For the longest time, PvE content in Hearthstone was limited to two things. First was Innkeeper – a rather poor AI that was usually played a few times by new players and then completely forgotten. Second were adventures – sort of PvE expansion packs that awarded cards after each beaten boss. Given that Innkeeper wasn’t a challenge at all (you couldn’t even realistically play test your deck against it), and adventures didn’t have a high replayability (regular difficulty was way too easy, while Heroic was frustratingly difficult at times), players who liked PvE weren’t exactly excited.
Then Year of the Mammoth (2017) has launched and Blizzard decided to move away from Adventures completely. However, they’ve promised that each expansion set will have an extra, free PvE content to offset that fact. First one was Knights of the Frozen Throne, which was basically a repeat of the old adventure style, with a nice little twist at the end (players were put at a different disadvantage depending on which class they’ve decided to attempt the last boss – The Lich King – with). It was cool, but too similar to previous adventures to really stand out. However, that’s where we can put a line between the “old style” adventure PvE content and the “new style”, more innovative and interesting one. I have to say that overall, Blizzard has been doing a solid job with the new PvE content, until now. Rastakhan’s Rumble’s PvE content – Rumble Run – is generally seen as the worst one so far by a huge margin. But before we get into that, let’s look back at what’s been going on with PvE content after adventures were gone.
A Brief History of the Post-Adventure PvE Content
Kobolds & Catacombs came around with a massive breakthrough when it comes to PvE in Hearthstone. Dungeon Run was an absolute blast. It really felt like a dungeon crawler built inside the Hearthstone client, both thematically and mechanically. You started with a weak 10 cards deck and upgraded it on the way as you took on eight random bosses. Starting with small fries like a Rat or Wee Whelp, they were growing stronger and stronger (and so were you), until you faced incredibly difficult foes as your last opponent. With over 40 different bosses (including some hidden, rare encounters), dozens of passives and treasures to pick from, and a different deck every game, the mode was simply amazing. It had just about the right difficulty to be not too challenging for less experienced players, but not too easy for veterans. The right amount of randomness to feel different every time, but not ruin your every second run for no reason. It was fun.
After a massive success of Dungeon Run, Blizzard has decided to stick with the same formula for The Witchwood (or maybe they already went with it before Kobolds & Catacombs was even released, hard to say), with a few twists. In Monster Hunt, instead of picking one of the 9 regular classes, you had 4 “special” classes with new Hero Powers and unique cards / treasures. You also fought against a completely different set of bosses. In a hindsight, it felt like a more polished Dungeon Run – but in the end, it was not as popular as its predecessor simply because they were too similar. After players have already spent a few months Dungeon Running, they were a bit bored of that format already.
Boomsday Project was a pleasant surprise, since it was a completely different kind of challenge. Instead of picking the class, deck building and then playing regular Hearthstone games, we’ve got Puzzle Labs. In the new format, players were put into a difficult situation and had to complete a certain goal depending on which category they were playing – killing the opponent, getting to full health, clearing an entire board or mirroring the board state on both sides. While the first puzzles were very easy, they got more and more difficult the deeper you’ve got. Since I was writing guides right on the release (so I had very limited access to outside help), I had to spend a long time thinking about some of the later ones despite years of experience with the game – and it was also fun! I know that it’s not something everyone enjoys, but it was definitely an unique experience, which is great – the more options we get, the more enjoyable Hearthstone gets.
And finally, we’re here. The latest expansion, Rastakhan’s Rumble was released a bit over two weeks ago, and its PvE content – Rumble Run – last Thursday. Once again, it went back to the Dungeon Run formula (even referring it its name) and… players seem to dislike it. Of course, not universally – there are still lots of them who play it, but there’s definitely not as much hype around it, and I’ve read significantly more poor opinions than I ever did about PvE content in Hearthstone. My feelings are similar – I’ve played it for 4 hours straight (for the sake of writing guides for it), but I honestly wanted to give up after 2 hours or so. Despite the new PvE mode having its bright moments, its poor qualities far outweighed them.
