After a week of nearly nonstop play, I hit a wall with Warcraft Rumble and the grind is in sight. Here’s how it all went!
Warcraft Rumble (Android, iOS [reviewed on an iPhone 13])
Released: November 3, 2023
MSRP: Free-to-play (with microtransactions)
The core game is fun, but it needs some economy tweaks
Warcraft Rumble is a 1v1 tap-to-deploy lane-based battler that asks you to send units off to micro-wars to take down an opposing headquarters. Your job? To march and destroy the opposite base before your opponent takes out your own, through clever countering and smart resource management. Each unit is associated with a cost (typically dependent on power level), and while your unit coffers recharge automatically, Kobolds can be deployed to mine ore on the map for more resources.
Although there are a lot of nuances involved, air units generally counter ground units, ranged units counter aerial, and so on. Look, Blizzard basically took Clash Royale and Blizzified it. Now instead of sending out knights and wizards, you’re throwing Alliance soldiers and Horde Shamans. Tomato tomatoe.
The thing is, it’s really fun, and Blizzard—the masterminds that they are—prey on nostalgia. Units will spout famous phrases from Warcraft lore, and all your favorites are here, including leaders like Tirion Fordring, Sylvanas Windrunner, and more. The animations are full of life, and the art team did an incredible job of recreating some of the more iconic bits of Warcraft history in this ostensibly silly, vibrant world that exists inside of the Hearthstone universe.
The core systems are good too. Starting off countering is intuitive, then it becomes a tapestry of strategy as you’re attempting to divine out how to become the most efficient tower-killer machine possible. Some units have very unique abilities, and others are hybrids of multiple unit types. You’ll also be able to play around with “Unbound” units, which can be summoned anywhere on the map at will (and are typically balanced by higher troop prices, or weaker stats).
Nearly every match is engaging as a result of everything coming together so splendidly. It’s easy to assume that you can rest on your laurels as your army marches into enemy territory, but a few quick summons could completely wipe your board and turn the tide. If you lose, it’s no biggie; just start again and either keep the same loadout, or swap to something else.
There’s a lot to do until you hit a wall
Warcraft Rumble progress is tracked by “sigils,” which are essentially account levels (I got up to 68 before I felt fatigued). More features will unlock the more you earn sigils by completing story levels, which in turn leads to more units, more leaders, and more options.
Given that matches only last a few minutes on average, it allows for a wide array of experimentation. Want to try a new leader and a completely different loadout? Easy! If it sucks, you just re-arrange it until you’re happy. I’ve done this many times and eventually came up with a few arrangements that I really vibed with, and ended up doing exceedingly well in PVP. Coming up with those combos and figuring that puzzle out was a rush.
It helps that leaders all have different core abilities, and buff specific units when used in tandem with that leader. So Horde leaders often provide bonuses to Horde units, and so on down the line. Since the game doesn’t restrict you in any way (it just nudges you toward synergy), there are a ton of possibilities to sift through. It’s meaty.
Here are all the things you can do beyond playing through the core story:
- Play through dungeons (a series of three levels)
- Rise the PVP ranks with scaled units
- Join a guild and collectively earn more rewards like additional leaders
- Replay old levels on heroic mode for added twists (many of which are fantastic) once you reach 50 sigils
The core loop grabbed me immediately, then slowly but surely began to annoy me.
Monetization starts out innocuous, then it gets more insidious
It sounds like I’m having fun with Warcraft Rumble right? Well, I am! But it also takes a turn. Most of you are probably reading this review to see if Warcraft Rumble eventually becomes one of those mobile games, and it does.
Starting off, and all the way to the mid-game, you likely won’t be swayed to spend any money at all. Rewards flow freely, and you’ll be able to acquire a hefty army full of leader options very quickly. I was actually surprised at how much water that typically stingy hose spat out, and having tons of leaders is especially useful for army testing and PVP.
The thing is, eventually, those units do need to level up to take on some of the tougher stages (which really kick into gear around 50 sigils, about halfway through the story); and your means of doing so are very slim. While grinding dungeons to upgrade your leaders is actually viable and painless, leveling your units is much more obfuscated, and is done in a way to drive you to microtransactions.
The game boasts a “quest” system that allows you to level up units, but it’s painfully slow and centered around individual boosts rather than large swaths of army leveling. Then there’s the G.R.I.D., which is a randomized table for upgrading your unit’s rarity (which in turn grants them game-changing powerful abilities, like polymorphing the first unit shot by the S.A.F.E. Pilot). To upgrade those units, players need to acquire stars (another leveling currency beyond XP), Arc Energy, and cores; the latter two of which are the main upgrade currencies. Confused yet? Well, it was designed to be confusing, and it really puts a damper on widespread meaningful progress.
The more units you have the more options that the game will pull from for randomized XP boosts, making it extremely hard to actually build a core loadout. You might have a really high XP unit that isn’t rare or higher, or a rare or higher unit that isn’t very strong/is low level. We know why it’s being done this way ($$$), but it’s incredibly obtuse and will ensure that many players stop playing, uninstall, and never go back (until the inevitable currency grace patch comes in the future, when the player base needs a kickstart).
It’s a shame, because the team only needs to tweak a few things and combine a few currencies, and the game would become instantly smoother and less predatory. Having to deal with bugs that soft and hard crash the game doesn’t help.
Try out Warcraft Rumble, or don’t – that’s OK too
Putting this many roadblocks in Warcraft Rumble, after Blizzard has already stumbled enough, takes guts. Hopefully, Blizzard doesn’t squander their potential audience because of it, as the design team deserves better. Given the state of many free-to-play games though, the monetization is likely working as intended. If that’s the case, maybe we’ll get a microtransaction-free Apple Arcade version down the line.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game downloaded by the reviewer.]