The last expansion of the Year of the Raven will always be remembered by hardcore players for what we didn’t get: a tournament mode, announced with much fanfare and canned shortly thereafter, around the time when Ben Brode was getting ready to get out of the company for good. An expansion with a lackluster keyword and limited Constructed impact, the rumble with the totems also marked the key point where the original Dungeon Run formula was beginning to outstay its welcome.
Ruins of the Rumble
So what was the promise of Rastakhan’s Rumble? The explanation-slash-announcement Hearthside Chat video featuring Paul Nguyen immediately compares the experience to Dungeon Run and Monster Hunt, and you have to wait for over a minute into the 230-second video to hear about a new gameplay mechanic: the shrines.
Your shrine is the foundation of your strategy and it is what you select instead of a class in this mode. Each of the nine (shocking, I know) classes has three different shrines available to them, with a random selection of three out of the pool of 27 presented to you at the beginning of the run. They are all 0-Attack minions that start on your board and go dormant for a couple of turns when and if they get killed by the opponent. They provide powerful effects and keeping them alive while knocking your opponent’s out can make or break your strategy.
Just to provide a few examples of how ludicrous these shrines can be, Shaman’s Tribute from the Tides is an 0/3 that passively triggers your battlecries two additional times. Priest has a similar shrine for Deathrattles. Additional examples of ludicrousness include Warlock’s “Your spells cost Health instead of Mana” on an 0/10 and Warrior’s 0/8 which reads “This minion’s Attack is always equal to your Armor”.
There are also a couple of “teammates”, very powerful synergy cards that got added to your deck the deeper your run went along. Today, many of their card arts show up in Battlegrounds. Sellemental began its life as Water Spirit, a 2/1 Druid teammate with the Elemental tag, 0 cost and the text “Start of Game: Draw this. Deathrattle: Gain 2 Mana Crystals”. Rabid Saurolisk didn’t even go through a name change, though its original text (3 mana 4/1 Beast, Poisonous, Deathrattle: Deal 1 damage to all enemies) would probably be a bit too good in the autobattler. Ghastcoiler and Salty Looter also make an appearance alongside others.
As you can probably guess, shrines with high health are at a premium on account of idiotic levels of stickiness. Some of the shrines don’t work well together: notably, a Warlock player’s “Hireek’s Hunger (0/8, “Whenever your hero takes damage on your turn, the enemy hero takes it instead”) and a Paladin’s Shirvallah’s Vengeance (0/5, “After your hero takes damage, deal 5 damage to the enemy hero) works out as an auto-win for the Warlock, which isn’t fun.
Don’t Cry Because It’s Dormant, Shrine Because It Happened
The shrines form the cornerstone of the Rumble Run experience, essentially making each player overpowered in their own unique way. This led to overwhelming and unavoidable combos that made players frustrated and seriously limited the impact and appeal of the game mode. Does this sound familiar to you? In retrospect, it’s incredible how close the original release of Rumble Run is to Duels in terms of its design mistakes and failures.
In fact, there are other “Duels issues” you could spot in the rollout of Rumble Run, which was also addressed by a patch later down the line (the first time Team 5 had to do so with their solo content): early 2019 saw an adjustment to card buckets to create more synergistic decks and to even out the winrates across the shrines. There were also serious power level issues, which were addressed alongside the following climbdown in the patch’s explanatory blog post:
“One of our design goals with the Rumble Run was to provide huge, overpowered combat. Balancing at such a high power level is a challenge. When it works, it works great. You get epic, monumental combat against overwhelming odds. But when it doesn’t work, it feels random and swingy – like when the AI pulls an overwhelming combo. And since no one likes being repeatedly hit in the face with a club, we’ve pruned some of the power from the boss decks so that your Runs will play out more moderately. We have a lot of data about which bosses have the biggest body counts, and we’ve used that to target the worst offenders. Rumble Runs are now a little easier, but more importantly, they’ll feel a little more fair.”
The lack of custom starting decks coupled with the random nature of the shrine selection (including the lack of ability to re-select the shrine you just lost with for completionists, at least upon release, which was also fixed as part of this patch) greatly limited the depth of Rumble Run despite the admittedly large replayability offered. In essence, it’s 27 solo runs instead of Monster Hunt’s 4+1.
Putting all this together in a retrospective content piece, the word that comes to mind thinking back on Rumble Run is annoying. The same way as Duels can feel like a waste of time after you get nuked out of nowhere, the release state of this solo content was also rather frustrating: a high variance in shrine power levels meant that you started many runs with your hands tied behind your back, with the AI sometimes still making a god play out of nowhere even if you got the goods (alongside, you know, its customary idiotic incompetence). Though I can’t speak for everyone on this, the styling of trollspeak with its purposefully butchered grammar and overbearing accent was another tangible source of frustration for me when I spent a bit of time with this game mode.
No doubt a significant chunk of development time was lost on the canned tournament mode, and the theming of the expansion makes it pretty obvious that it was supposed to be released around this time. This loss clearly shows in the end product, especially once you consider what came next for Hearthstone’s PvE.
Team 5 had four months (even if you’re working ahead, one can assume the per-expansion timetable is still very similar to reality in terms of timeframes) to cobble together a new take on solo content. Rise of Shadows would bring along the biggest, boldest take on the Dungeon Run concept so far – and the Dalaran Heist certainly made for a special experience. That, however, is a discussion for another time…