But why is that, exactly? Why has Rumble Run been so poorly received, despite people still enjoying Dungeon Run a year after its release?
More of the Same – Dungeon Run Vol. 3
Here’s the thing – if Rumble Run would be the FIRST PvE content released in that format, it would probably be praised for its innovation compared to the previous releases. But it’s not. It’s the third time we’ve seen that. While each of them had its own twist, ultimately it’s the same thing – you build your own deck from scraps, pick extra, very powerful cards and fight eight bosses.
The Witchwood was already pretty boring because of that, but it could be justified. They were released back to back, Dungeon Run was very successful, they might not have came up with anything new yet, okay, that’s fair. But there’s been an entire year between Kobolds & Catacombs and Rastakhan’s Rumble. Given that we had a completely different PvE experience in the middle (Puzzle Lab), we expected something different.
Okay, but let’s hold back for a moment. It’s been only THIRD time, not fifth or even tenth. Sticking to the same format is definitely a problem, although it’s not impossible to do it again and make it fun again. And that’s exactly the issue here. Repeating the same format is bad, but the real problem is doing the same thing again, but worse. In case of Rumble Run – much worse. While Monster Hunt could be seen as a step forward (arguably, I’d say that it did some things better and other things worse), the latest PvE content is like three steps backwards.
RNG, RNG Everywhere
My biggest gripe when it comes to Rumble Run is, without any doubt, randomness. You see, Hearthstone is a card game, which means that it will always be random at its core. You could be the best player in the world and still lose to a complete newbie just because you drew your cards in the worst order possible. The same thing applies to PvE content, including the fan favorite Dungeon Run. You got random treasures, faced random bosses etc. But the RNG never felt that bad as it does in Rumble Run.
First of all, Shrines. Not only is the one you pick almost random (getting only 3 choices feels really bad, but I’ll talk about it later), but you also face random ones.It creates some nearly impossible to win matchups (or vice versa – ones that you breeze through) given that some shrines work INCREDIBLY well against others, and it also means that you might not get the shrine you want to play multiple times in a row. Shrines also have a vastly different power level – some of them are just bad and others are hard to beat, especially if you get them later in the run.
Buckets of cards are also random and have nothing to do with the shrine you pick, resulting in some really awkward decks that end their run at 3-4 wins just because no cards that synergize with the picked Shrine were offered (also, more about that later). Same goes for the Teammate cards – lots of them have a clear synergy with one of the three Shrines, and getting them bumps your win rate by a significant margin. But you only get to see 3 out of 6 every time you pick, so you basically have a 50/50 to get the one you want. Just like with the card buckets, you can go through an entire run and not see anything that synergizes with your Shrine.
Some of the Shrines are also absolutely silly when it comes to RNG. Here’s the actual scenario from my third or fourth run. I was playing the Rogue Shrine which gave my minions Stealth if I remember correctly, faced a Discard Warlock Shrine (Dark Reliquary) in game one or two. On her turn 1, Jeklik (Warlock Hero) Soulfired my Shrine and summoned a Voidlord. I’ve lost the game, and an entire run, to an RNG high roll. I literally could not beat it in any way, the game didn’t even PRETEND like I had a fighting chance, I could not look back at my own mistakes and see how else could I play it.
And all of that is on top of the regular RNG that all of Hearthstone has, making matters even worse.
Synergy is the Key
Of course, when you built a Dungeon Run or Monster Hunt deck, you also wanted it to be as synergistic as possible. But you could also be much more flexible with the buckets you pick. When you start your Rumble Run, you’re basically forced into a single synergy. It could be Armor related cards in Warrior, self-damage cards in Warlock, Overload cards in Shaman, spells in Hunter – most of the Shrines have a very clear pool of cards they benefit from. The problem is, however, that you often don’t see those cards at all. You pick one shrine, and you get buckets that would work well with a completely different one.
But, giving players only synergistic cards would make everything too easy, right? Not exactly. Because the thing is, you’re the only one who’s at a disadvantage if you don’t pick them. Your opponents always run a deck that’s fully equipped to take advantage of their shrine’s power. So if you get unlucky with the bucket choices (which are, again, completely random), you basically stand no chance against later bosses, no matter what you do.
