Games I’ve Been Playing: Hearthstone

Go, Blue Eyes White Dragon! …oops, wrong game.
Sign up for the beta here.
(Open beta coming in January 2014!)
Or watch the game trailer here.

Hello there, it’s back with me on another “Games I’ve Been Playing” post, and surprise, surprise, this time it’s not another mobile game! Instead, this time we’ll be talking about the latest PC game from Blizzard, Hearthstone. I got the beta key around 2-3 weeks ago and have been playing it daily ever since. I suppose that’s enough time for me to form up a complete opinion about the game, so here we are.

And whoa, I just realized that I got the Hearthstone beta access on my birthday. Thanks again, Blizzard!

Anyway, before we go further, let me just say that Blizzard has missed a really big opportunity by not calling the game Cardcraft. Hell, they could even use Cards of Warcraft as the title if they want to keep the Warcraft branding. But nope, they went for Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft instead.

Okay, enough of me rambling, time to get on with the show!
To get a quick overview of the game, just watch a round of Hearthstone here.

A Hearthstone match

So, what is Hearthstone? Hearthstone, in short, is a digital collectible card game featuring the universe of Warcraft. On Hearthstone, 2 players will engage in a turn-based match where they use their own deck of cards to defeat their opponent. The game plays out pretty much like Yu-Gi-Oh! or Magic: The Gathering where players can use their cards to summon minions and activate spells to try reducing the opponent’s health to 0.

Well, what’s so unique about Hearthstone then?

At the core of Hearthstone lies the mana system. It is the system that governs everything on the game. Each player starts a match with 1 mana, limiting the number of cards they can use early since every card costs some amount of mana. However, as the match progresses, the mana pool will slowly increase, allowing more devastating cards to be used as the match gets closer to its end.

And that’s all there is to it for the mana system. Sounds too simple, you say? Well, that’s the true brilliance of the mana system, because beyond its simplicity (which makes the game accessible to everyone), lies a deep strategical complexity.

For one, the mana system makes balancing your deck vital for winning since you need to excel even when you’re constrained by your mana limit. It also makes mana management during the game itself important, because losing your 5-mana card to an opponent’s 2-mana card is just a no go. Not to mention that it makes the game much more fast-paced, most of the the match I played last for just 10-15 minutes.

Seriously, whoever came up with the mana system deserves a Nobel prize.

Hearthstone heroes

Another defining feature of the game is the hero that you must choose to represent you during a match. Each hero in Hearthstone grants you a special ability and access to cards unique to that hero. Because of that, the hero you choose will shape up your deck and your play style. For example, if you choose the Mage hero, your play style would revolve around pressuring your opponent by dealing damage with your spell cards.

Okay, even though the game is really fun, you would still need someone to be your opponent, right? Fortunately, Hearthstone includes a matchmaking system that could quickly find an opponent for you. And so far it has been doing pretty good, I have never failed to find a game no matter what time I’m playing. Not to mention that the system is quite fair too, I’ve never found myself playing against someone totally out of my league.

Once you’re in a match and having a good time though, you’ll be surprised to see that there’s no way to chat with your opponent. Somehow Blizzard has totally skimped on adding any kind of social features to Hearthstone. There’s no chat, there’s no lobby, and the only way to communicate is with some limited emotes. Sigh, sometime all I want to do is tell my foe “Crap, I’m screwed.”, yet the game provides no way to do that.

With other free to play games goes all out on their social aspect, it’s perplexing to see Blizzard simply ignores that subject.

Hearthstone card

It’s not just social where Hearthstone is lacking though. Being a casual and quick game, Hearthstone is perfectly suited for mobile gaming, yet Blizzard doesn’t seem to be interested on pursuing the mobile market. Sure, there is a plan to release the game on iPad, but I just can’t see iPad as a mobile device that can be used for playing on the go (though iPad Mini is close).

