We're about two weeks away from the end of Season 2, and eyes are on the Rumble team for what they've got cooked up for us in Season 3. If you've read the preview article from Blizzcon, you'll know we have Emperor Thaurissan joining us as the next mini and third Blackrock leader. Other features announced but not given release dates are:

  • Moonglade
  • Scholomance
  • PvP replays and leaderboards
  • Raids!

We're hoping at least one of those joins us in Season 3 to break the Christmas season content drought. But today, we're doing a retrospective on how the game stands as we enter the next era of Rumble. There's been some solid successes, and some concerning missteps. First, let's look at the good.

I think there's three areas where the Rumble team has knocked it out of the park. Those are:

  • Core Gameplay Loop
  • UX, particularly surrounding the minis themselves
  • Encounter Design

For all the complaints I've heard about the game, I've never heard anyone complain about how the game itself feels to play. The game does a good job of translating the rough feel of a RTS/Tower Defense into the mobile format. The seeming simplicity of the control scheme gives way to a relatively complex and strategic core gameplay.

On the feels side, dropping minis is good. The sound effects and animations retain the Blizzard charm we see from the Warcraft series more generally. Even little flavor things like the minis changing poses with each talent add a lot of charm to the game.

The encounter design is excellent. As frustrating as Raene is when you first encounter her, finally conquering her squad of Huntresses is a real thrill. With new dungeons and the heroics added on release, the team has flexed their creative muscles with throwing a variety of challenges and modifiers to the original maps. There is a slight concern that unbound rush trivializes some of the maps, but this seems to be something you can design around in the campaign.

Before we get into the part of the article where I complain about things, I want to emphasize that the fact that the core game is very fun to play is a strong foundation. Everyone who I've introduced to the game but didn't stick with it had some variant of 'The game is really fun, but'.

So what are the buts? I think they can be broadly split into issues with the progression system, and issues with PvP. There's significant overlap, but even dedicated PvE players I've spoken with have bounced off the game.


When you start playing the game, progression feels great. Every encounter you fell unlocks new minis, new maps, new modes. Minis are leveling up, maybe you get to unlock a talent or two, and you churn through the game at a fairly steady pace. For the various type of marine life amongst us, maybe you decide to take the plunge with the (fairly generous) Arclight Booster or one of the other bonus packs you unlock from clearing maps. You get a lot of content from these early purchases.

But then as you get further into the game, maybe entering heroics, things start to slow down. A lot. The exponential growth kicks in, doubling the effort required for each additional level from experience. Collect level does mitigate this, but the increase in XP required is noticeably faster. Noteably, while in the middle of the level range, each additional level requires 1.8-1.7 times more XP than the previous one, but towards the end, we're back up to 2.

This seems strange in two ways. The first is that you wouldn't expect the exponent to get steeper as you climb the levels. That comes off as deliberately barring the final set of levels off (and more cynically, offering high-paying customers a distinct advantage). The second is whether exponential leveling curves are even necessary in modern game design. If I play World of Warcraft now, each expansion adds a chunk of new levels. But long gone are the days when the final levels before cap were enormously harder than the earlier ones. I don't know about Gacha, but leveling is a fairly smooth experience in RPGs these days, especially when it's recognized that the real content exists in the end game. Since the next major content release is going to be high level raids, there seems to be a discrepancy between these design elements.

Would it be that crazy to suggest that levels plateau in growth at some point? It would massively reduce the total XP required, but those final levels really only seem to exist to frustrate players at the moment, not offer a realistic prospect for power growth. To skip ahead to PvP complaints at the moment, significantly less people would be bothered by levels in PvP if it felt like it was something within your grasp, rather than an unreachable gap between you and players able to level up their minis outside of what the gameplay systems offer you. I want the response to facing a higher level team to be, "Oh, I'll catch up to that person and beat them next time". Since raids occupy levels 26 to 28, and the max PvP level is 10, it seems reasonable to suggest that an engaged, moderately spending player should be able to achieve a level 28 army.

Besides, there are a lot of these exponential growth structures in the game. Stars more than double per mini rarity upgrade (thankfully Legendary is the same as Epic). Arclight Energy quadruples per upgrade, to the point where offering slot rerolls for 250 energy almost feels like malpractice. It seems like a negligible cost, until it isn't, and now your progression is stunted. An obvious trap in design and an obvious target for removal or adjustment.