I’m not saying that every single bucket should fit perfectly into your deck, but at least make getting those more probable. From the player’s perspective, when you have a clear synergy you need to pursue and you don’t get any of those cards, it just feels terrible. It’s like asking someone to build a Murloc deck in Constructed and then giving them access to only a few Murlocs and tell them to fill the rest with Pirates, Beasts and Mechs. Yes, they CAN build a deck around that, but it will be bad and frustrating to play.
Another issue with relying on the synergy between Shrines and cards is that Shrines aren’t up 100% of the time. Let’s say that you pick the Priest’s Bwonsamdi's Sanctum and even manage to build a synergistic, Deathrattle deck. Now, two things can happen – your opponent might either not be able to destroy your Shrine and you will just streamroll him, or (more likely) he will keep your shrine down for most of the game because it’s so easy to kill it and you will play a deck with lots of Deathrattles but with synergy popping up only every 3rd turn when the Shrine is up. Some Shrines have it easier, the high health ones that is – they stay up for longer, meaning that you have more time to proceed with your game plan. But the 2-4 health Shrines usually die nearly right away and stay dead for a big part of each encounter. It’s yet another “that’s not very fun” moment – when you pick a low health shrine, build your entire deck around it and then it’s down most of the time.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
There are 27 different Shrines in total. With only 3 of them offered at the time it means that, on average, you have only a 1 in 9 chance to get the Shrine you want to play. You need to pick one, start a game, Concede and then try again and hope that this time you will get the one you want. This kind of limit makes no sense at all, it doesn’t add any depth or strategy, just even more RNG and frustration.
The issue is especially bad for completionists. If you want to win with every single Shrine (for whatever reason), good luck. With only a few left, you will have to concede dozens of first matches if you get unlucky, and then you might need to do it again if you actually lose after getting the right Shrine – you have to repeat the entire process again. The fact that you can’t actually abandon a run, but you have to queue into the game, wait through the loading and then Concede makes it even worse. You would think that after players have asked for that for Dungeon Run and Monster Hunt already, they would implement such a basic feature this time, but no, that’s not the case.
Anyway, back to the main topic. Why can’t we just pick a Class and then pick the one Shrine we want out of three? Why not just give players a way to do what they can already do, but without having to waste a lot of time? This kind of restriction doesn’t make things more fun. On the contrary, it makes everything less fun. Even if you aren’t in the <1% of players who are brave (or masochistic) enough to complete Rumble Run with every single shrine, even if you’re just a casual player, seeing 3 Shrines you don’t like and being forced into still picking one of them feels bad.
Oh, and by the way. Did you know that one of the Shrines you get is always the one you’ve lost to? If you think that you might have missed that, no, you didn’t – it wasn’t said or explained anywhere. I also found out about it from reddit and then tested it myself – it’s true. I kind of get why it is a thing (you often want to play the Shrine you’ve lost to in order to see if it’s really as strong as you think) and I don’t mind it at all, but I don’t get why it’s not actually mentioned in the game.
Everyone who has played more than just a few games of Rumble Run will see that without being an expert on game design – the format is just not balanced. Unlike Dungeon Run and Monster Hunt, where each encounter was getting gradually more difficult, in Rumble Run it’s basically random. Some Shrines are really easy to play against, to a point where you streamroll through an entire match, while others are nearly impossible to beat, especially when you meet them later. Final encounter is especially varied – given that your opponent has more Health, as well as head start when it comes to mana, some of them are nigh impossible to beat. On the other hand, I’ve beaten final encounters with a terrible deck just because I got lucky and faced a bad Shrine.
Another issue with balance is that Shrines keep the same power level through an entire run – no matter if you face them on Game 1 or Game 8. That would be okay if they were balanced with that in mind, but they aren’t. For example, Warlock’s Blood Pact is really terrible during the first encounter. Paying health instead of mana is a great tempo move, but only when you actually have life to spare, not when it when casting 2-3 spells basically kills you. On the other hand, we have a completely opposite scenario with Shirvallah's Vengeance Shrine. It’s incredibly powerful during the first few encounters, but it gets gradually weaker and weaker. When you face someone with 20 health, then dealing 5 damage to them is incredibly strong. But when that someone has let’s say 60 health, then it’s much less relevant, as he will most likely have enough time to deal with your Shrine.
