Over the last year, Blizzard has been looking into new ways to freshen up the Hearthstone experience. Keeping the game engaging involves more than just adding new cards. The team has been looking into entirely new ways to play. Last year, Blizzard added the Hearthstone Battlegrounds mode, which would have been enough to keep the game invigorated. But that doesn't look to be enough for Blizzard's Team 5. The team just added a whole new game mode called Hearthstone Duels and after trying it out, it feels like a fun and different way to approach the card game, but one with a lot of room for growth.
Hearthstone Duels takes many of its cues from the single-player Dungeon Run, which was introduced for the Kobolds & Catacombs expansion. The key difference is that Duels is an entirely PvP experience, which means there's a slightly different feel to this. There's still crazy combo potential and overpowered treasures, just like in Dungeon Run, but now the classes are all balanced. Every class is basically amplified to the umpteenth power, but amplified in such an even fashion that games still seem fair.
The other big difference in Duels is that there are no starter decks. Instead, players are challenged to start their runs with 15 cards of their own choosing. Success in Duels is still largely dependent on the cards and special treasures that players pick up over the course of their playthrough. But after learning the various Hero Powers and signature treasures and what they can do, it's possible for players to create win conditions with their limited starter deck. For example, Rattlegore (the Warrior) has a Hero Power that deals 1 damage to a minion, giving it +2 Attack if it survives and giving Razergore +2 Armor if it dies. So I was able to take advantage of that and use the Hero Power to boost Grommash Hellscream as a finisher. Similar win conditions can be crafted with the other classes and they'll likely take clearer shape as the Duels meta develops.
The main takeaway from Hearthstone Duels is that there's a lot of room for the game mode to inject variety. Right now, each class has only one signature treasure to play with. However, that number is expected to grow in the months ahead. Once there's a full-blown meta with rotating heroes and different signature treasures, Duels will be a game mode worth visiting frequently. And with rotating expansions, skilled players will be challenged to put together their best decks, ones that can be made better with the addition of new cards in-between rounds.
Duels should also get more exciting as the stakes become higher. For the early access period, only the Casual version of the game mode is open. Once the new Madness at the Darkmoon Faire expansion opens up, the Heroic option will become available, allowing players to spend their gold and earn rewards for stronger runs. Players can also keep track of their rankings, whether they stay in Casual or not.
Hearthstone's new Duels mode is open now for early access. The only way to jump in right now is by picking up a Madness at the Darkmoon Faire bundle or as a random pickup from watching an eligible Hearthstone Twitch stream. More details on that can be found on the Hearthstone website. We'll have more to say about Hearthstone Duels over the next few days, so stay tuned to Shacknews for more.