We've gone hands-on with Blizzard's upcoming mobile game and are left a little underwhelmed.
There's no need to get sick of the fact that Warcraft Arclight Rumble exists, although it obviously frustrates some diehard fans of the series that this is what we're served instead of, say, Warcraft 4. No, Diablo Immortal has taught us not to let the sleeping dog lie, because while that game's controversial reveal caused a stir for months, our hands-on experiences over the last year have only testified to a fairly robust mobile spin-off (coming to PC, by the way).
So what's Arclight Rumble like? After spending about two hours in its company, and witnessing a rather lengthy but also accomplished introduction, it's... well, forgettable, and if you were expecting a slow-motion train wreck, it's (thankfully) not that, but no Immortal-esque triumph either.
In short, this is a "Tower Offence" game, meaning there's a rectangular track where you continually gain resources that can be used to deploy troops of various types, which then wander a predetermined path to the enemy stronghold. Only by constantly placing a solid mix of types, gradually gaining on the enemy's half of the field by smashing towers, and using Kobolds to procure additional resources can you win. And of course there's a meta-game on top of that with Quests, your personal selection of troops that can be levelled up, and preparing gradually - all that stuff. You also have your own leader who dictates what focus your troops will have on the battlefield, much like a who hero determines how you play in Hearthstone.
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It's pretty simple, and during the first 10 lanes of the game's single-player portion it can almost feel automatic, but there's a slight strategic dimension that pokes its head out here and during the first few hours that hints at a depth further down the line, and which will probably especially dominate the multiplayer duels.
Bad? No, it's not, but don't expect anything new either. We're using the classic pyramid strategy, where melee beats ranged, which beats flying. It's an age-old way of ensuring a certain balance, and it works to an extent. In addition, there are specific abilities, such as Chain Lightning, that can quickly damage larger groups of enemies. And again; it works fine. It's often entertaining, always charming and never downright boring.
But there's not really any spice here either. Let's use the graphics as an example. Whereas the interface and character models are classic Warcraft, and that the whole miniature Warhammer character idea gives the game a distinct visual identity theoretically, it all ends up being a big cartoon-like mess in practice, without you really understanding that it is Stormwind soldiers, Red Dragonflight kites, or Berserker javelin throwers dotted on the battlefield. Do you remember how Hitman Go delivered a static aesthetic design that truly made it resemble a digital board game? It's like that's what Blizzard wanted to say, but in reality gave us pretty much everything else that's already on the market. Again; ugly it certainly is not, but unique? No, you cannot say it is. And maybe that was what many had hoped for?
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But maybe that's what Blizzard is after? After all, Hearthstone was not a unique spin on digital card games, nor can one call Diablo Immortal directly innovative. Maybe it's okay that Arclight Rumble is very similar to the other, if the established form also delivers entertainment value. Instead, you could say that Arclight Rumble is going to consist of eight regions, each of which seems to offer quite a few levels, and that you can apparently easily avoid microtransactions and enjoy a relatively worry-free gaming experience. There is not much innovation here, but if you get over it, then Arclight Rumble definitely seems... peaceful.
It must be said that the microtransactions here are not "just" cosmetic. Instead, you can buy the game's central currency, Gold, with real money, and thus you can in principle upgrade troops, buy new types and it seems, at the moment, to be the very definition of "pay-to-win". Exactly how the implementation affects the balance is difficult to say, and the game is ultimately completely free, but of course it is worth mentioning and being aware of.
Warcraft Arclight Rumble is, after all, pretty fun. At least here during the first few hours, and it could go on and become really fun later on, if the depth that briefly draws you in really is an early sign of something bigger. If not? Well, then you will probably be nicely entertained anyway, though just for a shorter time. The only central appeal here is that Blizzard almost defiantly insists on not doing something inventive, and the graphics are a pretty telling proof.