The Hearthstone Single-Player experience: What do we really want?

The Witchwood has been released and with it the Monster Hunt, Hearthstone’s newest single-player mode. And while it followed the very successful principle of Kobold and Catacombs’ Dungeon Run, the community’s reception was anything else than entirely positive. A lack of invention, vast differences in class difficulty, and last but not least, no meaningful rewards.

Was Dungeon Run just the exception to the rule, or were there other reasons why the Monster Hunt didn’t hit the nail on the head? Where did Blizzard learn in the history of Hearthstone’s single-player mode, and what does the community really want?

Something was Better than Nothing

What we as a community do know for a fact is that the single-player mode in Hearthstone came a terribly long and rocky way.

Remember The Curse of Naxxramas? It was the first adventure and Blizzard’s initial attempt to produce a meaningful single-player experience. Adventures were meant to cycle in new content without the need to release a full expansion. And while it may have been somewhat meaningful to fight in one of the most iconic dungeons of Warcraft history, it surely had its frustrating aspects as well: Exclusive content was gated behind in-game currency, or, if you couldn’t afford to pay with that, real money. The latter choice was way more common even amongst regular players, just because it was incredibly hard to save up almost 3000 gold to open the wings of Naxxramas. In addition to that, a total of thirty cards were locked behind both the standard adventure and its class challenges, meaning that you were not able to use those cards if you hadn’t somehow bought at least parts of the adventure.

What has already been a problem in the past would be unacceptable today. The combination of gated content and very few ways to produce in-game currency made adventures way more controversial than they needed to be, because the basic idea of encounters that have different difficulties really hit the “Warcraft feel” that Hearthstone tried to deliver back in the day.

That went on until 2016, and while the integral problems still persisted, the experience itself increased by a whole lot. Creative encounters like the famous Chess event, a true fan-favorite from the old World of Warcraft times, made One Night in Karazhan, Hearthstone’s latest adventure, truly special.

Mission Accomplished


With Knights of the Frozen Throne, Team 5 took everything they learned from the development of adventures and put it into a fresh concept called “missions”. From here on, upcoming single-player content was free to play, and that solved one of the main issues voiced by the community.

In addition to that, missions were purely optional and didn’t contain additional cards that you needed to unlock. That way, Team 5 was able to focus on one of their core strengths: Story-telling. The heritage of Prince Arthas and the Icecrown Citadel was conveyed through thoughtful and creative encounter design, and the “wing format” still represented the feeling of fighting through a WoW dungeon.

The development of Hearthstone’s single-player reached its pinnacle with the release of the expansion Kobolds and Catabombs. The game mode Dungeon Run revolutionized the then-current mission mode by providing a dungeon-crawler-like experience: The adventurer will fight up to eight different randomized boss encounters which increase in difficulty; after every successful encounter, the adventurer’s deck can be upgraded with additional cards and mechanics.

With Dungeon Run in place, the community got everything they hoped for: Free, optional and repeatable content with enough depth to cater the regular player and easy-to-understand mechanics for the casual player for a substantial amount of time.

The Monster Hunt: Repeating in disguise


Long story short, the community complained, the developer listened, and Dungeon Run was the fantastic result. However, there are still lots of things in the air that could make an even better “solo” experience in Hearthstone. The Monster Hunt, the single-player mission mode of Hearthstone’s current expansion The Witchwood was highly anticipated; players hoped that once again Team 5 had listened.

But they didn’t. The incredibly rich lore setting of Gilneas and its history may have switched up things during the first two or three runs, but everything after that feels very repetitive and like a poor copy of the Dungeon Run, and the implementation of cards exclusive to Dungeon Run only support said feeling.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Monster Hunt was a bad experience after all. It was just not as good as Dungeon Run. One could say that this was due to Dungeon Run being the “new thing” back when Kobolds and Catacombs released; but it’s not about the novelty factor. Dungeon Run earned its positive reception, and players were more than happy, but they also provided great and constructive feedback on what could still be improved. Let’s take a look at the core points:

