Star Wars: Force Arena review: The best and worst of mobile gaming, plus Star Wars

Star Wars: Force Arena is a mobile game that's brimming with potential, combining the most popular trends in mobile gaming — collectable cards, tower defence, and mobile online battle arena (MOBA) — into one cohesive strategy game that's addictive as hell and a blast to play. Star Wars fans will love it, especially if they enjoyed the latest film in the franchise, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, as the game allows for hypothetical recreations of intense battles between heroes from the Rebel Alliance and the Imperial Empire.

Essentially a marriage of the gameplay from Clash Royale and Vainglory, South Korean game developers Netmarble have done a great job of combining the troop card casting fun of Clash Royale with the smooth MOBA-style fun of Vainglory, throwing you into the boots of your favorite Star Wars characters in action-packed battles. Win and your rank increases, helping you to reach higher tiers that feature better cards in your card packs and pitting you against similarly ranked opponents.

READ: Beginner's Guide to Star Wars: Force Arena

But before I go too much further praising this game, let's discuss the most glaring weakness — strip everything away and this is but another card collecting game, where the actual goal outside of the thrilling three minute online skirmishes is to unlock more card packs and upgrade your troop cards using credits you've either earned in battle, or purchased via in-app purchases. This tried and tested mobile formula is fantastic for padding the pockets of game developers, but is a constant point of frustration for many mobile gamers. If you're the type that justifies investing your own money into the game to make progress smoother, the in-game Shop will help you reach your goals. If you hate this gameplay model all together, you're not going to like it here.

Strip everything away and this is but another card collecting game... If you hate this gameplay model all together, you're not going to like it here.

For the rest of us, Star Wars: Force Arena offers tightly refined gaming that really brings out the "war" side of Star Wars like you've never experienced. But before heading into battle, you must first build your battle deck around a Legendary card — heroes from the original Star Wars trilogy as well as newer characters to the Star Wars franchise from Rogue One are currently available. This is the character you will be controlling on the battlefield. The remaining seven card slots are filled with troop or support cards which you summon into battle by spending regenerating energy points.

Each hero has special abilities and skills that offer advantages and disadvantages in the battle arena, and it takes some amount of experimenting to learn how to properly play with each character. Fortunately, you're able to trade in a Legendary card for a new, random hero if you don't like your current stock of heros. As you progress, you will eventually unlock Unique cards, which are super-charged troop cards that are linked to a specific hero. As you advance to the higher tiers, you may find yourself hamstrung in battle if you don't play a hero with its associated Unique card, as they have the potential to really swing the momentum in the heat of the battle.

There are 10 Legendary cards available for both the Rebels and the Empire, each paired with their Unique troop, along with 20 other support and troop cards for both sides, which opens up seemingly limitless deck combinations and allowed for a great mix of strategies.

Battles take place in a number of iconic locales from the film franchise, and configured in the same two-lane tower defence formation as you find in Clash Royale for 1 vs. 1 battles, and an expanded three-lane arena available for 2 vs. 2 battles. Matchmaking is typically quick and I've experienced few connectivity issues during battles. Teaming up for a 2 vs. 2 battle is especially well-executed here, as the bigger arena allows for truly epic battles to unfold. There's also a guild system included, which allows you to chat, play friendly battles against fellow guild members, and team up to battle other guilds in 2 vs. 2 battles (feel free to join the AndroidCentral guild!).

Nailing the look and feel of Star Wars is important for fans, and this is easily the best-executed I've seen and heard on mobile.

The music and overall presentation here is on point, with sweeping cinematic scores really setting the tone under the familiar sounds of laser blasts, lightsaber hums, and the screeching squalls of Tie Fighters overhead. Nailing the look and feel of Star Wars is important for fans, and this is easily the best-executed I've seen and heard on mobile.

Adding to the replayability are missions, which help you to unlock new Legendary cards and earn credits by completing goals such as earning victories for the Empire, or updating cards. It's an extra layer of support that rewards committed players and helps to ease the grinding nature of upgrading cards and levelling up.

Finally, as with any online game, the issue of keeping things balanced is something that will make or break the experience for the average gamer. As of the writing of this review, Netmarble is preparing to release its first game balance update based on in-game data and community feedback gleaned from the early days since its global release. You can read more about the changes being introduced on the Star Wars: Force Arena forums, which are also a great place to provide your own direct feedback to the game developers. It's early in this game's cycle, and given the hype surrounding the Star Wars franchise as a whole, this game should be well-supported throughout 2017.

If you're a Star Wars fan, there's a good chance you've already checked out Force Arena. If you haven't, you really owe it to yourself to give it a try. Despite the familiar free-to-play catchings of the card collecting mechanics at its core, the strategy and action it delivers in battle is as good as it gets on Android, all while staying fairly true to the source material.

Download: Star Wars: Force Arena (Free w/ IAPs)

Marc Lagace

Marc Lagace was an Apps and Games Editor at Android Central between 2016 and 2020. You can reach out to him on Twitter [@spacelagace.