The Dalaran Heist is one of the many hyped-up features of the Year of the Dragon. It was introduced as an “evolution of all the PvE material Team 5 has released to date”. Based on the successful format of the Dungeon Run, the developers expanded on it by adding more customization, more bosses, multiple chapters with different twists and three game modes.
In contrast to the single player content of the Year of the Raven, all that additional content came behind a paywall of either real money or ingame Gold. The content was also released in parts: one chapter each week with two extra classes accompanying each chapter.
Without a doubt, the Dalaran Heist has been mostly successful. However, it has its shortcomings. No matter how novel the content was presented to be, apart from the extra customisations, the basis was still the same: the roguelike, build-as-you-go format with the random boss order and random card buckets was still the foundation of the Dalaran Heist and this is nothing new.The Chapter format also proved very problematic.
Let’s cut short this introduction and go into the specifics.
Hero Powers & Starting Decks
One of the features that distinguishes the Dalaran Heist from previous Adventures is the additional Hero Powers and starting decks. It was refreshing to get a choice between the two, and unlike Shrines in Rastakhan’s Rumble its nice that you have the flexibility to mix and match.
Other than that I feel that the extra Hero Powers weren’t that impactful. The 1-mana ones were good – no surprise there and the classes that had them can be considered lucky. The rest of them, though, apart from the Evolve one for Shaman, felt gimmicky at best: Warlock and Warrior in particular had borderline useless alternative Hero Powers. Still, it was good to have the flexibility as especially on Heroic, certain Hero Powers were better for some wings.
Totally random example of a class that could work in the Dalaran Heist without ever using Hero Power.
As far as the starting decks are concerned, I would only like to focus on the random deck feature. In the announcement video for Dalaran Heist, Giovanni Scarpati said that the random decks are truly random, but there’s at least some sort of curve. That last part is mostly true from my experience.
I know the option is called “random” for a reason but I would have appreciated if there was at least one class card in these 10 starting cards. I also didn’t enjoy seeing cards like Ancient Watcher in the mix, they could have banned cards like that the same way the did in Arena. I guess you could amend that by removing unnecessary cards during the Tavern Encounters, but that’s if you were lucky enough.
How the Chapter system made the whole Adventure feel repeatable
The concept of chapters was probably the most underwhelming aspect of the Dalaran Heist. Obviously, their purpose was to make the Adventure longer, but that wasn’t exactly enough due to how much content was reused between each Chapter. On average, you would face 1 unique encounter per specific Chapter (disregarding the final boss). Sometimes, you even faced the same boss twice in a row, a bug that was only fixed this week (despite a previous hotfix patch).
Even if you just want to clear the Adventure once with a single class, this repeatability can be very disheartening.
Now think about the people who actually want to get the winning crowns with all 9 nine classes in each wing (or if you want to take it even further, with all Hero Powers and all starting decks). Each week you started from scratch and had to go through the same process to unlock each Class’s starting decks and Hero Powers.
Two weeks ago, u/Maiestus announced on Reddit that he completed Heroic Dalaran Heist with all Classes, Hero Powers and starting decks – 180 successful runs and 3149 bosses defeated.
At some point, the Heist starts feeling like a repeatable grind. I get that it’s meant to last longer than your typical Adventure, but – as a typical Hearthstone phrase goes – how long can this go on? The Saviors of Uldum Adventure will be released in less than two months from now. Does Blizzard want me to keep playing the Heist or spend the big bucks/waste my hard-earned Gold on the new shiny thing? Because I am pretty sure I won’t be done Heisting by then, unless I really go hardcore.
Gating the Chapters added to the above frustrations. “Oh great, 2 more Heroes that I have to take back to Chapters 1 & 2” is a thought that popped up on my mind quite often. Players who paid real money for the Dalaran Heist also had a valid complaint in not wanting to wait for content for something they have actually paid for.
Moreover, each Chapter had its own Twist – usually mechanics that weren’t very fun to deal with. I didn’t see a single comment praising Chapter 3, where you only had 4 spots in your board. The repetitiveness intensified with the extra bosses in Chapter 5.
And don’t forget: you have to unlock progress (starting decks and Hero Powers) again on Heroic mode.
What’s the story of the Dalaran Heist?
Closely related to the Chapter issue is the fact that the story of the Dalaran Heist felt quite disconnected. I will try to make this section as short as possible because I know not many people find lore important, but it still bugged me.
It is quite disappointing not only from a gameplay point of view, but from a story perspective to encounter Linzi at the Dalaran Bank and then find her again in your way in the Violet Hold. Did she magically resurrect?
This Adventure has been presented as a whole story in which the players are attempting to steal the city of Dalaran, it’s presented in the form of a storybook with “chapters”, and yet there seems to be no reason as to why we’re fighting certain characters, and no logic as to why what we’re doing is helping to achieve the goal of that chapter. The dialogue was definitely not enlightening, either.
