Even retired ‘Hearthstone’ fans should give ‘Kobolds and Catacombs’ a chance

Kobolds and Catacombs could make Hearthstone more addictive than ever.

When it launches next month, Hearthstone’s seventh expansion, Kobolds and Catacombs, will embrace the game’s crazy side. The new card set will give weapons to every class, and add evolving spell cards that could blow up competitive strategies.

Even more exciting is the game’s new free-to-play single-player mode, Dungeon Run, which sends players on “roguelike” inspired strings of random matches with procedurally generated conditions and rewards. The new mode taps into the, playful side of Hearthstone, but doesn’t stray too far from the core card game that made early adopters, and competitive players, fall in love.

Get ready to run

Dungeon Run puts players through a gauntlet of randomized matches against randomized bosses to earn, you guessed it, randomized loot. It’s an endlessly repeatable version of the single-player raids Blizzard brought to Hearthstone in past expansions like Journey to Un’Goro, and Knights of the Frozen Throne.

The structure of Dungeon Run is simple. After choosing your class, you play a series of eight increasingly difficult matches against randomized “boss” characters. For every match you win, you earn a piece of “treasure,” which either confers a passive bonus or a very powerful card for the rest of the run, and some “loot,” a set of three complementary cards that, again, enhance your deck for the rest of the run.

hearthstone kobolds and catacombs review  dungeon run boss card preview

Dungeon runs bridge the gap between Hearthstone’s more repeatable modes, like competitive play, and the more sensational single-player matches. The boss characters are, at least in the demo we saw, based on monsters rather than World of Warcraft player characters, and their traits vary wildly. In two demo runs with three matches apiece, we encountered enemies with health that ranged from 10 to 40 (in standard play each hero has 30 health), and completely new hero powers, such as the ability to automatically generate a “secret” effect that counters spell cards.

The treasures earned from winning matches veer from what Hearthstone players are used to. We saw treasure bonuses that doubled our hero’s health and automatically gave all our minions +1/+1 for the rest of the run. Similarly, the treasure cards we earned and added to our dungeon run deck would be considered game-breaking in ranked matches.

Dungeon Runs’ random effects are immensely powerful — but that’s what makes it fun.

Seeing the crazy combinations you can create on a given run kindles an easy, distilled version of the satisfaction you get from making a new deck. Since you aren’t playing against other players, and your next opponent could have any number of powerful abilities, the game can create new, strange scenarios. Since both your deck and your opponents are procedurally generated — though some elements, such as the “loot” card sets, are not completely random — those outlandish scenarios feel truly “wild.” You’ll have matches where the cards and bonuses don’t work out in your favor, and have matches that you can win in your sleep. The random effects, both yours and your opponents’, are immensely powerful — but that’s what makes it fun.

We do see a possible problem, though. Rewards. Blizzard has said very little about what players receive – gold, cards, or otherwise – from the mode. That could be a sore point because Hearthstone at its core is a competitive game, and a lack of meaningful reward will turn off serious players. This could be a reaction to past single-player raids, which often rewarded cards so powerful that they were considered a must-have in competitive play. A portion of the community felt that was unfair. It’s also possible Blizzard simply hasn’t decided on the rewards, however, so stay tuned.

Send in the Kobolds!

Dungeon Runs, the gameplay mode, will be available to all players when Kobolds and Catacombs launches, so the expansion itself is effectively a set of new cards. 135 new cards are coming to the Hearthstone library, which is both a lot and a little, when you consider how many cards Blizzard’s added over the years. The expansion will make its mark on how you play, though, thanks to some special cards and a new keyword —  a trait that defines how cards interact.

hearthstone kobolds and catacombs review  dungeon run choose your loot 2

Kobolds and Catacombs’ biggest changes seem focused on making matches move faster. The new keyword, “recruit,” gives cards the ability to summon a minion (or minions) from your deck into play. In its most basic form — a new card, “Gather Your Party,” recruits a random minion from your deck for 6 mana — the effect has the potential swing a match. As more cards are revealed, we expect to see more tempered, conditional recruiting conditions, but no matter what they are, these cards will put more minions on the board, faster.

Kobolds and Catacombs’ changes are focused on making matches move faster.

Though recruit lends itself to minion-heavy classes and builds, Kobolds and Catacombs will have new cards for all kinds of players. The expansions will add new legendary weapon cards for all nine classes, even those that traditionally don’t use weapons. Not all the weapons will deal damage, but instead add bonuses that complement certain types of play. “Dragon Soul,” the 6-cost priest weapon, summons a 5/5 dragon after you cast three spells.

Each class also gets a “spellstone,” a unique spell that evolves as its owner completes certain conditions. The Shaman can draw the “Lesser Sapphire Spellstone,” which summons a copy of a friendly minion for seven mana. However, if you use cards that overload three mana, the card upgrades to a “Sapphire Spellstone,” which summons two copies for the same price. Do the same thing again, and it becomes a “Greater Sapphire Spellstone,” making the card even powerful.

We didn’t get to play with either the legendary weapons or spellstones in our limited time with the game, but both card types seem to push players to play in different, yet specific ways. We’re looking forward to seeing how they mix up the game when Hearthstone: Kobolds and Catacombs launches in December, 2017.

Highs:

  • Awesome new cards
  • Dungeon Run is fun and addictive
  • Loot!

Lows:

  • Dungeon Runs’ rewards seem lacking
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