There's also the fact that upgrading your mini in addition to costing more with each level, is worse value. Part of the budget for mini upgrades comes in the talent system. Each rarity upgrade (except legendary) comes with another talent slot. But since you can only use one talent at a time, the upgrade to uncommon is by far the biggest boost. Compounding this however, is that you're going to pick your strongest talent first. So the talents you pick afterwards are (with some notable exceptions) going to offer significantly less power, but cost considerably more to get. An epic upgrade costs 25 stars, 8000 energy, and an epic core. But for most of the minis, I'm just doing it for +2 levels. The final talent is, if not the weakest, the one I'm least going to use.

Finally, there's the sigil rewards. When you start the game these are exciting. They unlock new content, or completely new minis to play with. Towards the end, they're completely unnoticeable. Completing heroics requires significantly more effort than the regular campaign. Each sigil takes 5 times the encounter completion, but also requires maintaining 5 armies (of course, most people have significant overlap), all of which now require exponentially more effort to grow. The rewards remain the same, with the exception of the legendary core at the end.

The increasing difficulty but decreasing reward structures of all these systems bury players like a mountain of wet carpets. Some of them, like the diminishing returns on extra talents are harder to design around. But others, like the meagre reward to effort ratio of sigils just seem like clear design oversights.

But let's play Bobby's advocate. Isn't diminishing returns good in a sense? The turbo-hardcore players with cash or time to spare can't pull as far ahead as the humble f2pbtw daily farmer. Two problems - one is that these 'features' kick in fast enough to dissuade players by the midgame, not the endgame. So if the curve is intentional, it slopes up too quickly. The second is that this causes massive, demoralising problems for pvp.


A very, very common demand from the PvP community right now is to add in more level brackets. At the moment while 0-3000 is carefully gated with level caps, you're thrown in the deep end beyond that point. All those grueling grinds we discussed in the progression section? They become game-winning advantages in PvP.

Unlike others, I don't think adding in more level caps is the solution. It will just let people climb up a bit more before running into exactly the same issues. Addressing the substantial problem requires two things to happen. The first is that enough players need to be participating that the matchup system does its job and naturally pairs players up according to rough army power. The second is that the progression system needs to be accessible enough that when combined with the level normalization that PvP already does, if you face off against a player with an extra level on you in a match, you can just go out there and grind out that extra level for yourself without too much blood, sweat, and tears.

The first point is the biggest one. To begin with, the rewards for players above 9000 (3000 per leader) are weirdly bad for the effort required. It seems a clear design miss that as you approach the transition point, where you clearly need players persisting in PvP as they come up against level disadvantages, the rewards drop off a cliff. It takes a shocking 5000 additional rating, against some of the best players in the world at that point, to get a single reward worth the effort - the Epic core. There needs to either be significant rating inflation, increase in rewards per level, front-loading of rewards, or possibly some combination of all three.

Keep in mind, because PvP takes into account progression from PvE, it directly competes with it for effort. If I get more player power from progressing the campaign, then it's only reasonable for me to ignore PvP up until I've exhausted every other source of rewards, and then join the ladder with a massively inflated level. This means that players less inclined to optimize their play step into the ladder, get whalloped, and decide to do the same thing.

Because less people play, queue times go up, and then the queue system, trying to avoid people being unable to play, matches people up from larger discrepancies in rating and army level. This creates a unsatisfying experience for both players, but particularly the weaker one, who is then more likely to again drop out of the ladder, which exacerbates the problem.

It's a delicate balance. Bribe players too much and they'll never develop an intrinsic motivation to PvP. You'll also risk alienating your players who don't want to PvP, or find the current combination of dungeons, dailies, and surges already time-consuming enough, because they'll fall behind if the rewards are too lucrative to miss.

At the very least, some of the PvP rewards probably need to come as participation trophies. Some people will balk at the idea at rewarding anything but victory, but you have to consider it as 'payment' for providing opponents for others.

Next is that while it retains the core, enjoyable gameplay of Warcraft Rumble, in many ways PvP is just not that fun right now. A game like Rumble leans heavily on the strategic depth offered by map and mini design, but so far does not manage to bring those dimensions to player vs player combat.

In fact, compared to pretty much every other Blizzard title, Rumble is incredibly consistent in how PvP is presented. Rated Battlegrounds in World of Warcraft completely change the maps and objectives from match to match. WC3 and SC2 have map rotation (in fairness, due to be added to Rumble), as well as fog of war, in contrast to the near-perfect information in a Rumble match. In Hearthstone you only see approximately 50% of your deck per match, as compared to the 100% you see every single game in Rumble. This makes games have much more variance without even including all the of the random mechanics found on the cards themselves.

So, without even getting into meta diversity, at a baseline, Rumble PvP offers a very low-variance experience. If there's something about the current combination of map, towers, and modifiers that you don't like, or are even just ambivalent about, you're going to experience it every single game.