Well, apparently Blizzard just announced that Hearthstone is also going for iPhone and Android devices! While it won’t be arriving until at least second half of 2014, this is definitely great news for everybody who likes to play games on the go (or the toilet).

Anyway, after my first couple of rounds, I have a feeling that Hearthstone is going to be a game where I pour a lot of my time into. And my further experience with it seems to confirm that feeling. There certainly are issues (like the lack of chatting) that makes the game less than perfect. But Blizzard already get the hardest part, the core of the game, right, so I’m really hoping that they can fix those issues before the game is publicly released.

So what are you still doing here? Quick, go sign up for a beta!


A Thought About DreadOut

I really should be doing that final log, but alas…
Let’s start with a simple question, what is Dreadout? DreadOut is an indie horror game that takes place in an Asian-Indonesian setting. In the game you will take control of Linda, the protagonist, exploring a haunted town where she will encounter tons of ghost and other supernatural stuff. Fortunately she’s equipped with a phone that could take photo of a ghost to banish it so it’s all good, right?

Currently there’s a demo of the game that’s available here so you can give it a try.

A little disclaimer before we go further, I’m not in any way an expert or even a fan of the horror genre. I’m just someone who’s highly opinionated and enjoy writing.

Anyway, yesterday I gave the demo of DreadOut a try. Well, “gave a try” may be an exaggeration since I only played the first five minutes and then spent another 15 minutes watching a friend played it. And it’s not like he forcibly took control of the game from me either, the game actually feels so scary that I can’t play it anymore. And since DreadOut is a horror game, I think being able to scare someone (well, me) like this is a pretty awesome feat.

Is it that scary? Well, DreadOut used a combination of darkness and eery sound to create an unbelievably scary atmosphere. And being only able to see the ghosts from your camera actually intensifies this atmosphere even further. That said, having an audience who watch me play the game probably also plays a role in me getting scared.

And by the way, that other person who continued my game also gave up playing. In the end we all decided to just watch Die Hard for the rest of the night XD


She’s probably the cutest thing in the game

While I did say it’s an awesome feat to be able to scare someone, I suppose making a player quit the game isn’t actually a good thing. Granted, I’m not someone who loves horror games that much, but I still enjoy a good scare and some tensions. I mean, the first part of Bioshock is crazy scary, but it is the best part of the game and I totally enjoyed every second of it.

It’s interesting to see that Dreadout and Bioshock (again, first part) have a really similar scary experience . Both games make you feel scared of turning around a corner because of what’s possibly lurking behind it. But the main difference is, Bioshock manages to make me endure all those scary stuff while Dreadout just makes me give up.

My problem is that there’s just no compelling reason for me to go forward in the game. So when I got to enter a dark, scary alley, all I could think of is why the hell I should go that way when I see no treasure or safe haven or anything beyond that alley. Not to mention the game doesn’t reward me for exploring places. No collectibles or anything that would motivate me to try entering an unexplored room brimming with possible ghosts.

One thing that bugged me the most is that there’s also no reward in any form when a ghost is successfully captured. No visual indicator that you’ve succeeded, no nice sound effect, no nothing. I guess you could say that the relief afterward is some sort of reward, but seriously, that feeling is so short-lived that I highly doubt it could be called a reward.

And that’s my other problem with the game. The entire game feels so intense and there’s barely any place where you could feel safe. Even after you checked out a room and found it to be clear, you still have this feeling that something may jump at you at any given time. There’s just no ground rule set up about when you should be scared and when you shouldn’t.

Sigh, I don’t know, may be I just missed the point of a horror game? At this point, the game feels more like a gauntlet run full of scary things to test your courage and frankly, that’s just not my thing. I mean, even horror movies has something compelling like a plot or a mystery that makes me want to endure it to the end.

That said, DreadOut definitely has potential. It’s not easy to create a scary experience but DreadOut has actually nailed that part. I hope they succeed in their crowdfunding, because there are still tons of stuff could be fixed in the game.

If you’re interested, give it a try yourself from here.