Blizzard announces Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, free-to-play collectible card game

Blizzard's next game is Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a free-to-play strategy title that is an online collectible card game, the studio announced today during its PAX East panel.

"We wanted to do something a little bit different, just within the studio," said Rob Pardo, Blizzard's chief creative officer, during the panel. The team developing the game has 15 developers, and Blizzard characterized it as "scrappy and versatile."

After showing the game's intro cinematic, the studio explained its design philosophy for Hearthstone.

"We really wanted to bring in a lot of the charm of the Warcraft universe," said Pardo. The studio also wanted to simplify the genre and make the game's rules easy to understand so players can jump in without having to know too much.

Hearthstone players will choose from nine Warcraft heroes as the face of their deck. The game will launch with more than 300 different cards; packs will come with five cards each, and players will be able to earn or buy packs. Blizzard hasn't yet decided how much it will charge for packs, but is expecting to set pricing "somewhere around a dollar."

Blizzard highlighted the act of opening a digital pack, saying the developers have spent "quite a bit of time" on the process to make sure it's as exciting for players as opening a pack of physical cards. For example, rare cards will glow, and each one explodes with a flourish when you flip it over.

Players will also be able to craft their own cards, combining the powers of multiple cards to form new ones. It's a major part of building up a deck, another element that Blizzard worked on for a while. The interface will suggest cards from your collection to you, and provide tools that evaluate a collection to help players figure out the best cards to choose. It can automatically create a basic deck for you that's based on the available cards, too.

Hearthstone is "focused primarily on one-on-one [play]." Matchmaking will be handled through, and winning online duels will boost your in-game medal ranking. The game will also support Shoutcasting.

Blizzard showed off a warlock-druid battle to demonstrate the basic progression of a duel. Card animations are an important part of the experience — when you attack, your card will jump across the board's center line and literally whack the enemy card you're attacking, and every move is accompanied by some sort of flourish, like a glow or sparkle animation.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft will launch on Windows and Mac, and it will be available later on iPad. As for a release date, the studio said it will launch "not Blizzard soon, but [in real life] soon." A beta — which players can sign up for at the game's official website — will be available this summer, and Blizzard plans to release the game in 2013. Hearthstone is playable at Blizzard's booth on the PAX East show floor. You can check out a developer diary, which Blizzard showed during the panel, below.

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