Of course, it's not secret that on top of that, meta diversity is low. The combination of Quilboar, Safe Pilot, and Whelp Eggs feature in an incredibly large number of armies. When combined with the lack of variance elsewhere, you can go ten games in a row that all feel identical.

So, what can we do about it? Balance is a very tricky issue in Rumble, because of the high player investment into minis. There's also the fact that encounters are designed with particular breakpoints in mind. To give an example, imagine if we nerfed Safe Pilot so that she doesn't kill Troll Headhunter in one hit. Then the Hogger mission, which relies on you using Safe Pilot to do just that, stops working. Even buffs can be dangerous for that reason, if we imagine the opposite scenario where instead of weakening Safe Pilot we increase the Headhunter's health.

I don't think we're ever likely to see huge or frequent changes to mini balance. I think a change to Safe Pilot specifically is unavoidable (it does the same damage as Blizzard for 1g less and comes with a free mini), but I don't think nerfs will ever be a large component of meta diversity in the way that it is in other games. Instead, the combination of maps and map modifiers will have to do the heavy lifting.

Siege modifiers and map rotations are coming to Rumble. Siege modifiers should spice things up a little, but won't affect the match-to-match experience. As for map rotations, the details haven't been given yet on what a map pool will look like, so we're left to speculate. Some players are concerned about map RNG being introduced. For some, it's that introducing random elements reduces the skill expression in the game, because you might get a map that doesn't favor you. I find this a dubious argument because you could say the same about matchups in a diverse meta. If I'm playing an army which aims to build up an Abom/Tirion/Shaman deathball, I'm going to be fuming when I get matched up against someone playing polymorph.

Hedging your bets carefully is as much of a skill expression as planning for a specific encounter. The problem comes, as devs and players have noted, is it might push you towards playing very generic 'goodstuff' compositions. Unfortunately, the most likely candidates in such circumstances are again Safe/Quil/Whelps. On the plus side, if those minis were toned down a little, it's unclear if anything else is generically good enough to serve the same role. Sometimes, what feels like a large design problem is actually just a balance problem with a smaller number of things.

I don't know what kind of variance we're likely to see in maps. Are we going to queue into Alterac Valley, Timbermaw Hold, and Arathi Basin all at once? One thing might be to have 5 different Arathi Basins that retain largely the same features but offer slight differences, such as an additional gold mine or a base on a hill. This would provide small changes between games to keep things interesting, while retaining enough similarities that your core strategy would still work.

What else could be done? One thing that Quilboar, Whelps, and Safe Pilot have in common is while the minimum value they provide is relatively high, the maximum is relatively low. For example, while a Flame Waker might provide similar but smaller amounts of burst damage, it can trade up for almost unlimited amounts of value if it is only approached by squads. A Safe Pilot might deal the same damage as a Blizzard, but if there's enough minis around the extra area of effect from the spell suddenly becomes relevant (see Cookie for an example, where hitting all the right targets with one Safe Pilot requires a lot of precision). Campaign missions force you to find this value, forcing you to find a way to beat 20g of minis with 5.

But in PvP (unless you've really messed up) you only ever need to match roughly comparable amounts of value in minis, seeking to obtain small 1g advantages in trades at a time. This means that a lot of the advantages that other minis bring will never be relevant.

To fix this and add an interesting new dimension to maps, I'd like to borrow a page from MOBAs or WC3. What if maps had neutral minis, like we see on the Vultros encounter?

Imagine if on Alliance week you had a randomly selected group of Alliance minis guarding additional bonus chests or mines in Arathi Basin. Or a Mercenary Furbolg showing up in Timbermaw Hold that would fight for your side when defeated. Bringing in elements from campaign missions can provide additional tuning knobs whereby more value-heavy minis can see use compared to the ones we normally see in PvP currently. They'd also provide an element of strategy featured in other RTS or MOBA games, where you can balance between obtaining bonus objectives and facing your opponent head on.

To reiterate what I said at the start. Where it comes to the fundamentals, Rumble has knocked it out of the park. But PvP and Progression are where the game has to compete on the scarce resources of player attention. You can only dedicate yourself to so many competitive communities, and only invest in so many collections.

As Season 2 draws to a close, all eyes are on what Season 3 will bring. With the upcoming introduction of Emperor Thaurissan and other exciting features like Moonglade, Scholomance, PvP replays and leaderboards, and Raids, players have a lot to look forward to.

When you look at the features coming over the horizon, the future looks bright. But the progression and PvP systems have made for stormy seas. Let's hope they can navigate the dangers and reach the release of raids in good standing.