Hearthstone’s Kobolds and Catacombs expansion is live, and for perhaps the first time in Hearthstone history, even players who didn’t spend money have a way to enjoy the expansion: a totally free new game mode called “Dungeon Run.” It’s something Hearthstone has needed for a long, long time now. The concept should be familiar to anyone who’s played a roguelike: You choose a class, then use a provided deck to try and beat a series of random bosses. (No, you can’t bring in your own cards.) The bosses get tougher as you go along, but you get to upgrade your deck after every victory, so you’ll need to build strategically to stay alive. As with any great roguelike, if you lose, your progress is wiped and you have to start over.
So far, I’ve played a handful of Dungeon Runs and have yet to beat any of the surprisingly difficult final bosses. But since I can do as many runs as I want, and I don’t actually have to build the initial deck to do it, it’s easy to hop back in for another go. And since there are 48 possible bosses, it’s practically guaranteed that I’ll never see the same sequence of encounters twice.
When it comes to single-player content, this kind of replayability is a first for Hearthstone. Past Adventures were scripted, easy-to-exploit encounters that I never found reason to play more than once or twice. Dungeon Run, on the other hand, brings a mix of accessibility, variety, and challenge that Hearthstone has never seen before.
This is great for Hearthstone veterans like myself who’ve wanted a lower-stakes game mode with legitimate replay value. I see it as a new way to decompress after a bad beat or two. But Dungeon Run is also great for new players, who now have a way to learn the nuances of tempo, value, and deck building without having to spend money on cards or Arena entry.
If there’s one complaint to be made about Dungeon Run, it’s that the rewards don’t quite match the investment. While your first 10 Dungeon Run wins will net you three Kobolds card packs, that’s a one-time deal. The new daily quest, which gives you a classic pack for every five Dungeon Run wins, is limited and random in the same way that other daily quests are. The final reward is a new card back which you get for beating the dungeon with each class. But when you compare it with free cards or gold, it’s a little underwhelming.
Then again, it’s kind of missing the point to view the lack of rewards as a deal-breaker. The mode stands on its own as a legitimate way to pass the time, and since you don’t have to buy cards to enjoy it, it almost feels like a standalone game, even if it is bite-sized.