Despite often being discussed as a highly-competitive, player-versus-player experience, it’s easy to forget that single-player content has been part of the Hearthstone DNA since day dot.
While a return to making single-player content paid has raised some eyebrows – especially after a chequered 2018 – my hands-on time with the newest campaign, The Dalaran Heist, has me very excited for what’s next.
Paid adventures were actually the first way new cards got added to the game in the form of 2014’s Curse of Naxxramas, with three more adventures being released over the course of 2015 and 2016.
As challenging as fun as they were, however, adventures weren’t perfect for many reasons. The significantly smaller number of cards they added to the game versus traditional expansions often meant the competitive metagame got very stale around the time of their launch. The fact that players had to bring their own decks to each adventure – often needing very good cards to tackle the tougher bosses – meant they were also quite inaccessible for newer players.
That adventure-expansion-adventure model was therefore wrapped up in 2017, with all card releases since Journey to Un’Goro good old 135-card expansions. August of 2017’s Knights of the Frozen Throne gave players an adventure-like experience for free with the new cards, but it wasn’t until December of that year when Kobolds & Catacombs introduced Dungeon Run.
The roguelike-style campaign saw players go up against a random assortment of nefarious bosses armed tricky powers and cards, with the goal being to beat eight in a row. If you lost once, that was it.
The best part about Dungeon Run, however, was that the game gave you an assortment of cards to start with and you got to add more and more with every victory.
This on-the-run deckbuilding opened up Dungeon Run to a much wider variety of players and just made the mode a hell of a lot more interesting. Yes, there were circumstances where you’d run into a boss who had the deck built perfectly to rip yours to shreds but, on the whole, Dungeon Run was some of the most fun I’ve had playing the game.
It’s no surprise Team 5 elected to replicate this format somewhat with 2018’s single-player content but, for me, these didn’t hit the same highs as Dungeon Run.
Monster Hunt, released with April’s The Witchwood, tried something new in the form of custom classes with their own unique powers. This was definitely interesting, but felt very unrefined – as did many of the bosses.
The Puzzle Lab, released with August’s The Boomsday Project, was a refreshing change of pace and something I’d like to see more of. The caveat of doing puzzles, rather than encounters, meant that once you’d solved them all, that was it.
December’s Rastakhan’s Rumble, however, saw the release of Rumble Run which, despite some highly-requested balance changes, is still arguably the black sheep of single-player campaigns.
2019, however, sees us return somewhat to the old expansion format. Players will get the first chapter of The Dalaran Heist for free, but will need to pay (either with in-game gold or real money) for the remaining four.
While the greatly expanded campaign obviously offers more than the most recent single-player campaigns – will it actually be fun enough to justify the cost?
The quick answer is yes.
For starters, the expanded campaign is far more than just five wings. Each of those wings is essentially a Dungeon Run in themselves, with different bosses, as well as different twists that carry over for the whole run in that wing.
One wing, for example, sees both player and boss only allowed to have four minions on the board at a time, while another sees the attack and health of all minions swapped – permanently.
Some much-needed deck-building flexibility comes into play too, in the form of non-combat Tavern encounters. These give you an opportunity to remove cards from your deck, swap them with others or even apply permanent buffs to a particular minion.
Many players reported getting hamstrung by poor card offerings in previous campaigns and, in my hands-on time, these Tavern encounters were genuinely run-altering.
Beyond that, you’re not only able to play with every class in the game, you’ll also be able to unlock alternative hero powers and new starting decks as you play The Dalaran Heist more and more. This creates a tonne of interesting drafting choices throughout the run, as well as mouth-watering replay value.
That’s still not all. Once all five chapters have been unlocked, Anomaly Mode becomes available, which adds even more bizarre asterisks to each run, such as Murlocs joining the battle at random or all spells casting twice.
To top it all off, The Dalaran Heist will thankfully introduce two difficulty modes as well. While most the community is excited by the return of Heroic difficulty, I’m quietly excited about the fact the normal difficulty has been slightly scaled down. In my hands-on time, I was able to get through runs a fair bit easier than other campaigns – but definitely still found them challenging enough to be enjoyable.
All in all, it’s a stunning amount of content we’re about to receive but, importantly, most of the community’s cries have been heard as well.
I can’t wait to get heisting.
>The Dalaran Heist launches on May 17 (AEST). The campaign can be purchased as a whole for $26.95, or $9.50 per wing. Alternatively, each wing can be purchased for 700 in-game gold.