Heroes of Might & Magic and Clash Royale had a baby, a fast-paced tactical free-to-play baby!
Type: Single-player, Multi-Player
Developer: Camex Games
Publisher: Camex Games
Release date: 13 Nov, 2017
Tactical Monsters Rumble Arena. This does not roll off the tongue easily. Tactical Monsters Rumble Arena. I have to write it down so I don’t forget. Every time I mentioned this game, I failed to remember the name and I had to check my Steam profile to copy/paste it. They could have found something a bit easier to remember. Clash of Heroes? Nah it already exists. Heroes Royale? That could have worked, and it would have been in line with the previous game from the developers Camex: Heroes Tactics. The latter was not too well received on Steam, but from what I see in the negative previews they took the criticism to heart because most of the flaws mentioned are not present in Tactical Monsters Rumble Arena. Please, allow me to call it TMRA for the rest of this preview or I will go crazy.
If my shenanigans about the name of the game reminded you of something, then you might be familiar with Clash Royale. TMRA is basically Clash Royale with the game mechanics of combat from the Heroes of Might and Magic (HoMM) series. The inspiration is quite obvious, from the same gems and chests and store of Clash Royale, to some units which are pulled right from HoMM such as the griffin who is always able to counter-attack. While many scoff when a game is copying another, I would say that that’s how games as a genre have evolved since the beginning. Taking what works and what is good and remixing it into a new product, and I must admit that I have been longing for a multi-player tactics game in the vein of HoMM. Another advantage of having similar systems and units is that I felt right at home when I played TMRA and there were many elements that I did not have to learn again because I recognized them and could easily guess how they worked. Now if you know both Clash Royale and HoMM, please allow me to take some time to describe all of this to people that are not familiar with any of those games.
The heart of the game: battles
Let’s start with the combat. It is turn-based, with each unit on the battlefield is able to move and attack from fastest to slowest before moving to the next turn. Movements and attacks are done in one single order, which is a lot faster paced than most tactical games. Before a battle, players are able to position a limited number of their troops in a specific formation. A tight group to protect archers or spread-out flying attackers, depending on the units brought into the battle. A welcome addition is the ability to call one unit for reinforcements, which allows to check out the enemy troops and see which unit could be a good fit. The map is divided into hexes, and each unit can move a specific number of hexes in any direction on the grid. Flying units can ignore obstacles while ground units have to go around them. There is a whole layer of positioning and movements. Getting too close for an attack will also expose the player’s troops half-way through. Defending too much is not good when the units are sitting ducks and the enemy has superior ranged units. On top of their health and damages, each unit also has unique powers. Normally, units are able to counter-attack when they are hit once per turn. An example of a power would be to cancel the enemy’s counter-attack, or to counter-attack the counter-attack and so on. Some units can use vines to trap an enemy. Some can invocate a familiar. Each time a unit attacks or defends, an energy bar gets filled. Once maxed, the unit can unleash a more powerful attack with sometimes side-effects such as freezing. This energy system works differently than the mana-based attacks in HoMM. I like this change, because now the players cannot abuse skills from the start and have to work on filling the bar. And a filled bar can be a beacon to prompt to change target and take down a specific unit in priority before it unleashes something that can change the course of the game. However, the downside is that except for a few, most attacks do not actually change the course of the game. Sometimes it feels like most units are a bit similar and the powers are a subtle flavour rather than the rock paper scissors we are used to seeing in games like Clash Royale. In consequence, once a player has taken the advantage, it usually snowballs in their favor with little possibility for their opponent to surmount the odds. One last word on balance, there are restrictions in place to prevent players from using only top tier units, and for each tier, units are rather balanced.
The only balance issue that I have seen is in the second multi-player mode, which consists of picking units, a player to attack, and then let both kill each other while the player sits back and enjoys spectating. This mode was a brilliant addition, as it allows to battle in a more relaxed way and find new strategies to exploit the AI. Problem is, most players use a very effective strategy consisting of using one unit that can spawn a skeleton in combination with another unit that can erect totems on dead units (dead skeletons here). The enemy AI will often waste precious actions taking down the skeletons and the totems rather than targeting the spellcasters.
What TMRA takes from Clash Royale is basically everything else. Units are invocated from cards. There is a ranked multi-player divided into arenas. There are chests to loot unit cards, and collecting the same card several times is necessary to increase its level and stats. There are clans that group players solely so they can donate cards to each other. There are gems to buy with real money (or to accumulate slowly by playing the game) to buy chests with more powerful units. Yeah, loot boxes if you will. I guess seeing the current controversy I need to take some time to talk about all of this. First, unlike loot boxes in FPS games, these chests are guaranteed to give something useful to the player since they give units for the upgrades. As an aside, the big expensive chest is guaranteed to yield at least two legendary cards (called diabolical cards here), which is much better than Clash Royale and it has 50% odds to only get one. Secondly, this game is free-to-play, so the business model has to be in the micro-transactions rather than in an upfront price. The advantage is that when a game is successful, the devs will have to keep updating it rather than dropping the game and moving on. The disadvantage is that those so-called “micro”-transactions are way too expensive and paying the standard amount of money for an indie game in the in-game shop will barely unlock enough to be decently competitive. Now if you want to make your way to the top, you can wastefully spend hundreds on these games if your wallet is deep enough.
