At the beginning of the month, Blizzard provided me with access to the alpha for Warcraft Arclight Rumble, and I can't say I came away impressed. The balance was way off, forcing unwanted grinding, and the level-based gacha design is pretty dated at this point. More or less, the game felt like it was about six years late to the party, but that was an alpha, so unpolished gameplay was expected. Well, development is moving quickly, so I've had a chance to test the recent beta over the last few days. So let's dig in and see how things are shaping up now that beta access is here.
In order to show precisely how the beta for Warcraft Arclight Rumble plays, I've recorded a 30-minute gameplay video that covers the first six stages. As you can see, this is a game that closely resembles Clash Royale, but instead of a focus on competitive multiplayer, Arclight Rumble is primarily centered around single-player content where you'll drop heroes on the field in a slow game of attrition that revolves around simple rock paper scissors mechanics. On top of this, there's a heavier reliance on tower defense gameplay, and you can even take over some towers to launch your combatants closer to your enemies, so there is some strategy to be found as you build and level up your team, though this is about as deep as the game gets.
But here's the thing, progression is a right pain, thanks to the fact you only earn in-game currency when beating a new level. No matter how many times you repeat that level after that, you won't earn any more currency; you'll only level your characters. This creates a situation where you can't unlock new characters if you can't beat the next level (as they have to be purchased with in-game currency), which means you can't adjust your team beyond the characters you've already unlocked until you earn or buy more of this currency. Toss in obvious grind walls for every boss that forces you to go back and repeat stages, and the whole thing feels balanced towards annoying people to spend real money to unlock new characters to get past these roadblocks.
So basically, Blizzard has purposefully balanced Warcraft Arclight Rumble so that you can progress through the first five stages in an area, to be roadblocked by a boss that requires your character levels to be higher than the skill points doled out before a boss. Add on top that you won't be able to unlock new characters until you get past these roadblocks, and you get a situation where the game feels balanced against you, especially since these are recognizable tricks gacha games have been utilizing for years. There's nothing fun about it.
Playing Warcraft Arclight Rumble reminds me of titles like Fire Emblem Heroes, where you're forced to grind endlessly just to get past the game's sparse level-based content once you hit a grind wall. The whole thing feels pretty cynical, which makes it hard to enjoy. Sure, the art in Warcraft Arclight Rumble is excellent, calling back on years of designs to properly hit the old Warcraft nostalgia button, but even this falters as the entire game is capped at 30FPS, and every time the camera pans, the screen noticeably stutters. So even though there's a modicum of polish in the art design, on the technical side, things are lackluster, bringing down the experience further.
While it's worth keeping in mind that Warcraft Arclight Rumble is still in beta, where mechanics and balance can change before release, seeing how quickly the title moved from alpha to beta in the stretch of a week tells me Blizzard may be rushing this out the door, and I can see why, as the gameplay is primarily a snooze when you're forced to repeat the same stages over and over just to gain enough levels to take on the bosses.
Despite the fact Warcraft Arclight Rumble comes from Blizzard, the game offers the same annoyances found in every free-to-play gacha game already on the Play Store and would have been an appropriate release were we still living in the year 2016. The game is a day late and a dollar short, in my humble opinion, and it's not even out yet. As it stands, the cash-grabbiness is palpable. Consider me unimpressed.