the game to succeed at this. Between this and the Quests, you can usually make enough gold to play the Arena a couple of times a day if you wish.

Deck Building and Card Crafting

Deck building in Hearthstone is an incredibly well designed and presented experience. Cards are sorted by Class tabs at the top, with one for Neutral cards also. There is a search bar which you can use to search not just for specific card names, but keywords and effect text as well. You can also filter cards just by Mana cost alone. This helps curve out the Mana costs of your deck properly when building.

It is possible to craft nearly any card available in the game by spending the required amount of dust to make it. Dust is the currency of crafting, and it is earned as a reward in the Arena as well as gained from disenchanting cards in your collection that you don’t want in order to gain the dust from them instead. Higher rarity cards give more dust than common cards, but the yield is still not all that great so it will take quite a few disenchants before you earn the amount of dust you’re looking for to craft new cards.

While slower, this is a more reliable method of gaining the specific cards you need for a deck because you cannot guarantee that they will show up in the random booster packs. Even though its a bit expensive, crafting makes Hearthstone much more accessible for those who are trying to build a particular deck. Yet there is still a large cost to crafting the kinds of Legendary cards you really need to be a highly-ranked online player.

Building decks is fast and simple, with well organized tabs.

Building decks is fast and simple, with well organized tabs.

Final Thoughts

There is just so much to do in Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft that you can be playing it all day long and still have more to do. With the arrival of the Adventure single player story campaign and the new Goblins vs Gnomes expansion of cards, Hearthstone just keeps getting stronger and stronger. Given that it combines a well-known fantasy world, fast-paced gameplay simplified from the other popular TCGs but retaining strategic depth, and a free-to-play model that is actually rewarding to players who don’t put money into the game, it’s really hard to say where Hearthstone goes wrong. Yes, crafting Legendary cards is really expensive, but you can usually grind up to this over time eventually.

Hearthstone a nearly perfect game already, and it is leading the way for the new generation of digital trading card games. It has established itself so quickly and so strongly than any new digital TCG is immediately compared against it in terms of fun-factor, design, replayability and overall player experience. Therefore, if you haven’t checked out Hearthstone yet, there’s never been a better time to jump in and find out what all the fuss is about. I highly recommend it.

For more screenshots, click here.

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Zac Phoenix
Author: Zac Phoenix View all posts by
Zac Phoenix graduated with First Class Honors in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and has been playing strategy card games since childhood. He has a keen interest in the underlying mechanics and player interactions of trading card games, as well as tabletop game design in the digital space. He also designs card games in his spare time.

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