  • Rewards: Players invest a lot of time in Hearthstone, and they should get rewarded. Rewards in general pose a major problem in the game, and Blizzard recently improved the reward structure by increasing gold gain through quests. In many games, the single-player experience prepares the new player to finally test their skill in the multi-player mode. Let players enjoy the marvelous mission mode, let them earn some gold so that they are able to build one or two competitive decks. And most importantly, let them come BACK to earn a little bit more gold so they can build even better decks.
  • Incentives: For many players, rewards and incentive may mean the same. In this case, incentive describes the reason to do something. And yes, rewards could be one of the reasons to play Hearthstone’s single-player mode. But there has to be more. The Dungeon Run concept already delivered a great base in terms of incentives: To beat the mode with all nine classes is a great way to ensure what Blizzard loves to call “dynamic replayability”. But wouldn’t it be great if there were some sort of permanent incentives, similar to rogue-like games that obviously served as an example for Dungeon Run? What if improvements to a single class would be permanent instead of being restricted to a single run? Possibilities seem endless, and it wouldn’t even shake up the game mode as a whole.
  • Coop mode: It is safe to say that there hasn’t been more hype amidst the Hearthstone community than when the final Lich King Fireside coop fight mode got announced. Fighting together against the fiends and foes of the Warcraft universe showcases an integral part of Blizzard games, and while it is of course not a single-player experience per se, adding this aspect to Hearthstone would make the game, outside of it’s player versus player mode, extraordinarily better.

Which is not, may yet be

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: In the last six months, the single-player experience has taken a great turn in the right direction. Dungeon Run showed how a simple yet creative concept can influence the single-player experience in the best way possible.

Combined with the stellar storytelling of Dave Kosak and his team, a more dedicated single-player experience could attract even more old and new players to play the game that we all love.

However, Blizzard should recognize that single-player is more than just a tool to tell the story of a new expansion, just like the Monster Hunt did. Hearthstone has become a very complex online card game, and, similar to other games in history, needs an extended single-player experience that helps to understand basic gameplay mechanics and card effects, while offering rewards and incentives that fit the effort put into the game.

Tharid

Julian "Tharid" Bischoff, a dinosaur in the fast-changing world of esports and self-proclaimed Warcraft expert, already created Hearthstone-related content for Red Bull, ESL and Hearthhead.

Check out Tharid on Twitter!

21 Comments

  1. CD001
    May 18, 2018 at 4:44 am

    I think the biggest problem I had with the Monster Hunt was the number of opponents that seem to use Mill-style decks… Mill is never a great experience to be on the receiving end of – and when it’s a cheaty AI, even less so.

    Not so much of a problem with the Houndmaster as you can just Smorc to victory – but it took me a while to get the hang of the Tracker and the Mill decks made for some tedious losses.

    Some of the bosses were just worse with the Tracker as well, like Cragtorr or Face Collector. Tracker’s deck starts off relatively weak and her play-style is slower… you’re more reliant on getting the “right” equipment picks than you are with the other classes as well.

    Completed the run with Houndmaster and and Timetinker on the first attempt. Cannoneer took 3 or 4 tries but Tracker, oh I dunno, 12 bazillion or something (or at least that’s what it felt like). Hagatha I beat on the 2nd attempt though.

    Reply
  2. Belton
    May 17, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    I think that for blizzard to make Hearthstone better they need to make it more f2p friendly and to make the some form of Co-op

    Reply
  3. Fixi
    May 17, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    I really enjoyed the monster hunt and getting all the crowns done. I felt it was challenging and interesting.

    But what bugs me about HS is simply the raw cost of cards in dust. It’s a little silly that you can spend $70 and get roughly only 6000 dust – so that’s only 3 legendiaries – so they cost roughly $20 to get EACH. So if you want to play with say a dozen of them, that’s no less than $240. Which is way out of whack with other video games were you “get the full game” for well under $100.

    So if they addressed some of that and just added good dust rewards for the solo content, that would be exactly what I’m looking for.