Next problem I have are some of the Teammate cards. I actually think that in general, they’re balanced quite well, but there are definitely some outliers. The biggest offender is probably the Warrior’s Unbound Punisher. Like, how is that card even remotely fair? It gets rid of every minion on your side, including your Shrine, puts a body on the board and gives Warrior a lot of Armor (especially relevant when facing Akali's Champion Shrine). And the thing is, it’s not a card you can play around for the most part. If that’s one of your final encounters, you absolutely can’t “hold back” unless your deck is completely broken. Let’s say that you face the Armor Shrine I’ve mentioned – you have to constantly have a solid board to shave off the Warrior’s Armor, as well as deal with the incoming threats and kill the 8 health Shrine every 3 turns. With an average deck, you’re barely keeping up even if you go all in. And that’s actually fine – it’s challenging, but not in a bad way. But then your opponent drops Unbound Punisher and the match is over. Now, that part is not fun, or balanced. Or another example – you face Druid, who drops Direhorn Stomper and pulls out Tyrantus. A lot of the time, your run is basically over, because you have no way to deal with that kind of swing on TURN 5 (when your opponent is, obviously, also doing other overpowered things).
Funny story, there is actually a matchup that is auto-loss for one side. Warlock with Hir'eek's Hunger vs Paladin with Shirvallah's Vengeance. Assuming that both Shrines are up, once Paladin takes any damage on Warlock’s turn, he loses the game. When he takes damage, he deals 5 to Warlock, which transfers back to Paladin. Which again triggers the damage, and the same things happen. Paladin takes 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5 etc. until he dies. Just a single Hero Power, or Kobold Librarian, or basically anything, means that Paladin is dead. How could that get past the QA? Having a matchup you basically can’t win is really not fun, neither is winning a matchup just by playing a single card. I would be really salty if that was my final encounter. And the thing is, once you take one of those shrines, assuming you get to the end of the run, you will face the other one 1/3 of the time, so it’s not some outlandish scenario.
Lack of Innovation
Another issue with Rumble Run is lack of innovation. I’m not even talking about repeating Dungeon Run for the third time – you could do that, but still make it a fun and unique experience. But Rumble Run isn’t one for the most part.
Shrines are… well, some of them are interesting, so that’s the bright point of the format. Some of them change your game plan in a meaningful, fun way. But you know what? Outside of the shrines, it’s like facing an Innkeeper that’s been turned up to eleven. There are no unique bosses with unique Hero Powers – you always face the same 9 champions (8 each run, since you can’t face your own class) with standard class Hero Powers. Yes, the Shrines is what makes them stand apart, but most of the time your aim is to destroy Shrine as soon as you can and keep it dead for 2/3 of the game. Same goes for the opponent – AI is going hard for your shrine and tries to get rid of it at all cost. So a lot of time, if the game is quite even, 2/3 of them time you’re basically playing a janky deck against an AI with a janky deck, and it’s not the most fun experience I had in this game.
Shrines themselves are also basically passives from the Dungeon Run / Monster Hunt that have been made significantly more powerful. Actually, in my opinion, they’re even worse. If you had a weaker passive that’s activated all the time, you wouldn’t have to rely on your shrine to make each match unique. It would always be up, so it would always change the way you play, but it wouldn’t spike in power every 3 turns when the Shrine gets revived.
Another issue are the bosses themselves. You can face only the 9 base classes, with their base Hero Powers. And yes, Shrines change their game play significantly, but still – they don’t FEEL that unique. Especially when their Shrines are down, it sometimes feels like you were facing a regular Mage, Druid or Paladin deck. But let’s even count each Shrine as an unique encounter, then we have 27 of them. You know what? Dungeon Run had 48 different bosses, while Monster Hunt had 47 of them (+Hagatha’s final challenge, which also makes it 48 in total). So even if we take the “best case scenario” of counting every Shrine as another boss (which I really don’t think we should anyway), there were still 21 more possible encounters in the previous installments.
