World of Warcraft has been immensely popular since its launch in 2004, but the roots of the series are in real-time strategy. Arclight Rumble is the first time the series is returning to that format since Warcraft 3. Fans aren’t happy about it being a mobile title, especially since it is the first for the Warcraft series. We’ve had companion apps that let the player progress their WoW garrison, and Hearthstone was ported over, but this is Blizzard’s first full dedicated mobile entry in the franchise.
However, Arclight Rumble exceeds expectations. Free-to-play gamers can unlock new units and progress through the campaign at a solid pace without having to spend money. After 20 hours of playtime, I’ve been able to earn Gold and level up units without feeling like the in-game store is holding me back. Although the game is nowhere near as complex as Blizzard Entertainment’s other real-time strategy games, it still requires thoughtful coordination and planning to succeed against its hardest Leaders.
Progression and strategy
Arclight Rumble is a beginner-friendly real-time strategy game, focused more on progression through the player leveling up their units than hardcore tactics. After every match, whether it's a success or failure, a random unit on your team is given a bit of experience. Experience can also be acquired through Quests at a far greater rate, which randomly cycles between Common, Rare and Epic quality. With this system, players select one of three random units they own and can engage with a mission to grant them an experience boost. At my level, winning a normal match grants nine experience, but doing a common quest awards 15, with rare and epic providing 45 and 90, respectively. Rare is always 3 times the base and Epic is always 6 times it.
Levels are a major factor in deciding whether or not a player is victorious, but it’s far from the only contributor towards a win. You’ll need to be careful, especially if you’re facing a Leader or Dungeon that’s at your level. Every unit has an associated cost, and the player can select from only four at a time (a new one will be cycled in once something is played). You can have one Leader and six units equipped at once, including the Kobold miner who will always be a part of your army. Strategies often entail placing units in different places at specific times, and sometimes swapping out with others who would be more suited for the job. You can keep trying a match until you get better at it, but if that’s not working out, you can do quests to enhance your Minis to overcome the challenge.
The player’s Leaders boast special abilities, so they can build presets around their unique advantages. With Maiev Shadowsong, I have four Unbound units equipped because her Leader Ability “Master Assassin” reduces her cost by one for every Unbound troop I play. Unbound units allow the player to place them anywhere on the field at any time (you can normally place a troop only in a thin radius around a base, ballista or Meeting Stone that your army captured). Since Maiev normally costs six, a well-executed combo can bring her all the way down to one.
Every Leader has a gimmick, revolving around the presence of a unit with special mechanics or the map featuring triggers to differentiate a battle. You’ll never be able to get away with playing mindlessly (unless you’re massively overleveled), so specific tactics are required depending on the fight. Battling a new Leader is almost always coupled with a phase of data collection. You figure out how to circumvent them by attempting new maneuvers, placement orders and timing. But once that’s all been memorized, tackling that fight gets easier every time.
Arclight Rumble handles diversity between campaign missions well enough, providing 65 unique fights, with each Leader boasting an entirely different gimmick. Leaders have their own maps, and players sometimes need to shake their strategy up to defeat them. I’ve had a situation where my level 12 units went up against a level 8 Leader, but my careless confidence resulted in the enemy overpowering me and taking control. There’s one Leader that can turn your melee units into chickens, which means you’ll need your offensive to be primarily made up of ranged units. Another Leader spawns a terrible monstrosity called Patches, who will instantly kill the first unit it comes into contact with, meaning you’ll have to throw a cheap Mini in his direction to force him to use that ability. And if you don’t kill Patches fast enough, he’ll use that move again.
Whenever a player beats a Leader in the main campaign, that map is added to the pool of the game’s quests. Tackling a quest will pit the player against a random Leader they’ve already beaten. Each of these levels remain the same between replays (although the unit or spell you’ve selected for this quest will be utilized against you), but considering there are 65 unique fights and I’ve only beaten 30 of them in 20 hours, there’s quite a bit of meat to this game. However, Quests eventually devolve into replaying the same missions over and over without much diversity between them.
On the other hand, Dungeons shake things up by introducing new Leaders and adding modifiers to each fight to make it unique. Throughout these three-boss gauntlets, those passive modifiers stack, ensuring every dungeon battle will feel pretty different. It would’ve been neat if Quests did something similar, adding a single positive and/or negative modifier to the match to force the player into new strategies. Otherwise, the current system results in the player grinding levels they’ve already done over and over. Arclight Rumble also features soon-to-be-revealed Raids, so we’ll see exactly what those look like.
Monetization in Arclight Rumble
Most of my concerns about Arclight Rumble involved its balance between in-game unlockables and microtransactions. Considering the mobile industry’s history with predatory in-app purchases, along with Hearthstone’s pay-to-win card packs and Overwatch’s loot boxes, I feared that this game would face a similar fate.