    Reply
    • Mill Armstrong
      May 17, 2018 at 3:14 pm

      240$ is the cost of a Standard Deck in Magic The Gathering , more or less, but at least MTG have also a physical value..

      Reply
      • CD001
        May 18, 2018 at 4:12 am

        The cost of physical MtG cards also, sort of, reduces the more people you know who play; you can swap duplicates bringing the average cost per card for each player down.

        Reply
    • JoyDivision
      May 18, 2018 at 2:40 am

      I totally agree with you – cards on average are expensive within HS and the amount of dust you get for … dusting is ridiculously low.

      One has to point out that on the other hand, the advantage of this system is that there will most likely never be something like totally busted super overprized chase cards.

      All cards cost the same (within their rarity that is) and you don’t have a ton of totally useless cards you don’t get anything for (I’m looking at you, MtG).

      Reply
  4. WildRage
    May 17, 2018 at 10:37 am

    I’ll go ahead and say Monster Hunt was far better than Dungeon Run. Dungeon Run was boring as hell and Monster Hunt improved on a horrible concept and made it fun. I don’t get the negative reception, I honest to god know only one person who didn’t like Monster Hunt (and I honestly think he says so simply because he read somewhere that Dungeon Run was better).
    Also, who liked the Chess game in Hearthstone? It was atrocious! Horrible!

    Reply
    • Dirgander
      May 17, 2018 at 6:06 pm

      I don’t know why, but I agree with you; for some reason, Dungeon Run just got repetitive and I think it was a lack of storytelling. Monster Hunt, however, had far better storytelling and I think that the unique character classes certainly added an extra element to an already new idea. In addition, adding a final boss that was a unique experience where you got to play all heroes was also really fun and rewarding.

      I think what we want is story telling, progression, and new ways to play other than the core 9 classes. The addition of the Houndmaster (Hunter/Druid), Cannoneer (Position Warrior), Time-Tinker (RNG Rewind Mage) and Tracker (Hunter/Rogue) were very well done in my opinion.

      TLDR; Final Boss was awesome, New classes were awesome, maybe new content with playtest Death Knight, Monk and Demon Hunter classes? (Without actually adding them to the core game).

      Reply
      • GlosuuLang
        May 18, 2018 at 5:00 am

        Yeah, I think it would be nice if we get those WoW classes that don’t have representation in standard HS. There’s already Death Knight cards generated by Arfus and Lich King, although they’re obviously too strong and can’t be added to a deck just like that.

        Reply
      • WildRage
        May 18, 2018 at 8:32 am

        Man, you did a far better job at explaining my perspective than I ever could. X”’D

        Raven76 – I guess it’s a matter of taste, probably. I was bored out of my mind, just couldn’t play brawl any time the chess one was in town.

        Reply
    • Raven76
      May 17, 2018 at 6:57 pm

      I like both but i don’t get why you think the chess game was bad. it built a new fun experience to the game which is exactly what the community likes, new interactions.

      Reply
    • GlosuuLang
      May 18, 2018 at 3:17 am

      Dungeon Run boring as hell? What? I still play it to this day. There’s MANY more bosses and MANY more different packages, without saying that 9 classes are better than 4. Honestly I’ve replayed Monster Hunt very few times. I still find it more challenging to beat The Darkness than Hagatha. Infinite Toki was cool, and Tracker’s upgraded Hero Power is super fun (albeit broken). But the replayability in Monster Hunt is very low.

      Reply
  5. Daggerd
    May 17, 2018 at 10:00 am

    Monster Hunt has the same incentive and reward that dungeon run did: a card back.

    Blizzard already explicitly stated they did not want to add gold rewards to single player back with monster hunt. They didn’t ignore player feedback, they acknowleged it and said it wasn’t a change they were willing to make.

    Hearthstone is not a single player game. It neved has been. Single player campaigns have only ever been good for a few hours of distration and introducing new sets, cards, and mechanics. I like it that way. I don’t want or need development time spent on a deep single player experience – that isn’t the point of the game.

