If you enjoy card games, you have probably at some point encountered Blizzard’s collectable card game, Hearthstone. The latest expansion for the game, Rise of Shadows, added a new single-player portion to the game and while this is definitely the biggest and dare I say best single-player adventure that we have seen in Hearthstone, I feel like it is still a few steps away from true greatness.
The true joy of a digital-only card game is that you can break rules, design moulds and physical limitations with cards and effects that would either be too unwieldy in a physical game, or too difficult to keep track of, or be open to cheating and exploitation. A card like C’Thun, which gets buffed by certain cards regardless of where it is, or any of the Discovery cards that generate three options out of thin air, demonstrate the power of playing card games outside of the confines that most physical card games have. In general, I wish Hearthstone pushed harder in that direction, with more cards and effects that are impossible to replicate in physical games and in much the same way, I want the single-player content to do the same, to break boundaries.
In some ways, The Dalaran Heist is doing this and is the game’s best single-player addition to date. You can add powerful artifacts to your deck as you beat various bosses. You can build your hero to have a choice of three hero powers if you fulfil the objectives to unlock them, and you can start with one of three starter decks for each class type, letting you start your game with a specific combo or direction in mind. These are systems that add longevity to the single-player content, as you have smaller goals to work towards with each class besides the obvious one of beating the specific wing. This alleviated an issue with the last few iterations of the single-player content: generally, if you didn’t manage to beat all of the bosses in your run, all your work felt wasted. It didn’t matter if you lost on boss 2 or boss 8, you still lost and there was nothing, however small, to show for it. Your progress for that run amounted to zero. Now you at least had some progress towards a new starting deck or a new hero power, if nothing else and that progress matters.
Hearthstone’s new content is part puzzle, part roguelike and it could stand to incorporate a few elements from games that do these genres well. Here are a few things that I hope will eventually be in Hearthstone’s single-player content in the future:
Part roguelike elements
As mentioned above, the big thing about many roguelike games is that even when you die and fail to complete your run, you have made progress towards one or more things. Besides learning something about the level, the bosses ahead, or honing your reaction times or the like, you might also have a slightly bigger health bar the next time you go in there. Or perhaps you unlock something that makes you do just a tiny bit more damage. With the single-player component being just that, single-player, the game can stand to do more to break the rules. Maybe you find a nice artifact that you want to make sure you get in the next game, so you can build a deck around it. Or perhaps the boss you faced seemed like a close call, so could you maybe have that boss or a similar run the next time? There are so many ways to incorporate things from roguelike games to make it feel like you are always progressing, instead of losing everything on the final boss thanks to a dud opening hand.
Oh and if players don’t want the challenge to get slightly easier over time? Have an option to disable it.
Part puzzle elements
The other side of the Hearthstone single-player content (which admittedly has fallen away as things have moved to a replayable focus) is the puzzles. Could you beat a specific deck if you took the time to build a counter for it? Or could you pilot a provided deck to win against something that at first appears to be insurmountable? Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales shows how far the puzzle system can be taken, with everything from playing on both sides of the board, to dealing with watchful guards or breaking down walls. Fighting against impossibly strong cards can be a lot of fun, especially if you have some tricks in your arsenal, like a boosted hero power or knowledge that on turn 4 you will get a few cards summoned for free. One issue with making puzzles is that once they are beaten, you don’t really have anything to make you replay them, or perhaps folks will go look for the answers online. Still a few puzzles would be a change of pace, and everyone likes a good headscratcher.
General change ideas
There are a few other elements that I don’t think I am alone in wanting to see in Hearthstone’s single-player content. A save and quit to come back later, an option to retry a boss that just ended your streak thanks to a dud hand, more options for editing your deck (the innkeeper is nice, but sometimes still too random), an option to mulligan the additional cards for your deck if nothing suits you are just a few things that could help improve the enjoyment of Hearthstone’s single-player content.