Warcraft Arclight Rumble Is Classic Warcraft Made Bite-Sized
Blizzard returns to its roots in Warcraft's mobile debut.
Since 2004, World of Warcraft has defined the Warcraft name, becoming one of the most famous video games on the planet. It's easy to forget, then, that this franchise started as a real-time strategy game before jumping into the MMO realm. Warcraft Arclight Rumble, the franchise's debut on mobile devices, is Blizzard's attempt to bring the Warcraft name back to those strategic roots.
I've had access to a preview build of the game over the last few days, and it's very apparent that Arclight Rumble intends to remind us where Warcraft started--to resurrect Warcraft's past all while mixing familiar gameplay with characters and lands built by the MMO's lore to create an all-new experience.
The premise of Warcraft Arclight Rumble sees coin-operated machines appearing in taverns throughout Warcraft's setting of Azeroth, where patrons can use miniature figurines of creatures and heroes to battle against one another in a simplified real-time strategy game. Players will collect minis, create armies, and use them in both story battles against the AI and multiplayer matches against other players. It's a similar approach to how Hearthstone uses the tavern as its setting, only exchanging cards for minis.
Let's be clear about one thing from the jump: While WAR (not bad, Blizzard) follows the Warcraft series' familiar real-time strategy format, the depth and complexity of those older games is not here. There's one resource that needs gathering here as opposed to three, for example, and it's only used for summoning the miniatures in your army as opposed to units, buildings, and more. That said, WAR can serve as a very good primer for the bygone era of Warcrafts past, as the core gameplay feels a lot like an old-school RTS.
The gameplay loop of WAR is easy to get a grip on: summon units into one of two lanes and watch as they slowly progress up to the main enemy at the top, with the overarching goal of defeating that foe. Outside of the occasional arrow appearing on maps that allows a unit to change lanes as it passes, each unit is fully autonomous once summoned. Units can only be summoned around your base, but smaller towers and summoning stones can be captured on some maps, allowing you to summon a unit further up on the board. Units fall into one of three categories, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Ranged fighters, for example, are more effective against flying units, while melee units are weak to fliers.
Once units are summoned, they will travel until they reach an enemy unit or a boss. The enemy boss at the top of the screen will be summoning units as well, leading to small skirmishes happening all over the board as troops happen to meet each other in their lane. As the battle progresses, you'll need to manage your gold resources efficiently, seeing which enemy units are getting close to your base and buying units to counter them, while at the same time finding openings in enemy defenses and exploiting them with strong units that can make a push to the top of the board.
There are some unique situations to consider during a battle as well. For example, there are two units that can attack anywhere on the board at any time: Chain Lightning, a "spell unit" that fires a quick lightning bolt that will damage multiple enemies grouped together; and the S.A.F.E Pilot, a Dwarven pilot that enters the arena by dive-bombing a designated area. If the boss is low on health, either of these units can end the battle by themselves as soon as they're summoned. However, in the Pilot's case, if the dive bomb attack doesn't kill the boss, she's usually toast in one or two attacks. Decisions about what units to deploy and when to roll out your big guns like these present themselves throughout a match, and making the right call in an instant is key to victory.
Missions are carried out on a giant world map, with each section of the map holding five battles within them. Winning all five battles in a region opens the next region, until eventually the entire map has been defeated. Each victory also earns you a Skull, which acts as a running tally of how many missions you've beaten during your playthrough. As the tally rises, more ways to play are unlocked, including one-off Quests where you select a unit to power up, fight a battle, and if you win the unit gets an extra boost. Skulls also unlock PvP missions where you can battle against friends, and full-on raids where multiple players can gather together against the biggest and baddest enemies in the game.
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All of this can be done without paying a single cent of real-world money--the option to spend money on new units is available--but WAR doesn't seem to care if you do or not; the army I was able to amass just through normal gameplay and in-game currency got me through the majority of the missions I played in one try, even if some of those wins were nail-biters that weren't decided until the final seconds. While you can buy units, doing so is more for adding some variety to your army rather than paying to win; units purchased aren't vastly superior to ones already in your army or those earned with in-game currency.
Warcraft Arclight Rumble is not the full-on Warcraft III real-time strategy experience. That old-school feeling, however, definitely comes through as you play through each mission . It may not be exactly the same as the 2001 experience, but summoning units and attacking central points on a map here in WAR somehow feels like classic Warcraft, like getting on a brand-new bike as opposed to the one you're replacing.
It also is a mobile game, which in itself carries a sort of stigma, but I never felt pressured to spend actual dollars on this game as I played it. In-game currency came at a steady rate, my units powered up enough that battles never felt out of reach even if I failed, and nothing was ever locked away behind a timer, as is common with mobile games. It may be hosted on mobile devices, but a lot of what's given the platform a bad rap has yet to show itself in Arclight Rumble.
It'll take some time to adjust, and some may find themselves going back to what they're used to, but the effort to bring that classic gameplay back to the present is evident. Using the lore of WoW makes a ton of sense too, as it lends a familiarity to the game that those only accustomed to the MMO can appreciate. It may be a loose fit to some, as WAR's framing centers around a game-within-a-game a la Hearthstone, but the creatures, classes, and races of Warcraft, both as RTS and MMO, are here for fans new and old to appreciate.
The press preview build showed off a lot of the content that will be available in an upcoming closed beta test--which, according to Blizzard, is coming "soon"--so it seems pretty close to the full experience. I would like to be able to play around with units before I purchase them with real or in-game currency, and I definitely need more exposure to the PvP and Raid content. We still don't know how many players can join a raid at once, how robust the PvP is, and so on, and I feel like those will be strong selling points. Whether it will ultimately deliver the best of both worlds remains to be seen, but as it stands right now Warcraft Arclight Rumble is off to a strong start.