Blizzard's free to play card game Hearthstone was "released" to critical acclaim earlier this year after a somewhat long open beta. The game allows players to partake in virtual card battles much akin to magic the gathering. It's simple mechanics and pick-up and play nature made it quick success to both blizzard fans and newcomers. The audio team did some interesting things to make hearthstone feel how it does so let's take a look and find out how and why.
One of the things hearthstone's sound conveys very well is setting. Even before the game starts the player can hear the music and the rowdy rabble inside the tavern. The music is constructed to be diegetic (coming from a recognised sound source within the environment). It can be assumed that the music is coming from a group of performers somewhere in the tavern, providing music to it's patrons. This is enforced whenever a track ends, as a new track doesn't instantly begin. It's as if the performers were taking a quick break before beginning on their next jam.
All the pieces in the game are well crafted. They're never to action focussed and never too meandering. They hold their own as pieces but never take the spotlight. The subdued nature of the music is both it's greatest strength and weakness. The music never moves with the game, never gives the player satisfaction for dealing that huge hit to the hero. Imagine if the music built as the game progressed, with a new instrument added after every 1 or 2 mana crystals were added, or maybe depending on how many minions were in play. The music could so easily reflect the action on the table but never does and that leaves me a little disappointed.
Though, as I mentioned, the static pieces we do get are very well crafted. Guitar and lute like instruments along with dulcimer and fiddle give the texture a very rich acoustic feeling. When accompanied with the various woodwinds used, such a bassoon and oboe, and the miscellaneous percussion they all create a jaunty feel that is welcome in any mead hall or tavern. The composers said they took a strong celtic influence and this is very evident, and it certainly does pay off in the overall feel of the music.
The various sound effects throughout the entire game give it an amazing amount of character and charm which is hard to find in most games these days. The crowd roars when massive damage is dealt and gasp in shock when an epic minion is played. Most if not all of the cards have short catch phrases or sounds that trigger when they are activated or attack. The buttons on menus all have very tactile animations and sounds which work well together (however I have noticed that when I hover over a button the button sound is played maybe half a second after the fact and this makes the menus feel extremely sluggish at some points. If the sound was triggered instantly it would feel much more responsive).
All in all Hearthstone has great sound and music but falls a little flat in the interactivity department in my opinion. There's no denying this is a unique soundtrack that should be praised for it's attention to detail and awareness of setting.
What do you think? Does Hearthstones sound exceed expectations or not reach them? Will this be a soundtrack you'll remember, or is it somewhat forgettable? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
If you want to learn more about the sound of Hearthstone you can check out this article on our very own Destructoid and even download the soundtrack for free!
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About Oscarnoone of us since 5:23 AM on 02.25.2014
Hello I am Oscarno and welcome to a rad Video Game Music blog on Destructoid!
I'm way into Video Game Music, and with these blog posts, I hope to provide an investigation into and discussion about Video Game Music and how music affects video games as a creative medium.
I write weekly, usually posting on Thursdays. Most weeks will be OST Case Studies, looking a the music of a particular game and pulling it apart to find why it works so well. Sometimes, however, I'll just post a shorter opinion post or perhaps an article looking into other areas of Video Game Music.
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Also you can check out some of the music I make on my Soundcloud!