I generally am not into mobile games. While I do play some games on my phone, it’s generally either Hearthstone or the World of Warcraft Legion App, both of which are tied to the PC in some way. I did play Fallout Shelter for a bit, but got frustrated with its quirks that made for some confusing moments. Generally, whenever I happen to try a mobile game it goes like this: I’ll play it for a bit, stop, then find it’s not really all that fun and delete it from my phone. Star Wars Force Arena might turn out to be different. I’ve been playing it sporadically over the last few weeks, and am finding myself curiously hooked. The game is essentially a very simple MOBA with some CCG elements sprinkled in.
The playing field is very small, with only two lanes and one layer of turrets for each side (compared to the typical three lanes and three layers of a typical MOBA) protecting the final turret and a shield generator. Each player selects a hero character from either the Empire or the Alliance to control, along with a deck of seven unit/ability cards as their available “creeps.” Generally, in MOBAs creeps will spawn at regular intervals and mindlessly charge their lanes until they reach something to attack. Force Arena operates a little differently as the player decides when and where to spawn their creep units from their “deck”, using a pool of regenerating energy. In addition to units, the player also has the option to issue some support abilities, such as calling in a TIE Fighter or X-Wing strafing run, lobbing a powerful grenade, or generating a temporary turret to supplement defenses. The Heroes themselves also have a passive supporting ability, as well as an active skill to help supplement their creeps, in addition to a basic ranged/melee attack.
Games are short, running about three minutes or until the one side’s shield generator is destroyed. If both generators are still up after three minutes, the player who destroyed the most turrets is declared the winner. If both players are tied, there is a one minute sudden death period where the player who destroys the next turret wins. After the sudden death period, if no turret was destroyed, the game is declared a draw. The short length of each match is a huge plus for mobile usage, allowing a lot of flexibility in getting in games. Have a free ten minutes? You’d be lucky to maybe get one game of Hearthstone in that time, but you could easily slip in one or two games of Force Arena.
There’s also a 2v2 mode where you team up with another player. The amount of turrets remain the same but the map layout is a little different. I haven’t really played it at all so I can’t speak to how fun it is, but I’d probably recommend you make use of joining a guild to find people to play with in that mode, as it seems that coordination will be a major element of that mode.
There are two basic pillars for this game: 1) Building a balanced deck, and 2) getting a good sense of how/when to spend your energy.
Making a deck full of expensive units and abilities may seem like a fun idea, but you’ll generally only be able to spawn one unit at a time. Sure, sometimes you can catch an opponent unaware and snag easy wins. But if they happen to have an appropriate counter, you’ll have just wasted your energy and have to essentially try to solo whatever your opponent throws at you while you’re waiting for your energy to regenerate for your next expensive (and easily countered) unit. Likewise, filling your deck with all sorts of cheap squadron units is susceptible to wave clearing abilities that will similarly make your energy expenditures feel like a waste.
Of course, actually having a balanced deck doesn’t help much if you aren’t spending your energy wisely. Knowing when to aggressively spend your energy to push a tower versus holding to see what your opponent spawns so you can counterattack can massively swing games. Each hero also has a “unique” partner available as a spawnable creep to consider for your deck. The unique card is only available to that specific hero and is usually tied to the Hero in some way (Luke has Obi-Wan, Han has Chewbacca, etc.). In addition to being generally more powerful than normal creeps, they have their own special abilities and provide buffs to your hero. Obi-Wan, for instance, can mind control a unit’s worth of creeps to change sides, as well as giving Luke a damage buff when Obi-Wan is defeated. Some unique partners are better than others, of course, so you’ll need to plan out if you are going to try and acquire your favorite hero’s unique card (more on that in a bit).
Something for just about every Star Wars fan
The Hero selection (as well as their unique partner cards) is surprisingly diverse. With the exception of the Prequel Trilogy and non-canonized EU, you’ll find someone you can get attached to whether you’re a fan of the original movies, Rogue One, or Rebels. Even an obscure character from the Darth Vader comics, Doctor Aphra1, makes an appearance. The only issue is two heroes that feel out of place: Grand Moff Tarkin and Emperor Palpatine. Both have always been more of behind the scenes characters, and even though Palpatine could more than hold his own in a fight, its weird seeing both of them engaged on a battlefield. I’m wondering if they’re just having trouble coming up with enough canon characters on the Imperial side, but there’s gotta be some better options out there (Darth Maul instead of Palpatine, maybe?2).
Pay2Win? Yes and No…
“So how do I get heroes? How do I acquire cards?” I’m glad you asked! As a new player, after an initial tutorial guiding you through the basic concepts of the game, you’ll have two heroes for each side (Luke, Leia, Krennic, Grand Inquisitor) and an assortment of cards to start getting into 1v1 matches. There’s also some introductory missions (basically a checklist of in-game accomplishments) that will award cards, currency, and eventually new heroes to provide some supplemental progression for a new player. It’s also important to note that the card pool in this game is really, really small, so you’ll be getting tons of duplicate cards. This serves as another form of game progression as you can “level up” your cards. Once you reach a certain amount and pay a fee in credits, your card will get stronger, gaining health, damage, etc. Both the upgrade fee and the amount of cards needed go up exponentially, so at some point you’ll need a ton of cards and money to keep progressing your cards this way. Upgrading cards also provides XP to your account, which in turn levels your account up, providing increases in stats for your turrets and shield generators.
There are two forms of currency that exist in the game, and surprisingly, neither are exclusively acquired through paying real money. Credits is the basic currency, needed primarily for leveling up cards, buying some individual cards in the in-game shop, and to facilitate trading. Crystals are the “premium” currency. You can use them to buy packs in the shop and to speed up pack unlocks. You can acquire crystals without spending money, but generally it’ll be at a very slow rate outside of the occasional login rewards the game provides.
Packs are the most straightforward way of acquiring cards. Packs have five tiers of quality going from bronze, silver, gold, platinum to diamond, and there’s another tiering of pack quality based on how high you’ve ranked in matchmaking. The better the tier, the better stuff you can get. You’ll be given a free bronze pack every four hours, and playing games in matchmaking will generally net you packs of varying qualities. Winning games and spending crystals speed up the process. Winning a game generally earns you a “Victory Pack” but it requires you to wait a few hours or spend some crystals in order to unlock the contents. There’s also an in-game shop where you can buy individual cards for credits (though quality and selection are limited) and high-tiered packs for crystals. You can also buy premium boosters for real money, which speed up your victory pack unlocks and provides a bonus victory slot. You can also buy crystals as well. The boosters seem pointless to anyone outside of an uber competitive player, while buying crystals seems to be an efficient way of catching up or accelerating player progression.
So up until this point, I haven’t really felt like the game has required me to spend any real money. I’m sure that will change at some point. Once you rank up through matchmaking, you’re eventually going to hit a wall where you are just going to get steamrolled because your creeps and hero are too under-leveled compared to your opponent. At that point you’ll have to make a choice. Spend some money on crystals to level your cards, or just grind it out and be in store for some painful games in the meantime. We’ll see how long it takes for me to get to that point.
To that end, I’d definitely look for the various guides that are available to research ways to spend your credits and crystals. There’s some obtuseness about certain elements in the game that I’m sure is there intentionally to goad players into wasting crystals and credits, so you can get a leg up on progression by making good use of your in-game currencies.
I’d definitely recommend this to people looking for a time-waster on their phones. It’s a great blending of the MOBA and CCG genres. Games are quick, it’s definitely casual and new player friendly, and it’s Star Wars. So far, the game has seemed to strike a really good balance of catering to the freeloaders and the whales, and that’s quite an accomplishment.