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HearthstoneJun 19, 2020 7:00 pm CT

How Hearthstone could build on Dungeon Runs to create a new, fun single player mode

When was the last time you played Hearthstone’s Kobolds and Catacombs Dungeon Run? Probably a long time ago, right? I don’t blame you. The goal of the game was to pick one of the (then) nine classes and use it to defeat eight bosses of increasing difficulty. You would make your deck more powerful as you went. Once you defeated a certain number of bosses, you’d get some card packs.


But once you crushed that super hard final boss, your prize was… bragging rights.

You’d surely think to yourself: there’s gotta be more to this. You’d keep playing — it was a very fun mode, after all — and beat it with every other class. That would keep you busy for a while, surely! And what was your reward for finally conquering that challenge, and succeeding in the Dungeon Run with all nine classes?

A card back.

No wonder people didn’t come back. No one can say that this mode was a failure. It was, in the eyes of the majority of people who tried it, a very fun game mode. But it had no sticking power. It, like most Hearthstone single-player modes, was supposed to be a challenge that you overcame and then forgot about.

So what’s next for Hearthstone’s single-player modes? Blizzard has, in fact, already announced that they’re developing new game modes for Hearthstone. Could at least one of those game modes be a robust, replayable single-player experience? And could such a mode mode actually have staying power that would keep players engaged for months and months, always coming back for more?

Dungeon Run is a nice starting point for that sort of experience — so let’s talk about how it could be revised into a highly replayable single-player mode.

Hearthstone could take cues from other card games

First of all, let’s ask the most important question: are there any other single-player focused card games out there? Are they any good? Is there anything Hearthstone could emulate?

The answer is yes, in fact. Slay the Spire has been a huge hit for a while now. One Step from Eden mixes those same concepts with an action game. And recently, Monster Train has caught the digital card-game playing world by surprise. It’s not uncommon to see streamers who are dedicated to Hearthstone, or other card games like Magic: The Gathering or Legends of Runeterra, playing those titles and others that are similar.

The core idea behind those games is that they’re roguelike deck-builders. Translating that into layman’s terms:

  • Roguelike is a game genre aimed at a high re-playability value. Core concepts include:
    • Randomly generated challenges and upgrades, so that every run is a singular experience.
    • Permanent death to keep challenge levels high.
    • Permanent power increases accrued with each unsuccessful run.
  • Deckbuilder is a type of card game where you start with a small, basic deck, but evolve it over time.
    • On each battle, you draw cards randomly and use them. Once you run out, you shuffle your discard pile back into your draw pile and start over.
    • You can find better cards as you go and permanently add them to your deck.
    • You can upgrade your existing cards into more powerful versions of themselves.
    • You can also remove cards from your deck to weed out those that don’t fit into your strategy for that run.

Most of those features I just described are already present in Dungeon Run, but there are a few things that Hearthstone lacks. Improving would simply be a matter of taking what already exists and iterating on it.

Permanent power increases would make repeated play more rewarding

The original description of Dungeon Runs said you were supposed to have a hard time at first and you’d have to try again, evolving your strategies in order to win. That’s a design choice that makes the player feel compelled to keep trying — and earn enormous satisfaction once they do succeed. But unlike other roguelike games, Dungeon Run didn’t offer you anything to increase your power in-between failed runs. You were supposed to win simply by learning and repeating.

I feel like each failed run should also offer you a small amount of a currency that you could spend on permanent power increases that you would carry with you on every run, giving you a sense of progress even when you failed. World of Warcraft players who have tried Horrific Visions should know exactly what I’m talking about here.

These power increases could range from passive effects to better cards in your starting deck to better card options when you build your deck.

Upgradeable cards could add complexity to deckbuilding

In Hearthstone Battlegrounds, you can upgrade your minions when you find three of them: they combine into more powerful golden minions. This keeps your lower-cost cards competitive, and lets you grow in power even when you don’t get the superpowered cards you’re hoping for.

A similar idea could be applied to Dungeon Runs. You could, eventually, upgrade some cards in your deck, replacing them with golden versions that are more powerful. This would open up a lot of design space for the developers to come up with crazy ideas. Imagine if your Fireball could be upgraded into a version that only costs three mana and deals seven damage. Now, do this exercise with every card there is in Hearthstone, and you’ll see where I’m going with this.

More challenges and more rooms would shake up gameplay

Roguelikes usually have several types of rooms, but Dungeon Run offers only four:

  • A boss encounter challenge room
  • A reward room where you add a bucket of three cards to your deck
  • A treasure room where you add a treasure to your deck — either a permanent passive power or a playable card with a powerful active effect
  • A later iteration of the Dungeon Run formula, added in Tombs of Terror, included another type of treasure room: the shop (hi, Bob!), where you could add or remove minions to your deck by spending gold

Other roguelikes have so many types of rooms that they usually include a map you can explore, picking your path, in order to hit the type of room you want. Instead of facing a single, powerful boss, you might find a room full of smaller minions. Or a trap room where you need to beat your foes before it goes off, lest disaster ensues. Or a distress room, where you need to ensure that an allied NPC isn’t killed during your fight for an extra reward. Or a mystery room, that might give you a powerful reward or hinder you with a curse, so you need to carefully consider if you want to step into it.

Adding new, interesting room types to Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run format and letting the player to pick their path through them would add a whole new dimension to this single player mode.

Diablo-style Seasons would give us a reason to dive back in

Blizzard has one strictly PVE game in its catalogue, with an addictive gameplay design that could even be considered a precursor to many of the features found in roguelike games now, such as randomized dungeons and challenges. That game is, of course, Diablo.

How does Diablo keep its players engaged and coming back for more? The answer is Seasons. Every so often, a new Season starts, and you’re encouraged to create a brand new character, starting from scratch. During the Season, you’ll find new items and effects. You will try to complete seasonal challenges. You will earn cosmetic rewards. And you might compete with other players on leaderboards that are exclusive to that season.

Hearthstone could attract a brand new playerbase that isn’t fond of PVP games, but who would enjoy a very robust, permanent, and free PVE mode — and keep coming back for more. There are many players who only jump in Diablo when a new Season starts — I’m one of them. And I feel like Hearthstone is a popular enough game, with the advantage of dipping into the established playerbase of the Warcraft games, that it could become a game like that for many players as well.

Rewards would offer reasons to keep coming back

For players who enjoy the ladder life, the mode could reward gold, dust, packs, and more. Arena tokens. The Tavern Pass from Battlegrounds. Card backs. New heroes. These could all fit with the current game.

But there could also be rewards that are linked exclusively to this single player mode: new hero skins, different starting decks, new hero powers, and more that would shake up the game. And what about seasonal leaderboards that you rank up in, much like you would when playing constructed mode. Who can finish a run faster? Who can finish a run taking the least damage? Dealing the most damage? Taking the smallest number of upgrades?

Why does Hearthstone need new single-player modes, anyway?

Hearthstone already has a very robust base to start from in the Dungeon Run, so it would only make sense to expand.

I feel like Blizzard has, in recent years, largely abandoned their playerbase who mostly enjoys single-player, PVE-focused content to focus far more on PVP, competitive game experiences. Diablo is one of the last bastions of that old philosophy. However, Hearthstone is a casual, accessible card game — could certainly flourish within the single-player field as well.

Many players are intrigued by Hearthstone — due to its art style or its connection to the Warcraft universe — but are turned off by the competitive card game aspect of it. Those players would, potentially, return to the game to play a permanent, rewarding single player experience.

All in all, the developers have already promised new game modes. Now, we can only hope that an experience like this is included among their plans.

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