Both Dungeon Run and Monster Hunt had final bosses, which were the biggest challenges. They were unique, had an unfair Hero Power, strong decks etc. And facing them was way better experience than facing just another random Class with random Shrine as your final boss. I really hoped that we’ll, for example, get to face King Rastakhan himself with an unique set of Shrines at the end. But no, we don’t. Final boss doesn’t really feel like a final boss – it feels like any other encounter, just bumped up in terms of power level to be much harder to beat. Imagine playing and RPG game, getting through a ton of monsters, open the doors to the final chamber, where you expect a boss encounter… and you see another of the monsters you’ve already killed many times, just 3x bigger so he looks more menacing. That’s anti-climactic, just like “final bosses” in Rumble Run.
Same goes for Teammates & Passives. Dungeon Run and Monster Hunt cards were significantly more interesting in my opinion. Most of the Rumble Run cards are just incredibly strong cards that synergize with Shrines. Most of the effects are pretty boring and don’t really change the way you play the game. You just add them and your deck becomes stronger. On the other hand, a lot of treasures and passives from the previous PvE content had a meaningful impact on how you play your deck, on your strategy. Let’s say that you got THE CANDLE – it prevented you from fatiguing, so you could build your whole game plan around that if necessary. Rod of Roasting was also one of the highlights – even though it was a quite terrible treasure in lots of the decks, it wasn’t a clear cut “strong card that fits into your deck”. Horn of Cenarius or Scepter of Summoning has made you pick more expensive minions, Potion of Vitality also adjusted the way you can play the game (you could go for a slower deck with mid/late game comebacks, because you had enough health to do so). In Rumble Run, you don’t have to think, you don’t have to adjust your other card choices. It’s super obvious which card buckets & which Teammates you want to pick for each Shrine, and they don’t change your game plan in any way. There isn’t even much of a choice, every time you get a Teammate or bucket that synergizes with your Shrine, you go for it, because it doesn’t make any sense to not do it. The only time when you actually have a meaningful choice is when you get two buckets that synergize with your shrine (which doesn’t happen that often), or none.
Talking about the Rumble Run Passives… those actually can somewhat change the way you play, like the one where minions adjacent to Shrine have Taunt. You now need to think about your positioning. Or the one where you draw cards until your hand is full when your Shrine dies. Maybe now you actually want your Shrine to die from time to time? And it’s also a double-edged sword, because you might hit fatigue very quickly because of that. It leads to difficult, but meaningful decisions – I really like Shrine passives. But you know what I hate? That they come up SO LATE. You pick your passive after the 6th boss, so assuming that you get to the end of the run, Passives only affect the two final encounters (7th and 8th). Even picking your upgrades in a different order would fix it somewhat. Now we pick a Teammate after 2nd and 4th encounter, and a Passive after 6th. Why can’t it be Teammate – Passive – Teammate? Now your Passives would already affect four and not two encounters, making them much more relevant.
Limited Incentives and Replayability
Of course, the main reason you play something is because it’s fun. But having some extra incentives to play it definitely does not hurt. And when it comes to Rumble Run, there are basically none. After beating all 8 bosses once, with any Shrine, you get a card back. And that’s it. You can of course play it as many times as you want, but it doesn’t feel like you’re actually accomplishing something.
In Dungeon Run, it wasn’t really over until you’ve beaten it with all 9 classes. Not only it made the card back much more difficult to get (and thus it was a nice way to show off), but it gave you a reason to play it more (well, and it was more fun, so you actually WANTED to play it more). Monster Hunt, while it only had 4 classes, it had a “final encounter” of sorts – after beating Monster Hunt with every class, you could face Hagatha, the ultimate final boss. Puzzle Lab also gave you the reward only after completing literally EVERY SINGLE challenge. Of course, it wasn’t that hard if you were looking for solutions online, but it was a real challenge if you wanted to do it yourself. And in Rumble Run? You can literally play a single run and get everything the mode has to offer.
