Blizzard’s first new RTS in ages stealth launched, but don’t get too excited

Blizzard is a legendary RTS developer, which is easy to forget in 2023. Along with Westwood, it effectively built the genre, establishing its foundations and designing mechanics and features that modern RTS games still stick with today. With that in mind, it’s pretty tragic to see how little attention Blizzard is giving the genre these days. 

Aside from a rather poor remaster of Warcraft 3 back in 2020, it seems to have had no interest in making the kind of games that put the studio on the map. StarCraft 2, its last big RTS push, launched in 2010, and while it had a long life thanks to expansions and esports, Blizzard stopped working on it three years ago.

I should be giddy, then, that a new Blizzard RTS appeared last night, a day ahead of its expected launch during BlizzCon. But lamentably this is not a game in the spirit of its former heavy-hitters like Warcraft and StarCraft; no, Warcraft Rumble is a free-to-play mobile game with microtransactions which distils the RTS formula down to something you can play with your finger.

You collect minis based on units, creatures and heroes from the Warcraft universe, plonk them down in your deployment zones, and just watch as they do their thing. Aside from building up your roster and deploying them, it all seems incredibly hands-off, which I guess works fine for a mobile game, but it breaks my heart as a big fan of Blizzard strategy games. 

It is, at least, pretty flavourful, with minis boasting special abilities and roles drawn from other Warcraft games. So you can deploy kobolds to mine gold for you, while the gnomish S.A.F.E. Pilot crashlands on the battlefield in a fiery explosion and can be dropped into places outside of the deployment zones. 

As well as a PvE campaign, you can duke it out in PvP or play with pals in co-op, as well as embarking on Rumble’s take on dungeons and raids drawn from World of Warcraft. Real cash can be dropped on experience boosters and new minis, but dipping into your wallet doesn’t seem essential, at least early on, and player reviews imply this isn’t your usual money-grubbing mobile game.  

It’s continuing Blizzard’s mobile ambitions as it adapts its biggest properties into spin-offs like Diablo Immortal and Hearthstone—though notably Blizzard has said that Rumble will never get a PC port. This makes sense, as it’s more overtly a mobile game compared to the other two. ARPGs and card games are frequently found on our platform, but this style of strategy game really exists because of our phones. 

And as mobile games go, it’s not a bad one. I’ve certainly seen a lot worse when I scroll through the Play Store, and I suspect it will find a lot of fans amid players of the Clash series, but I honestly couldn’t stomach it for more than 30 minutes. When you’ve played the best, this is just going to make you sad. 

Thankfully, we don’t need to rely on Blizzard for our RTS kicks these days. Back in 2020, I was worried the RTS genre would never come back from the brink of death, but by late 2022 it was clear it had made a comeback. For those of us pining for the good old days of Blizzard, we’ve got things to look forward to like Stormgate, in development by ex-Blizzard devs, which is the closest thing to another StarCraft we’ve seen. Then there’s Homeworld 3, Tempest Rising and Sins of a Solar Empire 2 which are all on their way. The genre is in a good place.