Hearthstone isn’t news. It’s an offshoot of the world’s most famous MMORPG and it’s been around in its own right since 2014. But it’s notable for a few factors that distinguish it among computer games.
First off, there is a tonal shift from its core material. At the time development started on the game, it was 2008 and Wrath of the Lich King was Word of Warcraft’s (WoW) current expansion. Up to that point, WoW was a dark, gritty story peppered with humorous pop culture references and silly quests. But the core of the game was a series of world-saving battles against demonic invasions, elder gods, and armies of undead.
Hearthstone, by sharp contrast, is a game of silly parodies and simple table-top card game combat that draws from a mustache-twirling alternate universe of the same characters. In fiction, it’s the Warcraft universe’s equivalent of Magic: the Gathering, played in taverns by adventurers as they relax between world-saving adventures.
This also might just be me, but Hearthstone is one of vanishingly few games that is good enough to play on a PC but also works as a mobile game. So often, you find PC ports of mobile games dumbed down to the point of frustration or a mobile spinoff stripped down to the point where it loses what made the original special. Hearthstone is the same game on both platforms, plays seamlessly between the two, and aside from some simplified graphics and animations, you’d hardly notice the difference.
But I think the key factor that really separates Hearthstone from the crowd is its resilience and longevity.
I just looked through the lists of the top mobile games of 2014, and other than Crossy Road and a few spinoffs to shovelware staples, you can hardly remember the names of any of them while reading the list. The top PC games for 2014 is a more respectable list, but with the possible exception of Elite Dangerous, the rest have either been supplanted by their own sequels (including 2014’s WoW expansion, Warlords of Draenor) or just left by the wayside. Hearthstone is prominent on both lists.
How did they do it? First off, they stuck to WoW’s magical time-stopping formula of not pushing technological limits on graphics. They stuck to a cartoonish, timeless aesthetic reminiscent of all but the earliest Pixar movies (which also hold up great over time!).
Second, they continued to innovate within the game. They add new batches of cards to the mix three times a year and rotate old ones out of standard play. But they also innovate new game modes (OK, they’re still Blizzard, so they look at what’s successful in the marketplace and try to make better versions).
I still play Hearthstone pretty regularly, but I hardly touch the traditional game mode. I mostly play their auto-chess-like Battlegrounds mode, which received plenty of new content on a consistent basis.
I know. It’s a huge company with all the resources they care to expend. But I still find it admirable that a company can keep a flagship game relevant nine years after release. Check it out if you haven’t already. The game is FTP+ (you can buy extras), and the Battlegrounds mode isn’t punishing to free players (you get a choice of 2 random heroes to start each game instead of four, and you earn cosmetic stuff slower).
Hearthstone is my go-to in-between-stuff game.
If you’ve overlooked it, or resisted it, I encourage you to give this delightful filler game a chance.