For those of you who opted into the Hearthstone closed beta before the 16th December, congratulations! Why? You should have somewhere in your emails an invitation to the Hearthstone beta. If you haven’t checked your email yet then do and remember to check your junk mail as the invitation could be in there.
So you’ve managed to get into the beta, that’s awesome! I’m going to be saving an overview of the game, as well as a tutorial article, for a bit later as there is another wave of beta invitations due after January and then hopefully after that there’ll be the open beta.
Before I go any further, let me just emphasise that there is a reason Hearthstone is in closed beta. A whole host of bugs, and some server issues (still not as bad EUW though), await you. What else does awaits you though, is an insanely fun and addictive game.
You’ll play through the tutorial, which is short and sweet, and then you’ll be launched into the world of Hearthstone. The game does give some guidance, suggesting that the players unlock all the classes first (which can be done by defeating AI bots in the practice mode). Once you’ve done that, and you’ve levelled up all of your classes, then you’ll be battling real players and participating in ranked games.
You’ll try out Arena mode, a mode where you are required to build a deck on the spot and pit it up against other player’s decks who have also been made up on the spot. You’ll probably fail and lose a lot of games (once you lose three games, you’re out) like I did, leaving you feeling a bit disappointed and sad. But hey, you’ve still got a lot to learn, so you’ll go back to playing the game with your prebuilt decks and making other decks and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Then you’ll probably get stomped a whole lot more but you’ll keep playing to get gold so that you purchase one of the card packs and hope to make your deck a bit more badass.
You’ll try ranked again, and get a few card packs, and you’ll keep advancing in the game and getting better. But then suddenly, in one of your games your enemy pulls out a dragon. It looks awesome, it’s got its own banner around the card, and you’re like “Whoa! How do I get me one of those?” Then you get completely destroyed by this one card.
Man, that’s kind of sucky, you think to yourself. Maybe it was just a good player? I’m sure that won’t happen again you think to yourself. So you play some more games but then it keeps happening. Your enemy keeps pulling out a legendary card and destroying you, as well as many other cards you’ve never seen in your life.
Then, it’ll hit you. Wait a minute is this game pay-to-win (P2W)?
Before we continue, and really examine the question in detail, let’s define pay-to-win, so that we’re on the same page/
Pay-to-win is when a there is no way to be competitive other than paying for a certain item, character or card. It is a term commonly used in Free-to-Play games (F2P).
What is an example of pay-to-win you ask? Let’s look at League of Legends (a game that isn’t pay-to-win). In LoL you buy champion, with each champion having unique gameplay mechanics and playing differently. These champions can either be brought with in-game points or with real life money. No one champion is over-powered, meaning that if you’re good at the game from a skill perspective, then you’ll excel regardless of the champion. There is no requirement, other than skill, to be good at the game. This is fair to both paying consumers and those who play the game completely for free. Now some players don’t like this particular way of playing the game, preferring DOTA 2’s approach of making every champion available to the player with the player only paying for costumes and what have you.
Imagine if in League of Legends there was a tier of godlike champions. They were powerful, and could beat out every champion, regardless of the player’s skill. On top of that, these champions cost money to buy, however you could earn enough points to buy one by playing the game for a month. This scenario would be pay-to-win. Why? There is no way to remain competitive within the game without paying an awful lot of money. Yes, you could play for a month and unlock one of the over-powered champions, however what about all the other godlike champions?
We’ve defined what pay-to-win is, now is Heroes of Hearthstone pay to win?
Let’s run through some facts about Hearthstone.
It is a digital collectable card game whereby players collect cards by buying “Expert card packs”, which contain five random cards, with one of them being rare or higher. The player can buy these cards with in-game points acquired from playing the game. They cost 100 gold, or a player can flat out buy the card packs with real money. Apart from buying these card packs, there is no other way to earn additional cards.
Players can participate in the Arena by either paying real money or paying 150 gold. As explained earlier, in Arena the player must buy a deck from random cards and duke it out against other players. The more matches they win with this random deck the more awards they are given. These awards come in the form of Expert Card packs and in-game gold (which of course can be used to re-enter the arena or buy more card packs). The more you win the more packs and gold you’ll get.
The easiest, but also most risky, way to get a lot of gold and cards is by participating in the Arena mode because if you get a win-streak then you’ll be rolling in cards and gold. By just buying card packs, it’ll take the player a long time to get a legendary (if that player is particularly unlucky).
Players can also create cards by turning unwanted cards into dust which they can then use to make more powerful cards. The problem with this is that you’re going to need to destroy an awful lot of cards (which you can only get from card packs) in order to make a legendary.
A card pack costs 100 gold and entrance to the Arena costs 150 gold. Every three wins, yes that’s wins not matches, the player will earn 10 gold. There is also one daily quest everyday which the player can complete which will earn them 40 gold. Let’s say then I win three matches, with each match taking 10-15 minutes, and then I complete my daily quest, this will leave me with 50 gold in around 45 minutes. Now that’s not too bad, if you win every game. If you’re new to the game then you will probably lose an awful lot more games than win, and then obviously it’ll take you longer to get the 50 gold.
In order to make 100 gold after you’ve completed your daily, you’d have to win 30 matches. If each game takes you 10 minutes, then that’ll take your 300 minutes or five hours of play. After those five hours of play, you’ll get to open a random packet of five cards. In order to build a deck of thirty cards, all gotten from card packs, you’d have to get thirty card packs which would take you 150 hours. Not to mention that undoubtedly a lot of those cards would be duplicates, and you can only use two of the same card in each deck.
This leaves us in a very sticky situation. Basically you have to be good at the game and have an awful lot of luck, to win a lot and to get card packs to get better cards so that you can win more games. If you’re new to the game, you’re not going to be any good, that’s a fact. Once you start to get better at Hearthstone in terms of skill, you’ll win more however you will eventually hit a point where you’ll be up against players who have more cards than you and have significantly better synergies in their decks. Oh, and they’ll also have legendaries.
So is Hearthstone pay-to-win?
Honestly it kind of seems that way.
In order to be competitive, and not pay for the game in any shape or form, then a awful lot of hours have to be put into the game to be able to stand up with the big boys. It doesn’t really help that due to the nature of Hearthstone, it’s very random, sometimes you’ll get a great hand and other times you won’t.
Which is a bit disappointing.
I’ve been playing LoL for four years now. I vowed never to pay for the game. After three years I caved and spent around £35 on the game, not to mention I encouraged roughly twenty people to play the game, roughly seven of which are avid spenders on the game.
But at the end of the day there is one more test that needs to be done to really confirm whether or not Hearthstone is buy-to-win and that is to enter a tournament. Something I will be doing early next year, so we’ll revisit this subject then with a more definitive answer.
Does this mean that you should avoid Hearthstone if you have no intention to spend any money on it? Maybe, I’ll get back to you in the New Year on that.