First Impressions: Hearthstone Battlegrounds
Update: Battlegrounds just moved into Open Beta! Here’s what you can expect to find in this new Hearthstone game mode, based on our experiences at BlizzCon.
Hearthstone gets a new mode called Battlegrounds in the upcoming expansion Descent of Dragons. It’s Blizzard’s take on the autobattler genre. I was wondering when they’d bring it to life. I never would have guessed Hearthstone would have been the platform they chose to place it on. After standing in line for just a few minutes — largely since most players were checking out Diablo 4 — I had the opportunity to sit down and try out Battlegrounds on the show floor.
With 8 players per match, I was given a small list of heroes to choose from. There were heroes like The Lich King, Ragnaros, and … Toki! She was a hero introduced in one of the earlier Hearthstone expansions with the ability to manipulate time. While some heroes offer synergies like buffing your beasts or abilities like dealing a point of damage to your opponent’s minions on the board, Toki’s hero power offered me the opportunity to refresh a minion from Bob from a higher tier of selections. For example, if Bob was offering 2-star quality minions, Toki could generate one for sale that was from the 3-star level. Naturally, this piqued my interest because I felt I could start gradually overpower my opponents this way with stronger quality minions throughout the match and gain an advantage over the long run.
The recruiting round is extremely simple. You get gold, and you buy minions by dragging them over your own hero. I started with a Dire Wolf Alpha and then picked minions that would help protect it. This round is important since minion placement matters. In that sense, it is quite similar to other auto battler genres like Teamfight Tactics or Dota Underlords. While Battlegrounds doesn’t have a grid, you still need to order your minions correctly. Minion deployment also matters due to Battlecry effects, so make sure you place minions first before playing Battlecry minions.
Once I finished with recruiting and entered the combat phase, it was time. The Dire Wolf Alpha does okay in early rounds but it needs to have a strong supporting cast. All combat is sequenced from left to right. Your leftmost minions will always attack first and they will target your opponent’s taunt minions until they are destroyed before going in order from left to right, while your opponent’s minions will do the same to you. In this match, I had to protect the Dire Wolf due to its passive buffs so I ended loading up with a pair of HELLO! HELLO! HELL- Er, I mean, Annoy-o-Trons. One Annoy-o-Tron on either side means the Wolf gets to be protected for a bit until he inevitably goes in and attacks (and dies in the process). At least the two Mechs can help draw opposing attacks for a while.
Like other games in the auto battler genre, knowing when to trade in your minions for gold to buy other minions matters. In order to access higher level minions from Bob, you also have to commit resources to upgrading your tavern. But upgrading gets progressively cheaper as you continue working your way through the players in your match. If you upgrade too early, you won’t have enough gold to buy minions for that round and that might cost you that match. If you upgrade too late, you might not be able to keep up with your opponents.
Card types and families do matter. I started off with Beasts but ultimately transitioned over to Mechs. Not sure if they’ll be the minions of choice once the game is released, but they do play off each other. Harvest Golem summons an extra Mech (which can trigger other cards). Nightmare Amalgam doesn’t do anything other than be a mid-sized body. Mechano-Egg can soak up some damage and turn into a giant Robosaur. Psych-o-Trons are fantastic replacements for Annoy-o-Trons as you reach mid to late game. Eventually, I capped off my army with a Foe Reaper 4000, and two Cobalt Guardians. Junkbots were also MVP cards (Tip: Place them far to the right so they attack last). I also had a sweet Deathrattle card where the effect was to summon the first two friend Mechs that died this game back to the board! Ultimately, I ended up making my way to the finals and winning!
One question I had is whether there is a custom lobby mode where I can play with a specific group of friends. Will there be custom cards just for battlegrounds? How about a spectator mode? I’m sure I’ll have more than one question.
What I should have done is also read the fact sheet. Turns out if you have three of the same minion it’ll upgrade into a stronger version of it, like some of the other versions of the genre. Oops! I’ll need to give that a go later when I get back in to see how that will play out.
All in all, this game mode shows some real promise. It is definitely easier to pick up compared to Teamfight Tactics or Dota Underlords. Lack of 2D grid spacing simplifies the combat and tactical aspect. If you’ve played Hearthstone for a long time, then the card selections should be familiar. I think I might try Demons next time and see what they’re like. There are too many card families to explore and not enough time! Luckily, open beta is just around the corner as it’ll be available for everyone on November 12th.
Now, how about that Blizzard Battle Royale mode? Maybe they’ll bring it to Overwatch 2 in the future.
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