However, most of those fears have been put to rest after 20-hours of beta testing. Arclight Rumble features a single-player campaign across 13 familiar regions with 65 Leaders to face. Claiming victory against one for the first time awards the player with Gold to purchase items (units, experience boosts, and talents) from the in-game shop. At some point, players can also begin something called “Conquest,” which allows them to replay older areas with a Leader of a different faction to get some extra Gold. Considering there are five factions, this provides a significant portion of the Gold you’ll earn throughout your journey. Although these systems reward the player with an influx of currency during the earlier portions of the game, it doesn’t last forever. Eventually, you’ll reach the end and won’t be able to earn that currency from just playing the campaign.
But even when that happens, players can receive Gold through quest rewards that replenish every eight hours. Players can have three of these stocked up at a time, so if they happen to be offline for a whole day, they’ll be able to log back on later and do all three of them. Quests provide a certain amount of experience and are infinitely replayable, but players will receive an XP Tome or Gold only when the quest rewards are active.
Players can receive up to 200 Gold from a quest reward, with new Minis costing anywhere between 350 to 400 Gold. Assuming you don’t just get XP Tomes, you could probably purchase something every two to four days if you keep up with this system. There’s also a 20-Gold coin drop on a 12-hour rotation, although I think that number could be a bit higher. 40 Gold a day isn’t much, but every little bit counts.
Additionally, Arclight Rumble’s focus on PvE means players will feel less pressured into spending money to unlock new units or Leaders. There is a PvP mode, but unlike Overwatch or Hearthstone, battling other players is not the focus. During PvP, all Leaders and units are brought to level one to even the playing field. However, you can still assign talents to your Minis, which wouldn’t be an issue if these were not purchasable for Gold. As a result, the player who has spent more money to get better talents will have an advantage in battle, resulting in a slightly pay-to-win PvP situation. These talents aren’t cheap, and every unit in an army can have one. A single talent costs 500 Gold, and a Coin Pouch that offers 500 Gold costs $3.99. Coin Chests offer 800 Gold for $9.99, and certain packs (like the Arclight Booster) can offer more for anywhere between $9.99 and $19.99. If someone is enough of a money shark to purchase each unit in their arsenal a talent, free-to-play users probably wouldn’t stand a chance against them.
Otherwise, Arclight Rumble does a solid job giving free-to-players an avenue to have fun. But even then, there are a few things that irk me; players will frequently receive notifications of new purchasable bundles available in the shop, offering tons of experience and Gold. These bundles use classic phrases like “3x Value,” making it appear like some sort of incredible deal that the player shouldn’t miss out on. Arclight Boosters also increase the player’s rate of earning experience and Gold, which would be significantly more problematic if this was a PvP-focused game.
Although there are caps on how much you can buy from the store per week, it doesn’t seem that effective. Just from what I see available to me in the shop right now, I could spend $53 on 5,100 Gold through in-app purchases. People who suffer from addiction may be preyed upon by this title and coaxed into sinking an unreasonable amount of money into it. But stay strong and hold your wallet, because you won’t be left behind as a free player, so don’t give in to these predatory tactics.
Arclight Rumble could also improve upon The G.R.I.D. This is a cycling 3x3 store with units, experience boosts, talents and leaders plotted across it. However, the store typically only has five-or-so items in stock at a time (and some of them are only experience boosters, which barely feel like actual items). At the very least, you’ll never see duplicates here, but I’ve found myself stocked up with more Gold than I can spend because I’m waiting for something I actually want to appear.
Animations and design
Blizzard Entertainment expertly crafts every aspect of Arclight Rumble’s presentation to make it endearing. Warcraft was always stylized with softer, less-realistic visuals, but this takes that to a whole new level. When players launch their S.A.F.E. Pilot, she’ll zip around the screen as if she’s lost control before dive-bombing enemies and hopping up on her two feet in palpable style. Every sound that embodies these characters is notable, allowing the player to easily understand what the enemy has played based on audio cues alone. Certain units even have their own unique dialogue.
Area designs are similarly charming, especially if you’re nostalgic for World of Warcraft’s Classic zones. Players will jump between Elwynn Forest, The Barrens, Thousand Needles, Westfall and far more as they face Leaders across these familiar areas. Blizzard does a great job evoking the themes of these places, with Ashenvale, in particular, being one of my favorites; the Night Elves’ ethereal spirituality imbued with druidic magic adorned by gorgeous lunar iconography is unforgettable, and Arclight Rumble translates that quite well.
Warcraft Arclight Rumble is shaping up to be a satisfying real-time strategy game that anyone can enjoy. Free-to-play gamers won’t feel left behind by its progression systems, even though its microtransactions can sometimes be predatory in nature. The game’s talents shouldn’t be purchasable with Gold, but at the very least, everything can be attained at a reasonable pace without spending real money.
Blizzard Entertainment also weaves its signature visual style into every animation and area. Adorable, stylized versions of our favorite characters and zones give the world a palpable charm. If you’re someone who’s looking for a simple but engaging strategy game to experience on the go, Arclight Rumble is a solid pick so far.