The Bank felt like a heist, but the Violet Hold didn’t feel like a jailbreak. Since we are in the League of EVIL, why didn’t we just team up with the bad guys in the jail and we have to fight them instead? One could argue that the League of EVIL is selfish and doesn’t want to share the big prize with the other baddies; but then again why go to the jail in the first place, since it just creates chaos for both the defenders of Dalaran and for us. The frequent Tavern stops also make zero sense: oh yeah, I am doing a hostile takeover in this city, but I would also like a cold beer, kind barkeeper.
Overall, I think there has been a step taken in the wrong direction in terms of narrative.
Balance or its lack of: RNG in Adventures
Even before the roguelike format was introduced, PvE Adventures weren’t exactly famous for how balanced they were. Scripted bosses would be too easy to beat, but sometimes the perfect AI topdeck at the right moment could take you back to the drawing board. The RNG element in the deck building process is also extremely high.
This was multiplied in the Dalaran Heist, whose balance was frankly terrible. As it happened with the Year of the Raven Adventures, there still is very little synergy between the starting deck and Hero Power you choose, and the subsequent card buckets you get.
*Balanced* treasure (Image by HS Top Decks)
Add to that the Treasures, the Tavern encounters, the Chapter Twists and the Anomalies and you have a nightmare. There’s literally too many moving parts to balance, meaning most runs are a case of lucking out on picking up a broken combo.
Since I mentioned the Treasures, I want to make a small paragraph dedicated to them. It was refreshing to see mostly new/different Treasures this time, with only like 3-4 of the old ones being reused. Some of them, like the Robe of Gaudiness, were pretty broken and they could make your life a lot easier. On a vacuum, Treasures are fine but added to all the other aspects of the Dalaran Heist, they are obviously game-changing. It’s not surprising that a lot of people restart their Heroic runs from the very beginning if the first set of Treasures they are offered is disappointing.
I’d like to follow up the Balance section with the Difficulty one, because I feel that they are closely related. Compared to previous content, Normal is super easy. The difficulty curve between Chapters was quite smooth, with Chapter 5 being slightly less harder than the rest.
The new Heroic addition is much harder than previous content. However, I feel that the difficulty factor is mostly connected to RNG than to actual skill.
With the aforementioned hardships of getting the proper card buckets, Treasures etc., even experienced players can have some trouble. Chapter 5 has a specific set of last bosses, which at least allows you to prepare for it (granted that you managed to survive from the extra bosses). But the rest of the Chapters can have two different final bosses. You can make the perfect deck to finally beat Jepetto (I hate him so much btw) and end up running into Captain Hannigan.
Jepetto shennanigans (image found on Reddit)
Enemy AI can still pull off all kinds of BS combo in one turn, so the game forces you to kill them as quickly as possible; the longer the game runs the more likely you run into one of these combos. Because of that, early game draws become extremely important; sometimes one bad early draw can cost you the entire game. Haro Setting-Sun had to be nerfed twice, while Linzi and Chomper could stop your run from its very beginning.
On the other hand, there were also several bugs where the AI just didn’t attack you or made some nonsense plays which resulted in the boss taking unnecessary face damage that could make your run easier.
*drum roll* Let’s talk about the paywall
Oh boy, this is going to be interesting. Let’s start with a summary of the rewards for purchasing the whole Adventure: well, you get to play all the Chapters obviously, plus a total of 15 Rise of Shadows card packs, a Golden Classic card pack, the Golden Legendary Zayle, Shadow Cloak and two card backs. For that, you have to pay a total of 20 euros/bucks or 2800 Gold.
There is merit in saying that it’s an alright deal, that many people were happy to pay for. Team 5 was pretty blunt, after all, about solo content hurting their bottom line in KnC.
Overall, it’s an okay trade-off for a Dungeon Run that feels like it has two or three times as many bosses, wonky hero powers, and some pretty ridiculous treasures and passives to build around. It’s also pretty obvious from playing the Dalaran Heist that a lot more care went into this than the previous solo content and that it’s going to last twice as long.
The last time PvE content was gated behind a paywall was in 2016 with One Night in Karazhan.
However, this is where I draw the line. The Year of the Raven was literally last year and I am pretty sure the playerbase doesn’t have a faulty memory. We all remember that last year we got PvE content and some rewards for completing it and we got all that for free. Sure, we didn’t get the same amount of content (although quantity isn’t exactly the Heist’s strong suit, if the previous paragraphs of this article were convincing enough) and Monster Hunt and the Rumble Run weren’t as successful as the Dungeon Run, but the package deal (PvE content + rewards) is in essence the same.
