I won’t say that Warcraft Rumble was at the top of my most-anticipated games of 2024, but I’ve been low-key excited about this title ever since it was first announced. Blizzard showed that it could dominate at the mobile art form ever since it brought Hearthstone to tablets and phones, and I loved the idea of a “mini-RTS” with all of the shiny Warcraft accoutrements that we’ve come to expect from this franchise.
Now that I’ve spent a couple weeks with Warcraft Rumble, I feel that I’ve got a good handle on what it’s aiming to do — and how it both succeeds and falls short in doing that. It may not be a perfect game that’s going to reinvent the mobile scene, but I think there’s a lot here worth checking out.
The low down
The best way to describe Warcraft Rumble is that it’s Clash Royale with more PvE and a Hearthstone overlay. At any given moment while I was playing this, Rumble reminded me of one or the other of those games while not slavishly copying either. Yet because it’s tied closely to those two as sources of inspiration, Rumble struggles to form its own strong identity.
Like the long-running Clash Royale, this title lets players collect a small army of characters (“minis” in Warcraft Rumble’s parlance), select a handful of them for a deck along with a stronger “leader” character, and then dive into short matches that last for three minutes or less. You start at the bottom, flick minis onto the game field as your energy permits, and hope that their semi-autonomy allows them to reach the top and kill the enemy boss.
There are turrets and meeting stones — nice nods to World of Warcraft, those — that allow you to establish beachheads further up the screen to deploy units closer to the action, and ore that can be mined for extra resources.
While there is a PvP mode that’s far more reminiscent of Clash Royale, it definitely seems that PvE is the main focus of Warcraft Rumble. There’s a campaign to go through with a cartoonish version of World of Warcraft’s world map, a heroic campaign mode, quests to jump into a quick match, dungeons, and (coming in 2024) two-player raids.
To build up your army, you’ll need to get through the campaign to unlock features and gain money and units. But you’ll also want to grind quests for mini XP and participate in the twice-per-week “arclight surges” that transform two zones into avenues for gold making. In fact, this is the most reliable way to get gold, which is then spent on a weird “Grid” to buy new minis, upgrade old ones, talents, or spells. Since your typical gold generation per week is around 800, you’ll want to be smart about what you buy.
There are also guilds that you can join for chat and week-long guild projects that reward everyone when milestones are reached.
Joyful chaos indeed
Warcraft Rumble lives or dies on the strength of its matches, so I wanted to focus on those for a moment. Blizzard described the gameplay as “joyful chaos,” a kind of frantic, nutty, on-the-edge-of-your-seat melee where a whole lot can go right — or wrong. And while that can be the case, sometimes it’s just plain “chaos” without any joy.
Coming from a rather extensive background in Clash Royale, I’ve come to expect precision and tactical strategy in similar games. Sometimes Rumble achieves this, but not always. For starters, every map is bigger than the screen you’re using — even if you have a larger device — so you’ll be swiping up and down or left and right to see all of the action. So often there were fights going on in parts of the screen I couldn’t see because I was somewhere else at the time. I also won (and sometimes lost) without seeing the climactic fight that clinched the match due to trying to figure out next moves and deployments.
There is a rock-paper-scissors setup with minis, so it’s imperative to create little clusters of minis that can back each other up. If you send in tanks without air support, for example, then a weak whelpling can take down a beefy Tauren in seconds. You also need to keep an eye on what the enemy is flinging your way so that you can send out a unit or two to counter that and keep them from encroaching on your base.
Some of my highest praise for Warcraft Rumble is given to the game’s maps. Each one, according to Blizzard, was hand-made and doesn’t repeat. Considering the limitations of the real estate, I think the team did an amazing job coming up with different ways to do paths. Figuring out the best way to the boss is a puzzle in itself, and the replayability of these maps is increased by the choices present. Plus, I do love the great theming that evokes memories of familiar WoW settings.
I just wish the matches felt more consistent. I never know if I’m going to get into a knock-down slog that ends on a frustrating draw or a super-quick 30-second blitz to the end boss. Going from ROFLstomping to having my waffle stomped with the same setup between matches makes the win conditions feel more random than they should.
I do want to stress: These matches can be a whole lot of fun. At least… until they’re not.
Oddities and endings
I’ve found that Warcraft Rumble is a perfect game for five minutes of spare time in your day. You’ll probably want to dedicate a little more than that — say, 15 to 20 minutes at least — to earn the three daily tomes that you get from matches. But it’s a very quick game to jump into without much fuss.
And a lot of that has to do with the higher level of Blizzard polish. So many of the UI elements are lifted right from Hearthstone, but since I liked them there, I don’t mind them here. The UI makes sense, and there’s not an overload of currencies to make me cross-eyed.
Monetization is fine for a mobile game like this. It’s free-to-play, and if you want to stay in that zone, then you’ll progress slowly but surely with some paths to earning gold and advancement always available. But if you want to dump your bank account into Blizzard’s coffers, you’ll be treated to a fast track to more minis, more XP, and faster advancement. As I said, I wish that the Grid made more sense, and I did find it mildly frustrating to hardly ever see talents show up there for the characters I want to improve, but that may change as I continue to level.
I hope that Blizzard will create a larger screen version for laptops and tablets to show the full playing field. And having more things to do with your guild will always be welcome.
The World of Warcraft player in me was delighted by all of the references, especially in the minis and leaders. There are so many great callbacks to the MMO, and half the fun here is coming up with an idea for your army and working to make it so. There are some nice synergies between leaders and units (for example, Sylvanas makes all Horde and Undead minis move faster when she’s out and about).
It’s not an out-of-the-box smash hit, but you know what? Warcraft Rumble is a pretty darn good game that’s got some serious potential if Blizzard shores up its weaknesses and keeps building upon what works.