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Warcraft Arclight Rumble preview: Blizzard brings fun strategy for everyone on Android

Warcraft Arclight Rumble cinematic heroes
(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

"One of the things we wanted to do is see what it would be like to create a Warcraft game on a mobile space," says Adam Kugler, associate game director at Blizzard Entertainment. "What would it be to just bring an awesome strategy mobile experience from Blizzard to the Warcraft universe?"

Blizzard Entertainment officially revealed the answer to that question on Tuesday, sharing that the first-ever Warcraft game built specifically for mobile devices is in development. Titled Warcraft Arclight Rumble, this isn't a later port like Hearthstone or a downscaled version of an existing game but rather a title meant from the beginning to be played on phones and tablets. 

Warcraft Arclight Rumble is about collecting minifigures and deploying them across the battlefield. Amusingly, it's somewhat canonically set in the world of Azeroth as a mysterious gnome-engineered tabletop game that's begun showing up across taverns and basements. 

After several hours hands-on, I'm happy to say there's a lot of potential here. It's a compelling experience that's deceptively easy to learn but hard to master. There's a lot of strategy involved and it always feels fun to play, so it could end up as one of the best Android games available.

A worthy Warcraft game for everyone

Warcraft Arclight Rumble battle beach cropped

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

In Warcraft Arclight Rumble, players build their army up with different figurines. These are pulled from one of five Families: The Alliance, Beasts, Undead, Horde, and Blackrock. Each of these troops has distinct advantages and disadvantages, in addition to a general rock-paper-scissors format for melee, ranged, and flying units. 

Players will also collect Leaders, and these, like the rest of the figurines — there's over 60 right now — are pulled from across the history of Warcraft. Your army can consist of everything from Gnoll Brutes to Jaina Proudmoore. You can customize a different army for each leader, meaning you're encouraged to mix-and-match different unit combinations, especially since each Leader has their own unique bonuses.  

The gameplay unfolds in what Blizzard calls "tower offense" as you'll deploy your troops down various lanes to try and defeat a boss at the end within the allotted time. It's a simple concept but one that can be quite challenging in practice, and I found myself having to rethink my approach in more that a few battles. 

There's usually some unique twist or new enemy to face every time you advance through the game's expansive single-player story, meaning that it always feels fresh to continue playing. The bite-sized format of battles is also perfect for anyone with a hectic schedule. You can play for just a few minutes at a time and still feel like you've made decent progress. 

At every point, I have to praise how this game feels authentically like Warcraft, to the point that there's arguably more in common here with the older strategy games than with World of Warcraft. That's by design, as Kugler notes that the game is "super-inspired by our own strategy roots" as well as other major mobile games. 

There's also tons of personality in the individual figurines, with unique animations for when a unit levels up or is being viewed in the selection screen. 

"We embrace the term 'joyful chaos,'" says senior animator Carin Huurnink, adding that the team has tried to include a wide range of minifigures, including more than a few that players might not be super-familiar with. 

This playfulness in units' animated behavior extends to the battlefield as well. Huurnink notes that the iconic 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 army selection cropped

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Warcraft Arclight Rumble is completely free-to-play, but while there are microtransactions players can purchase, there's no gacha elements or other loot packs with random chance in regards to how players earn the characters. Everything you see in the store, you'll buy and know exactly what you're getting. You're not grinding out drops, hoping for a chance at a particular figurine. Instead, if you want to buy something like Harpies, you simply pay the required Gold and move on. 

Gold is earned while playing the single-player campaign as a reward for completing missions, though players can also purchase bundles of Gold. There's also daily deals for a direct purchase to grab different figurines, but these are never exclusive or walled off from players who don't intend to pay a single dollar. 

Being designed for mobile devices from the beginning, Warcraft Arclight Rumble uses touch controls. That means there's no controller support right now and it's unlikely to happen in the future. 

In addition to the expansive single-player campaign, there's also co-op support, Dungeons, and Raids. Right now, it's not clear which modes will support co-op and which have to be played by just one player, though Kugler notes that the team is taking inspiration from the early days of World of Warcraft. 

"We're still figuring out the specifics of which modes co-op is going to be in. One of the things that made WoW Classic so great was playing dungeons with multiple people, playing Raids with multiple people," Kugler says, adding that, "We're testing it out, we're gonna see how our audience reacts to find the right thread for it."

Not quite there yet

Warcraft Arclight Rumble troop selection cropped

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Not everything is great so far, and the game definitely needs some additional polish. Early on in my play session, it locked up on the store screen, requiring a restart. I've also had the game crash a few times, which again required restarting. It's not the buggiest game ever, but the early state of things is obvious. 

It's also worth noting I've seen more than a few low-resolution textures. Obviously being a mobile game, it's not fair to expect something like a PS5 title, but considering the up-close nature of many of the models, it would be nice if they were a bit cleaner to view, even if only in the model viewer and army builder sections of the menu. That goes double if someone's playing on something like an Android tablet instead of on their phones.

A promising experience for the future

Warcraft Arclight Rumble Gnoll cinematic

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

With a closed beta "imminent" for players to try the game out, the developers should have time to finish ironing out these issues and making sure the game is as smooth as possible across all devices.

Warcraft Arclight Rumble is currently slated to launch sometime in 2022 for Android and iOS devices.

Google Play gift card

While games like Warcraft Arclight Rumble are free to play, you can still purchase some in-game currency. Stay stocked up with a Google Play gift card.

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Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on PlayStation on Android Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert