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.
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.