Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft revealed: a free-to-play CCG set in the Warcraft universe

Blizzard have just revealed a new game at PAX in Boston. Hearthstone is free-to-play collectible card game based in the World of Warcraft universe. The game was revealed on stage by Rob Pardo, Blizzard's Chief Creative Officer. 

Hearthstone will contain 300 cards, featuring heroes and items from the World of Warcraft universe. Cards already revealed include a Murloc and Hogger. 

Players pick one of nine classes based around the characters classes from World of Warcraft, and take turns to cast spells, deploy heroic weapons or abilities, and summon powerful characters that WoW players will find familiar.

How cards are deployed is determined by a mana system, and like most CCGs, the goal is to reduce your opponent's health to zero. Matches will take ten minutes, and Blizzard want the game to be “epic in quality, but not necessarily epic and scope. What we want to do is make epic mean something different”.

Players will be able to craft their own cards, disenchanting duplicates into arcane dusts used as base materials for the exact card you want to create. On stage, Blizzard showed players "nuking" duplicates to create a Deathwing card.

Hearthstone also includes an AI system that will help suggest which cards will compliment your cards in your current deck.

Games are played over Battle.net, and the game is focused on 1v1 PvP matches. It will be launched on both PC and Mac, and will also release on iPad shortly thereafter. The beta will be available this summer, to release this year, and it's playable at PAX East right now.

Hearthstone promises to make deckbuilding easy for CCG newcomers. The game features tools used to evaluate your deck on the fly and "make good decisions". “You can actually just have the game create a deck for you," said Pardo. 

In practice, Blizzard expect players to use a combination of three approaches when building decks. First, you’ll pick a few key cards you "really want to make sure are in there" - then switch to ‘Suggest a Card’ mode to selectively flesh out deck from suggested sets of three class-specific cards. Once you're happy with your core selection, you can fill out the rest of your deck automatically with appropriate choices.

Players will acquire new cards via booster packs, which can be earned in-game or bought for an as-yet-undecided amount - likely about $1 per pack.

Each pack comes with five random cards. Your chance to receive a particular card depends on its rarity: common (white), rare (blue), epic (purple), or legendary (orange). However, you're guaranteed to get at least one card of rare or higher quality in each pack, and every card can later be upgraded to its improved "Golden" version.

Blizzard want to digitally capture "how fun it is to open a new pack" - the sensation of physically walking into a card store and ripping apart its foil outer layer to get at what's inside. In-game, that's recreated via a system that sees you click to uncover each of your five new cards individually. Especially rare or powerful cards will glow with a blue outline even before you reach them, and are celebrated with an explosion of noise and colour when overturned.

Booster packs are earned in-game via medals, awarded for winning matches to "validate the time you've been playing the game". Medals will also form the backbone of player rankings, and the game is linked up to Battle.net's matchmaking system. Hearthstone may not have the eSports potential of a fastmoving RTS like StarCraft, but Blizzard "want to make it really exciting to watch” nonetheless.

Hearthstone is being built by a new team of 15 developers at Blizzard. Team Five is made up of "generals - old school Blizzard guys who could wear many different hats", and was created specifically to work on smaller, faster projects. Pardo described Hearthstone as "an experiment to see if we could release a game in a year. Could we make a game that lived up to our epic standards, but of a smaller scope." 

Chris Metzen, Blizzard's story VP, described it as Blizzard "stepping out of its comfort zone".

Hearthstone has been designed with accessibility in mind, and Blizzard claim that players need not be familiar with either the Warcraft universe or existing CCGs to play: "The game will teach you everything you need to know as you play it."

“If you’re coming to Blizzard for the first time," said the developers, "This is a game for you.” Nevertheless, longtime Blizzard fans will find common mechanics and lore from older games to enjoy.

Beta sign-ups are available now. Players will be able to purchase packs during the beta, but Blizzard admit that prices may fluctuate before the game's full release later this year. Purchased cards will be lost at launch, but players will be reimbursed with new packs, alongside a special gift for beta participation.

Blizzard hope to lauch betas in other regions outside of North America, but had nothing to announce at the time of writing.

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