    Reply
    • GlosuuLang
      May 18, 2018 at 3:21 am

      So what if HS has never been a single player game? If someone makes something that appeals to many people and could net them money, they should do more of that. Take StarCraft, for example. It was always supposed to be a multiplayer game, but its campaigns and lore was fascinating too. When the storytelling in StarCraft II declined, many fans were disappointed, and many didn’t buy Nova Covert Ops. On the other hand, Co-op mode in StarCraft II turned out really, really popular, and then Blizzard invested in it. They could definitely invest in a fully blown Dungeon Run of sorts, and keep it updated. Sell new hero classes to complete the run with, just like they sell new commanders in StarCraft II Co-op. I would buy all those new classes for sure.

      Reply
    • GlosuuLang
      May 18, 2018 at 3:23 am

      Also, I wanted to add that HS has the advantage of being a digital card game, which allows it to do stuff that normal card games like MTG can’t do. Balanced RNG, rewards for deck restrictions like Reno, Baku and Genn, evolve mechanics, Discover mechanics, build-your-own card mechanics like DK Rexxar… and of course single-player content. Blizzard is in general doing a great job in exploiting these mechanics, and they should emphasize them more!

      Reply
  6. Tracy
    May 17, 2018 at 9:49 am

    Another negative, forcing players to play to get rid of the quest taking up a spot for another, for a single pack. Give me a choice to roll or get rid of the garbage quest.

    Reply
    • NoSmalltalk
      May 17, 2018 at 10:13 am

      Give me a choice to roll or get rid of the garbage quest – that´s it.

      Reply
    • Someone
      May 18, 2018 at 5:21 pm

      This would defeat the true purpose of these quests though, which was to eat up quest slots on alt accounts in order to reduce the 80 g play-a-friend quest “abuse”.

      Reply
  7. GlosuuLang
    May 17, 2018 at 9:37 am

    The best single-player experience for me has been Dungeon Runs, and just a bit behind, League of Explorers. The chess encounter in Karazhan is also super fun. I enjoyed Icecrown until I beat the Lich King once. Having to repeat that for every class, in encounters where you need to start with a perfect hand, was honestly quite obnoxious.

    Dungeon Run was fantastic. What they should have done is update it with every expansion and have it as a standalone game mode, like Arena, Tavern Brawl or Standard. Add more bosses, change the packages, and so forth. Also give more rewards, some gold would be nice. Not as much as versus play, but something.

    Monster Hunt felt like a watered-down Dungeon Run. Why? Well, only 4 heroes, much less bosses. So the replayability is really low, unlike Dungeon Run. I did like how the heroes had packages with cards from different classes, unique hero powers, unique mechanics like the cannons, and Infinite Toki felt like a very cool nemesis. But you don’t need to make a new Dungeon Run for every expansion, just update the KnC one with the 9 heroes, and open up for other heroes too, why not.

    Reply
    • Thrombin
      May 22, 2018 at 5:13 am

      The problem with just altering the Dunegeon Run each time is primarily one of theme. The Dungeon Run is all about adventurers running around getting treasure from a kobold-filled Dungeon. It certainly wouldn’t have fitted an expansion all about mysterious goings on in an enchanted forest.

      You would have to re-skin the Dungeon Run completely. Not call it a Dungeon run, not have any bosses related to kobolds or dungeons or things found in dungeons. You could use some of the same treasures but you’d want to add new ones as well and you should have a whole new cast of characters and heroes more themed to the current expansion.

      Oh wait, that’s exactly what they did! 😀

      Reply
      • GlosuuLang
        May 23, 2018 at 4:31 am

        Actually you can just re-skin the Dungeon Run completely and make it a permanent mode which updates with new cards, heroes and bosses every expansion. The concept of dealing with a boss, finding objects and upgrading your hero/tools to deal with more powerful bosses is a common theme in most RPGs. Hearthstone can give a card-game spin to this RPG experience.

        Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Register to keep track of your comments. You can also build and favorite decks!

Comment Policy: Any comments that are overly derogatory will be removed and could result in an account or site ban.