So, why do we have to pay this time? Blizzard never gave any clear response to that, apart from the fact that they “evolved single-player-content” and they revamped the whole thing with customisation, deck manipulating and progress tracking. These very 3 aspects are what make the Dalaran Heist good, but are they really worth paying for? It’s pretty obvious they could already do all these things, judging by the fact that the Dungeon Run outshined all other game modes when it was first released (and it wasn’t just because of the novelty factor).
If we go back a trip to memory lane, Hearthstone’s first Adventures also had a paywall. They also had a big difference: you unlocked actual cards that you added to your collection and used in the main PvP modes of the game. Now, I am not saying I liked this system (it was pretty unpopular) but at least it made sense: just as you give money or Gold to get packs, you give some money to get a few key cards (most of them were pretty decent if you remember), plus you got to unlock the respective PvE content.
Even if you are a f2p player that enjoys both PvP and PvE and fund the Dalaran Heist entirely with Gold, it is kind of a Catch 22. Taking a 2800 Gold hit is a huge setback, especially when you have to save for the upcoming expansion and the next Adventure that will come with it. At some point, you won’t be able to keep up with sinking Gold into these Adventures.
It is actually quite sad how many people didn’t get to play the Dalaran Heist this time. I know so many people – some I actually advised them myself – that didn’t buy this Adventure, even though they had all previous ones (even the old ones).
And here lies another problem: Blizzard were gracious enough to give the first Chapter for free to everyone. How generous was this move though? If you don’t buy anything else, you are stuck with Chapter 1 on Normal and Heroic mode and only the Mage Hero, with its starting decks and Hero Powers. Compare that to the deal you got for the Year of the Raven Adventures: Monster Hunt and Rumble Run aren’t as replayable as the Dungeon Run, but all three of them are complete Adventures with a full set of Heroes (the Rumble Run has the added gimmick of the Shrines).
Anyway, I am getting a bit carried away here. My overall point is that I would appreciate some clarity as to why the paywall returned for the Dalaran Heist. We know from various interviews that the Hearthstone team in general has grown a lot and that the Missions team has around 5-10 members. I would appreciate if they were honest about the actual needs of that team. I am also sure no-one would mind if we got better rewards for our money’s/gold’s worth.
A (purposefully?) missed opportunity: New players
Before I finish, there is a point that one of my colleagues here in Icy Veins brought to my attention. This colleague doesn’t play Hearthstone but he saw the Dalaran Heist announcement and he was very keen on trying it out.
I thought he would only have to go through the initial 5-boss tutorial. Alas, to play any kind of Adventure you actually need to beat the Innkeeper with all classes and unlock all their cards.
New player experience in 2k19 lul (image found in Google)
OK, PvE content has crazy stuff like Treasures and Wild cards that aren’t available in Standard gameplay, but isn’t the Dalaran Heist (or the Year of the Raven Adventures) a good opportunity for players to learn the cards and the mechanics of the game, while testing themselves in a deck building challenge in a no-pressure environment of playing against AI?
One would think that someone is trying on purpose to keep new players away from spending a lot of time on the PvE mode – that happens to be free…
Conclusion and Suggestions
The Dalaran Heist is undoubtedly the biggest and best PvE Adventure that Team 5 has released. With it, the developers of the Missions team have reached the pinnacle of the roguelike format, first introduced with the Dungeon Run. Progress tracking, the Tavern Encounters, the Anomalies and to some extent the customisation were the best things to come out of the Heist.
However, I think it’s time that Blizzard slowly moved away from this format: players have tried and tested and grown tired of it. The length, randomness and repetitiveness of the Dalaran Heist are proof that even a good idea gets old after the recipe is tried for the fourth time.
I hope after this long read, you didn’t forget who you are like George/Karl did! We never actually got to learn his story…
The Puzzle Labs were clever but they aren’t as replayable. I think players wouldn’t mind the deck building challenge that older Adventures had: stuff like The Lich King encounter are proof that there can be a somewhat better mix of RNG and deck building skill. I don’t claim to know how their financials work, but perhaps Blizzard could benefit from going back to that format since players might need to buy packs if they really want to beat a specific encounter. Other than that, they can expand on ideas that they’ve used in Tavern Brawls for single players content, like co-operative bosses, deck building restrictions and effects like the Anomalies.
If the roguelike format were to return, perhaps the Tavern Encounters could work as “save points” so you don’t have to go through the process of starting over again and again. Add to that the ability to further manipulate your deck, so you can see what went wrong, perhaps remove useless cards and get more useful ones and start fresh and not anew. Better AI and more card bucket consistency are also much needed.
Finally, it will be interesting to see what pay model will be followed in the next Adventures to come.
I’d like to thank Kat for the useful insight she provided me with for this article.