Hearthstone Mercenaries is out today inside the Hearthstone client. With this release, Hearthstone effectively becomes a platform, housing the core Hearthstone game you may be familiar with, which is a traditional digital card game, the Battlegrounds auto-battler (auto-chess) game, and now a new game, Hearthstone Mercenaries. Let’s get some key information out of the way before we dig in. Hearthstone Mercenaries:
- Does not use any of your existing Hearthstone collection
- Does use the same in-game currency as Hearthstone, gold
- Does not play with any of the same rules or mechanics as Hearthstone
- Is turn-based with speed being a factor on abilities (i.e. an ability with a speed of 1 will go off before a slower, probably stronger skill with a speed of 9)
- Players do not build decks; instead bring a party of 6 characters into each bounty mission or PVP battle
- Characters level up, unlock new abilities, and gain equipment as you play them and gain resources from missions
Mercenaries is, in fact, a sort of compact RPG experience with some roguelite qualities and variable elements to consider on every run. On each play through an area, enemy fights may be different and some special boosts you receive are temporary. However, the experience points you gain and the resources you acquire are permanent, meaning your roster is generally always getting stronger regardless of the run’s outcome. When you begin the game, options are going to be limited due to your character’s low levels and abilities – you are probably going to be limited to a single skill to use on each character for a while – and your roster won’t be that big. Think of this phase as you head to the Barrens as sort of that time in an early RPG where you’re killing rats, slimes, and spiders. While you won’t get to experience much complexity or counterplay here, it will teach you the essential basics as you move into harder and more interesting fare soon enough.
What should you try to learn here in your opening hours? Two things – timing and the weakness triangle. Essentially, all characters in Hearthstone Mercenaries fall into three archetype buckets. Protectors are your big warriors and brawlers, Fighters are your more agile rogues, rangers, and beasts, and Casters are your clerics, warlocks, and mages. Each role is associated with a color, and that color is important in that it dictates how the combat might proceed via the weakness triangle. Protectors deal double damage to Fighters, Fighters deal double damage to Casters, and Casters deal double damage to Protectors. There are also classless, colorless entities to be found that have no strengths or weaknesses when it comes to battle.
At the most basic level, this means if you’re going into a mission knowing the boss is going to be a mean mage of some kind, you probably want to stack your party with a crew of Fighters to have the best shot at winning the day. Of course, that’s just base-level strategy, but having the ability to dish out double the usual damage to any target is a huge benefit to begin each battle with, so keep that in mind. When it comes to PVP, you won’t be able to see the opponent’s board before you drop yours, meaning there’s going to be all kinds of meta-strategy in pre-game builds, or perhaps people will just start playing one of each kind in an opening drop… we’ll have to see.
As you do battle, upgrade character abilities, and unlock some new characters, new options present themselves readily. Complexity grows as characters unlock equipment options, allowing you to fundamentally alter or enhance one of their skills via gear. Eventually, your parties that would go in and simply farm minor dungeons and enemies with one skill will be tested in all kinds of various challenges, some of which amount to timing puzzles and others that are best served with interesting combinations and synergies.
Sylvanas, for instance, is a neat instance of a character that is actually not too impressive outside of a party designed to utilize her, but she can become a massive wrecking ball when fueled properly. Slyvanas can tap into the souls of the fallen to greatly enhance her own attack value, and if handled creatively with, say, a ton of fodder like summoned characters designed to die, you can have an absolute banshee queen on the field when all is said and done. That said, don’t get too greedy because figuring out exactly when to usher her onto the board in this situation can be the tricky part. She may come out and enhance herself to a dizzying attack value, but if the battle is already far in the enemy’s favor with a setup position, it might not matter at all.
If this doesn’t make any sense, that’s okay – it’s a lot easier to see in action than it is to explain. Other synergies are immediately obvious, like putting all your Murloc champions together to create a fishy, fun time. Not all pairings are so evident, and noodling around with your roster to try and find some combinations that are outside the straightforward choices is quite satisfying.
As Mercenaries is a free mode (it’s really its own game) that gives you all the stuff you need to play, the best way to figure out exactly how it works is to head in and do a few battles.
Does Hearthstone Mercenaries sound like your kind of game? Let us know in the comments below!