The upcoming free to play electronic card game, Hearthstone, emphasizes all the things that Blizzard does well as a developer. Blizzard is well known as the creator of some of video gaming’s most cherished and well-regarded franchises. They are the makers of the iconic Starcraft strategy series, the gothic Diablo dungeon crawler, and the ubiquitous online success World of Warcraft. It is this final franchise that Hearthstone itself is an offshoot from and is positioned to become yet another massive Blizzard success story. That is because the game highlights all of Blizzard’s strengths as a developer.
Blizzard’s games are well known for one common factor. Whether it is a hack and slash like Diablo, a deep strategy game like Starcraft, or an immersive online world like World of Warcraft, in each case the game itself is exceptionally polished. Blizzard takes extreme care to make sure that elements such as the user interface, voice acting, and character animations are all fully functional and add to the game experience. This can be as fundamental as making sure it is easy to click on abilities or access menus, or it can be something far less noticeable like the random comments a character makes when clicked on. Blizzard makes sure that everything looks and functions as intended, from the biggest detail to the smallest.
This can immediately be seen in Hearthstone. The user interface is clean and accessible. There are no extraneous buttons and menus are easy to find. This attention to detail is also evident in the game board itself. The game mechanics do not allow a player to act during the other player’s turn, so it is possible to interact with the game board in various other ways. Clicking on a door causes it to open. Clicking on a street lamp causes it to light up. These various details may seem small but they are characteristic of everything that Blizzard does. It is just one more way that Hearthstone emphasizes everything Blizzard does well as a developer.
Hearthstone also displays this in its game mechanics. Some critics have complained that Hearthstone “over simplifies” card games by prohibiting players from taking actions during the other player’s turn. This decision may be controversial, but Blizzard made it with a mind towards its intended audience. Hearthstone is designed to appeal to more casual players interested in a quick game, rather than deep and involved commitments. That is not to say there is not any depth of strategy in Hearthstone, but that is not the kind of game Blizzard was attempting to create. They were attempting to essentially create a card game based on the same principles of World of Warcraft, that is a game that is easily accessible to a broad audience. Hearthstone certainly appears to be that game.
One final way Hearthstone embodies Blizzard’s strengths as a developer is that it demonstrates Blizzard’s tendency towards refinement rather than innovation. There is nothing “groundbreaking” about Hearthstone’s game play or mechanics. Blizzard does not introduce any radical new concepts or ways of playing online card games, although it could be said that Hearthstone’s Arena is one of the best play modes ever conceived for such a game. This is very much in keeping with past Blizzard efforts. Starcraft, Diablo, and World of Warcraft did not on their own implement many new concepts in their genres. They simply executed current concepts in a way that most other developers cannot match. This is what makes Blizzard games so successful, and this bodes well for Hearthstone.
Hearthstone embodies all of Blizzard’s strengths as a developer. It is extremely polished and it is well designed for its intended audience. Fans of card games will find much to like with it, as will fans of Blizzard games in general.
Editorial by Christopher V. Spencer