“One of the things we wanted to do was see what it would be like to build Warcraft on a mobile space,” says Adam Coogler, associate director of games at Blizzard Entertainment. “What would it be just like to bring a great strategy phone experience from Blizzard to the world of Warcraft?”
Blizzard Entertainment officially revealed the answer to that question on Tuesday, noting that the first-ever Warcraft game designed specifically for mobile devices is in development. Titled Warcraft Arclight Rumble, this is not a later port like Hearthstone or a mini version of an existing game, but rather a title meant from the start to run on phones and tablets.
Warcraft Arclight Rumble is all about collecting minifigures and spreading them across the battlefield. Funnily enough, it’s somewhat set in the world of Azeroth as a mysterious gnome-style tabletop game that’s starting to pop up across bars and basements.
After several hours of hands-on training, I am happy to say that there is a lot of potential here. It’s a compelling experience that is deceptively easy to learn but hard to master. There are tons of strategies involved and it’s always fun to play, so you may end up as one of the best Android games out there.
A cans game worth everyone
In Warcraft Arclight Rumble, players build their army with different statues. It was drawn from one of five families: Alliance, Monsters, Undead, Horde, and BlackRock. Each of these troops has distinct advantages and disadvantages, as well as a general rock-paper-scissors coordination of melee, evasive and flying units.
Players will also collect leaders, and these, like the rest of the gnomes – there are more than 60 at the moment – are pulled from Warcraft history. Your army can consist of everything from Gnoll Brutes to Jaina Proudmoore. You can assign a different army to each commander, which means that you are encouraged to mix and match different unit combinations, especially since each commander has their own unique rewards.
The gameplay unfolds in what Blizzard calls a “tower attack” where you’ll deploy your troops in different corridors to try to finally defeat a boss within the allotted time. It’s a simple concept but one that can be quite a challenge in practice, and I’ve found myself having to rethink my approach in more than a few battles.
There is usually a unique twist or a new enemy to face each time you progress through the game’s extensive single-player story, which means you always feel fresh to keep playing. The compact form of battles is also perfect for anyone with a hectic schedule. You can only play for a few minutes at a time and still feel like you’ve made decent progress.
At every point, I have to praise how authentically this game looks like Warcraft, to the point that there is arguably more in common here with older strategy games than with World of Warcraft. This is by design, as Kugler notes, the game is “largely inspired by our own strategic roots” as well as other major mobile games.
There are also plenty of characters in the individual figurines, with unique animations as the unit level up or displayed in the selection screen.
“We’re adopting the term ‘delightful chaos,'” chief animator Karen Horneke said, adding that the team tried to include a wide range of mini-characters, including more than a few that players might not be familiar with.
This fun of moving units behavior extends to the battlefield as well. Huurnink notes that the popular Polymorph spell, which turns units into sheep, affects troops differently depending on whether the unit is on the ground or flying through the air.
Building a mobile experience
Warcraft Arclight Rumble is completely free to play, but while there are microtransactions players can purchase, there are no other gacha items or loot packs with a random chance as to how players earn characters. Whatever you see in the store, you will buy and know exactly what you will get. You don’t grind the drops, hoping to get a chance at a particular statue. Alternatively, if you want to buy something like Harpies, you simply pay the desired gold and move on.
Gold is earned while playing the single player campaign as a reward for completing missions, although players can also purchase packs of gold. There are also daily direct-purchase deals to get various figurines, but they aren’t exclusive or isolated to players who don’t intend to pay a single dollar.
Designed for mobile devices from the start, Warcraft Arclight Rumble uses touch controls. This means that there is no control support at the moment and is unlikely to happen in the future.
In addition to the expanded single-player campaign, there is also co-op support, Dungeons, and Raids. At the moment, it’s not clear which modes will support co-op and which ones should only be played by one player, although Kugler notes that the team takes inspiration from the early days of World of Warcraft.
“We’re still figuring out the details of the co-op modes you’ll be in. One of the things that made WoW Classic so great is playing dungeons with multiple people, and playing raids with multiple people,” Coogler says, adding, “We’re testing it, and we’ll see how our audience reacts to find on the appropriate thread.
Not there yet
Not all is well so far, and the game definitely needs a bit more polishing. Early in my gaming session it got locked on the store screen, which required a restart. I also had the game crash a few times, which required restarting again. It’s not the most difficult game ever, but the early state of things is clear.
It’s also worth noting that I’ve seen more than a few low-res embellishments. Obviously a mobile game, it wouldn’t be fair to expect something like a PS5 title, but given the close-knit nature of many models, it would be nice if they were a lot cleaner on display, even if it’s only in the model viewer and army builder sections of the menu. This doubles if someone is playing on something like an Android tablet instead of their phone.
A promising experience for the future
With a closed beta “imminent” for players to try out the game, developers should have time to finalize these issues and ensure that the game is as smooth as possible across all devices.
Warcraft Arclight Rumble is currently slated to release sometime in 2022 for Android and iOS devices.