But let’s say that despite the lack of other rewards, you want to finish the game with every Shrine. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, it will be very difficult. Since you can’t pick the Shrine you want, you will have to concede the first match many times in order to restart the entire run, and to get the Shrine you want. Even then, you have to keep track of your progress manually. Previously, the game kept track of the classes you won with already by putting a crown next to them. You could also keep track of your total number of wins with each class. Rumble Run has no such indicator – game does not tell you which Shrines you’ve already “completed”. It also doesn’t tell you how many bosses you’ve beaten with each Shrine – you just get a general, cumulative number. It’s just as if Blizzard actually wanted it to be one time thing – you beat it with one Shrine and you’re done.
When I’ve beaten Dungeon Run with a first class, I really wanted to do the same thing with other 8. And I did, even though I wasn’t a big fan of PvE content before (I usually didn’t even bother with Heroic adventures and I still haven’t finished The Lich King encounter with all classes). Same goes for Monster Hunt. In Rumble Run? I really didn’t want to play it again after getting the card back.
When it comes to replaybility, I actually think that it would be significantly higher if at least some of the issues I’ve listed in the previous sections would be fixed. It would be much more fun to play if it was more balanced, less random, if you could pick the Shrine you want to play, if you could get your passive earlier etc. It still wouldn’t be perfect, but just a few changes would make the mode much more enjoyable. Another way to increase replayability is by adding the final encounter with unique set of Shrines, Hero Power etc. This way you might actually want to go all the way through to the final boss multiple times, if the encounter would be interesting enough, that is. And of course, adding more incentives also increases the replayability factor – it always feels better to do something when you know that there’s a reward waiting for you at the end.
As for the incentives… First of all, I don’t think that the card back should be given so quickly. It should be more challenging to get. I’m not saying that you should have to beat it with every single Shrine, but let’s say three of them, to make it at least a bit harder to get. Instead, they could give everyone 3 Rastakhan’s Rumble card packs after clearing it for the first time – I know that this time around they’ve already “frontloaded” the rewards at the launch instead of spreading them between launch and PvE release, so maybe not 3, but 2. Or even 1. Anything. Alternatively, there SHOULD be some reward for doing it with every single Shrine. Given that it’s a pretty difficult task that would most likely require dozens, if not hundreds of hours, giving something like a Hero portrait would be a nice reward.
As you can probably tell by now, I’m not a big fan of Rumble Run in the current form. I don’t think that they should stick with the same formula for that long in the first place, but even if they decided to do it anyway, they absolutely should work more on it. Right now, it looks like an unfinished product, something that is clearly inferior to the previous modes it was based on. It feels like it wasn’t playtested enough and was rushed for some reason, or the designers / devs were just lazy enough to not polish it (I’m sorry for being so rude, but that’s really how it looks like from my perspective).
I wish that they could get back to it and fix it a bit. I’m not even talking about stuff like adding the unique, final encounter or something complex like that (I’m optimistic, but not stupid). Just do some balance changes, tune the rate at which you get the cards you want, add a way to track progress of individual shrines in the game, maybe another incentive to actually play the format… A few small changes like that and it would already feel much better. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.
So as someone who has been a huge fan of the PvE content they’ve been pumping out since Kobolds & Catacombs, I have to say one thing – just drop the Dungeon Run formula already. Maybe come back to it later, with an interesting twist, but something like a year from now, or two years from now. Don’t do the same thing three times over four expansions. I really, really hope that they deliver something much better for the first expansion of 2019. Maybe, just maybe, Rumble Run was so bad because they’ve been working hard on the next, much more fun PvE content? We won’t know until it launches, but one thing is sure – if they decide to go for Dungeon Run vol. 4, I will be really pissed off.
That’s all folks, thanks for reading. Let me know what you think about Rumble Run. Did you enjoy it? How do you think it fares compared to Dungeon Run and Monster Hunt? And finally, what kind of PvE content would you like to see in the future?
Good luck on the ladder and until next time!