The Auto-Battler genre began as a single modest modification to Dota 2 (Auto Chess) and has since expanded to several different games, including League of Legends’ Teamfight Tactics and Dota Underlords of Valve. Now Hearthstone has joined.
Blizzard has implemented a new spin on the new genre with Battlegrounds, the Auto-Battler mode in Hearthstone. Battlegrounds feels different than the standard Hearthstone modes and other auto-battlers, but I can not say if I’ve improved in the game or if it’s just luck. That’s because Battlegrounds relies heavily on a random generator and every game feels like a wild carousel of chance.
Battlegrounds gives a player a choice of three heroes to start the game. All heroes have a passive bonus or powerful ability that they can turn on or off. For example, Patchwerk, the abomination begins with more health, demon Lord Jaraxxas passively polishes all the demons on the board and the crazy scientist Professor Putricide gives his left servant a tremendous attack thrust.
Part of learning is repetition, but with the chance that you end up with a new hero every turn, I often sting wildly in the dark. If I have Lord Jaraxxas, I will bow to a demon army – otherwise my heroic power is wasted. Meanwhile, a hero like AF Kay (she’s an idle raider, well, AFK) forces me to idle my first few rounds to get a powerful boost during the game.
I also have to set up my army. Each round has a certain tempo, in which players go to the tavern, spend a limited amount of gold on a selection of minions and upgrades, and arrange their servants in a row to determine their position and order of attack. Once a draft is done, players face one of their opponents, ducking it in a one-on-one game, and then return to the tavern to repeat the process.
With different heroes, in addition to the usual autochess elements of different starting units, no two battlefield games feel the same. Sometimes that’s great, especially since Bob, the bartender, calls me and gives me a happy cheer. It feels like a fun, novel mode replacing The Arena or Tavern Brawls, and there is no paywall as everything is available in advance.
Another time I have a bad luck and my blood is boiling, as Bob tries to cheer me up. Uh, no, Bob, I can not save that. Do not patronize me
On the legs
Battlegrounds is a mode for fast repeating and experimenting. It is also a mode in which you sometimes deliberately take some losses to prepare for a playoff strategy. Being involved in a round and accepting losses for my bigger strategy can be exhausting. If I’m the last one and always face top players, a hard run can turn into a nightmare.
Lack of luck control and the slow inputs and animations of Battlegrounds mean there is not the fast back and forth that characterizes a typical Hearthstone match. As a result, there are not the same highs and lows. Sure, on battlefields it can not annoy me less, which looks like a completely nonsensical card hand – but I’m also not thrilled when I draw my own garbage combination and hit the face of my opponent.
Battlegrounds is still in beta and new maps, heroes and balance changes are added regularly. Over time, as the mode evolves, I hope I can count on my decisions instead of what the game is throwing at me. At the moment I feel like I’m on a waterslide with RNG.