For those Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics players excited to dive into Hearthstone Battlegrounds, beware. You will have to unlearn a lot of the conventions you have been trained to follow in other autobattlers. Blizzard’s first entry into the genre has some big gameplay differences to adjust to.
Blizzard developers arguably love to make a lot of their players’ decisions for them. With Heroes of the Storm, they abolished the open customization mechanics of other MOBAs in favor of restricted talent trees. They waited years to add any gameplay customization to Overwatch, and it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what Paladins offers. The design of Hearthstone Battlegrounds is a very similar story.
At the start of each match, you can pick from 24 different heroes — or Bosses, as the terminology does not seem to be set in stone yet. With the chosen hero as your avatar, you battle by recruiting from a roster of 81 different minions. It may seem like a lot of options and freedom of play styles, but that is not exactly the case.
First of all, you can only choose between two randomly selected heroes to play with each match. You can increase that pool to three hero options by acquiring at least 20 Hearthstone card packs. The real problem is that whatever hero you pick will dramatically narrow down how you play the rest of the match. Most heroes lock down your play style options by design. Heroes like The Rat King, Lord Jaraxxus, Millificent Manastorm, and Giantfin essentially predetermine what minions you buy each round. Even if you luck out and grab a flexible hero like Infinite Toki from your initial selection, the minions you pick in the first few rounds will gradually narrow down your future options. This is because many minions buff only specific minion types.
Now, all of this isn’t that different from the other titles in a genre that has the word “auto” in its name. Battlegrounds’ heroes act much like Dota Underlords‘ global items, and the minion design is just mirroring traditional autochess synergy mechanics. And besides, part of the charm of these games is that you get to turn off your brain and let them play themselves sometimes. But it can be argued that Hearthstone Battlegrounds could have offered a slightly more competitive experience by omitting the heroes entirely.
Buying pieces in autobattlers is mostly about early game RNG, and Hearthstone Battlegrounds is not exactly an exception. But to buy minions in the first place, you need to have coin. And just like in other autobattlers, what really separates the autoboys from the automen is managing a strong economy. Battlegrounds does this a little differently.
For starters, the economy mechanics are simplified. All units are priced equally at 3 coins to buy and 1 coin as refund for sell-backs. There doesn’t seem to be any win or loss streaks or any interest gain. However, upgrading your Tavern Tier — Hearthstone Battlegrounds’ version of leveling up — has a floating price tag. If you delay doing it, the price drops. Moreover, many heroes have a coin price associated with their abilities. So there are certainly a lot of new economy tricks to learn.
Placement is where this autobattler really shines and arguably offers more tactical choices than any other title in the genre. Rather than a grid, Hearthstone Battlegrounds uses minion ordering as their placement mechanic. When a combat round begins, minions begin attacking, starting with each player’s left-most minion and hitting random targets on the enemy side. The wide access to Taunt minions and minions with Deathrattle effects makes placement incredibly rewarding.
Another thing Hearthstone Battlegrounds does differently is scouting. Players always know which opponent they will face next round, which allows them to plan their purchases and ability use better. It also lets players organize their minions tactically to counter their opponents, rather than just hoping for the best.
These are our early impressions of Blizzard’s new and very unique autobattler. You will soon get the chance to form your own opinions, as the Hearthstone Battlegrounds open beta begins on Nov. 12. The mode will be available for free and will most likely be included in the mobile version of Hearthstone as well.
Games player and write-abouter from Ottawa. Doom basically raised me.