Pay-to-win? Yes. And no. But yes, definitely, players using their wallet will have a clear advantage to players without such disposable income. If you do not spend money, progress ends up being way too slow. However, that does not mean that the game is unplayable or too frustrating. Hell, I have been playing Clash Royale for the last two years without putting any money in it, and I am in the best arena while still having a ton of fun. Why? Because the match-making puts together players around a similar level. Thus, if you are a free-to-play player, the game won’t drop you against the top of the leaderboard with their overlevelled cards. Still, it’s a bit of a pain until you can drop your first legendary/diabolical card. At least once you have one you can be happy with for a while, as unlike in Clash Royale there is a limit to how many of these a player can deploy. Only one.
Something different from Clash Royale is that TMRA is chock full of single-player content. Just for that, the game is worth trying considering that you basically have a full tactics game for free. There is a campaign with various enemies to vanquish and three stars to obtain by not losing a unit, there are training sections for each single unit to realize their full potential, there is a tower in which if you use a specific unit to win, it can’t be used for the next battle, there is some sort of boss rush mode with 10 enemies to fight in a single battle. With all this content amounting to many hours, it can’t be said that this game is a lazy cash-grab. Even in multiplayer, while there is the 1v1 ladder there is another type of combat which consists of automated battles. Players pick their defensive positions, and other people in the same pool can challenge them by putting together an attack team and see which AI-controlled side wins. Quite entertaining for relaxed battles after a strenuous 1v1.
Not everything gels together well. The clans are a bit superfluous, since donations do not give much reward, and it’s not possible to fight among clanmates (or I did not see how). That might be some important information for players who thought they would be able to play this game together, TMRA multi-player is aimed at progressing in the ladder rather than challenging friends now and then. On top of that, PvP (Player versus Player) takes too long to access because it is locked behind several chapters of the single-player campaign. As for other things that are not working out so well, the timing-based systems do a good job on mobile thanks to the notifications, but not so well on PC. Thankfully there is not so much of that as there are not the time-based chests you can find in Clash Royale. The interface also feels like it has been developed for touch rather than for a mouse, even hints talk about touching. I tried to touch my screen but nothing happened. HELP!! Joke aside, the strangest part is that you need to click on your profile first to exit the game, but apart from a few weird moments (you scroll by pressing the mouse button and dragging) the game is fully functional with a mouse.
The graphics are great, it looks hand-drawn but it actually seems animated as if in 3D. Very cartoonish, and the look of the units inform the player about their use or power. This is an interesting point, as I have tried a blatant Clash Royale clone (Brawl of Ages) and could not get into it because the ugly design of the units was confusing me and it was not obvious what their behavior on the battlefield would be. I have not had technical issues, but I have seen a few people in the Steam forums stuck while loading. The combat music gets very repetitive, it would be better to have several tracks. Finally, there are many players available so it does not take long to find a match. I guess that points towards the studio making a good decision to release this game as free-to-play, nowadays premium indie titles struggle a lot to find a playerbase. Actually, even free-to-play games struggle, meaning that on the contrary TMRA is already starting to attract a good following. And if you plan on being free-to-play, you would better join early so that you will have at least one guaranteed legendary/diabolical card within a month (just by showing up every day).
How it feels
This has been a long preview, because there is a lot in this game. And there is a lot to talk about. I still have issues accepting this Clash Royale progression system based on upgrading the same units over and over, but thinking about Clash Royale I must admit that all of this is good incentive to keep playing and feel the progression. There is always more to collect, always new battles to be fought, you can spend quite a lot of time in it and have fun. Because, yes, it is fun. And as much as the developers of these games want players to put money in the chests, players want other players around so they can play the game. Without a progression system, it is hard to retain a playerbase these days. I just wish the gems were more affordable for those who want to pay without sinking in the price of several AAA games.
So what would I like to see out this early access? More music tracks. Clan donations giving better rewards and the clans offering more possibilities. The game mechanics are sound but the units could be tweaked so that we don’t always see the same strategies. For example, the bear shaman should not be able to raise a totem from a fallen skeleton, or the AI should not prioritize these targets. A dream would be a faster progression for free-to-play players, and cheaper gems. And most importantly, the ability to save different decks for each game-mode. Overall, this feels more like a finished product more than an Early Access game! Very polished despite all the content inside.
Tactical Monsters Rumble Arena is a good tactics game inspired by Heroes of Might and Magic, something that I have been longing for and that I am happy to report is working quite well here. I feel like I am on familiar ground, and yet there are subtle touches to make it balanced. However, it remains to be seen if the developers will react quickly enough to balance troops once a meta emerges. As it stands, I sank hours into this game and I always had fun despite… despite the pay-to-win economy that allows a player to quickly accumulate strength whereas it will take free-to-play players constant play for a long time. The pay-to-win players race together to the top while free-to-play players find each other in matchmaking. It’s not so bad even though I have never been comfortable with that way of doing things. Definitely, this is a game that I recommend trying if you enjoy tactical games or if you are into a populated free-to-play multi-player game on PC (with the mobile versions of this game coming soon), plus just the single-player alone can provide hours of battles.