After more than three years, Hearthstone has a little bit of a challenge: pulling in fresh blood.
Unlike FIFA and Madden, Blizzard doesn't hit the reset button every year. Instead, they cycle out old expansions while keeping in most of the base cards. This dynamic has made it increasingly difficult for new players to break into the competitive game without spending large amounts of money.
Dungeon Runs—a new randomized game mode introduced in Koblds and Catacombs—tries to address this issue by offering an alternative. If the regular ladder is akin to FIFA Ultimate Team, then Dungeon Runs are something like single-player season mode. They exist to challenge solo players with a series of randomized battles.
They begin by asking you to choose a class, after which you're tasked with defeating a Giant Rat with 10 HP. Once the rat goes down—an easy task even for a beginner—the bosses start to get significantly harder.
One boss, Russel the Bard, is capable of taking control of any minion with two or less attack, making him hell on classes with weaker minions like Warlock and Hunter.
Another will duplicate any minion you have on the field. So if you're big on giving Spikeridged Steed to a minion, you get the pleasure of watching a nearly unbreakable wall form on your opponent's side.
Thankfully, you get some powerful weapons of your own. After choosing an initial class, you are given a small deck with a handful of basic cards. When you beat the Giant Rat, you get to choose from three sets of three cards each. Some are spells, some are minions, and some are legendaries. This is where you begin to build your deck.
These choices function as a crafty way to test your deck-building knowledge. If you have a good feel for how to ramp up your power, and which cards work with which, you will be successful. If you just take cards that look powerful, you will end up with a messy deck that will be quickly overpowered by later bosses.
Spicing things up even further are treasures, which have the power to convey some pretty sizable passive buffs. One of my favorites gave me three Secrets right from the start: a massive headstart. Another gave all of my units an automatic +1/+1 buff, making even lowly Silver Hand Recruits suddenly very powerful.
But even with all of these advantages, I've still struggled to get further than the fifth boss. These battles are challenging and interesting; and if I ever reach the end of my Dungeon Run, it will be a cool feather in my cap. As an alternative to the usual grind of the ladder, it's great.
But What About the Lack of Rewards?
So far, the only criticism I've seen of the Dungeon Runs (outside of some problems connecting to the servers yesterday) has been the relative lack of rewards.
Right now, if you manage to complete Hearthstone's Dungeon Runs with every class, the best you can hope for is a special card back. You don't get any gold or cards. You can't even grind Daily Quests. The best you get is a repeating Daily Quest that will reward you with a pack if you defeat 10 bosses. Granted, a free daily pack is nothing to sneeze at; but given the degree of difficulty in completing a Dungeon Run, you'd think you would get something a little nicer.
But here's the deal: Dungeon Runs aren't meant to be about grinding the rewards. They're a test of skill. They're a great entry point for newcomers. And best of all, they aren't dependent on having a large collection of pre-existing cards.
Instead, think of Dungeon Runs as a kind of randomized single-player campaign. They offer a taste of what the multiplayer has to offer; but otherwise, the Dungeon Runs are mostly there for their own sake. Again, I liken them to single-player franchise mode in sports games, where the only reward for playing is the satisfaction of winning the championship game.
Would Dungeon Runs be better with stronger multiplayer rewards? Maybe. But if there's one thing I hate about monetized multiplayer games, it's grinding. I like that Dungeon Runs sort of stand on their own.
In fact, this is the first time in ages that I can wholeheartedly recommend Hearthstone to someone just starting out. In recent years, Hearthstone has become a real mess—an intractible grind for anyone who hasn't already bought in to the previous expansion. With Kobolds and Catacombs, it's still kind of a grind, but at least there's an alternative if you don't care much about multiplayer.
In that, Dungeons Runs are the single-player mode that Hearthstone desperately needed. It doesn't solve the problems inherent to Hearthstone's multiplayer, but it at least lets you forget about them for a bit. And that makes Dungeon Runs Hearthstone's best idea in years.