This review was tested on a third generation iPad (2012) featuring only Wi-Fi. I did not have the opportunity to test out gameplay over a cellular network.
Hearthstone has been out on PC for quite some time now, wowing players with its addictive card based gameplay. But with its recent release on iPad it’s now possible to take your overpowered Zoo decks with you wherever you go. Given Hearthstone’s extensive time in beta and its already established official release most gamers have already been exposed and know whether or not they like it, but how does the iPad version compare to its big PC brother? Well, I’m here to tell you that Blizzard has accomplished something special with its near-perfect port to iOS. The game looks just as gorgeous and is a relatively uncompromised experience brimming with all the features, including Battle.net connectivity, of its PC counterpart. If you’re a fan of Hearthstone on PC then take comfort in the fact that all of your decks, cards, friends and fun will be readily available on the go whenever and wherever you have an internet connection.
Now, given the fact that this is a near-identical port issues are presented that are both good and bad. In one hand, you’ve got the ability to have a seamless experience that translates flawlessly between both the PC and iPad version, but on the other hand all the problems plaguing the PC version are also apparent in the iPad version. The game is still relatively pay-to-win due to its lack of trading system, it’s still kind of unbalanced with certain card and hero combinations, there’s no real tournament modes to extend longevity and the crafting system still doesn’t reward players efficiently enough for card destruction. Couple this with a few frame rate issues and some minor lag spikes here and there (due to reasons I couldn’t seem to figure out) and you’re left with a version that while competent doesn’t necessarily translate the fluidity of its counterpart. That being said, this is a turn-based digital card game. Low frame rates, while kind of annoying, don’t necessarily effect the actual game play. Regardless of these minor issues Hearthstone is a blast and it’s become my go-to game on iPad, trumping my countless hours spent with Drop 7 and Plants Vs. Zombies 2.
It’s important to note that Hearthstone does require an internet connection to play, even on iPad. Obviously, because of this there’s no single-player element which is a tad disappointing. I’d love to be able to playtest random deck builds against AI, and requiring an always online connection removes that from the table. But this minor gripe is alleviated by just how full-featured and realized the Hearthstone experience is on iPad. Features are not at all watered down, and Blizzard has done an amazing job translating the entire game from PC to Apple’s flagship tablet. After a brief verification process that was done using my Apple ID and e-mail I was in the door and hearing the familiar, “BOYS! Look who it is!” exclamation. I soon found myself looking through my cards, building decks and chatting away with people on my friends list on Battle.net. What really amazed me about the chat system was the fact that I wasn’t limited to just speaking to friends within the Hearthstone application. I was able to chat with friends on Diablo 3, Starcraft 2 and even World of Warcraft right from my iPad while waiting for opponents to make moves.
Hearthstone’s menu system and general layout is ripped straight from the PC version, with some very minor tweaks here and there to make for easier touch controls. All the options are fluid and accessible, and in some cases I felt they were superior to the standard mouse and keyboard experience. There’s just something much more tactile about using actual touch controls to play a card game. Maybe it’s just the old school Magic: The Gathering mentality that I harbor, but I actually found myself preferring the iPad controls over my PC and longing for them when I would live stream games on Twitch.
During actual matches the entirety of the experience feels intuitive. Dragging and dropping cards allows for proper positioning of creatures on the board and makes casting spells feel, well… right. For example: if you want to target an enemy it’s as simple as dragging the card to the enemy’s portrait. There were some minor issues that I had while casting spells, though. The starting cast animations sometimes caused frame rate stuttering that made it hard to target specific cards and there have been one or two times where I accidentally selected the wrong card because the game didn’t respond fast enough to my movements because of the sudden frame rate drops. This was pretty irritating when it happened, but given the fact that it’s only occurred at most a couple of times during the 100-plus games I’ve played on iPad I think it’s safe to say it’s a rare issue that shouldn’t plague you too much. I’ve also heard that newer iPad generations are not at all subject to this frame rate issue, so it shouldn’t be much of a problem for you if you bought an iPad after 2012.
Online matchmaking allows for cross-platform play between PC and iPad, which is great for when you want to duel a friend on PC but don’t have access to your precious rig. There’s a lot to be said for this, especially if you stop to consider the fact that there are a TON of games that don’t take advantage of this idea. Looking at other digital card games specifically one might glance at MTG 2014 which doesn’t allow for any cross-platform play even though its infrastructure is already established on PC, 360, PS3, iOS and Android. So, Hearthstone’s got that going for it, which is a lot more than I think most players could ask for. I would have been relatively happy with a separate experience, so Blizzard really went the extra mile allowing for players to access their full accounts regardless of the platform they’re on.
I did run into some significant lag issues, which I couldn’t replicate given any set of particular circumstances, but they did not occur often. In fact, they seemed to be relatively random, but incredibly noticeable when they happened. There were times when I played a card and it would take upwards of 10 seconds for the game to react to my actions but it wasn’t much more than a petty annoyance and in the end didn’t really effect my experience that much. Unfortunately I did not have an opportunity to play Hearthstone using cellular networks because my iPad is Wi-Fi only, but, once again, I’ve heard that it’s a relatively fluid experience from friends that do have access to 4G.
Overall Blizzard has done an excellent job porting the core Hearthstone experience from the PC to iOS. The game is definitely setting a standing for digital card games, and with some future tweaks here and there it has serious potential to become a much bigger phenomenon than it already is. Even if you’re not that into card games you should check it out, especially if you’re a fan of Warcraft lore. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised. And if you’re a Hearthstone fanatic and want to be able to play on the go then this port alone might make you want to consider buying an iPad. It’s just that good.