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Tactical Monsters Rumble Arena – First Look

Tactical Monster Rumble Arena made the jump from Android to Steam last Friday, hoping to snag a foothold in the tactical card-battle genre. Over the last few days I’ve spent just over 10 hours with the thing to see what it’s all about.

Tactical Monster Rumble Arena is a one on one strategy RPG and monster-collecting game with a really long name. The overall goal of the game is to collect monsters from a large set, each with varying rarity, and carry them off into battle. Each monster has their own set of moves along with a passive skill, and they grow in power as you battle with them. It’s a novel concept for a video game. Personally I’m shocked nobody in the industry has tried it before.

When you start up the game, you’re ushered through a very short and very to-the-point tutorial which teaches you how your monsters move on the hexagonal grid, how to attack with them, and the basics of using ultimate abilities. Battles on average only last about 2 minutes, so there isn’t a lot of ground to cover for basics. Each character gets their own dedicated action where they can move. If they are moving into melee range of an enemy unit, they can also attack in the same motion. Ranged characters, however, cannot move and use a ranged attack in the same turn. As units take and deal damage, they build up an ultimate meter denoted by these small squares under their health bar and portrait. Once it’s full, you can use that monster’s unique ultimate ability to help turn the tide of battle.

You win a game of Rumble Arena by defeating all your enemies’ monsters. This is the same across all four gameplay modes, though there are variations throughout.

The first mode, which is the normal PVE mode is what you’ll spend most of your first few hours in. Here you proceed through a series of stages set up on a map almost like Angry Birds (this was a mobile game first after all) and earn rewards as you progress. Each of these battles is a 5v5 and you’re given the opportunity to cycle monsters into and out of your squad between each fight so you can choose the best monsters for each encounter.

Your monster choices happen during the deployment phase. You’re shown that level’s map and hazards as well as enemy starting positions. The game gives you an area of dark blue hexagons on which to place your team, and then the fight starts. I still haven’t figured out how the game decides turn order, but it will be the same no matter what for these battles so make sure you pay attention to who goes first if you get stuck. Opening positions and paying attention to turn order are keys to success in the harder stages.

After completing each fight in this mode, you’re given rewards. These include specific cards and gold. You use the specific cards for unlocking new monsters if you don’t have them or leveling up the ones you already have. Each level a monster can gain requires a certain number of duplicate cards that increases exponentially as they grow in power. Rarer monsters require fewer per level because they’re harder to obtain, in theory. This sets up a problem later, but we’ll come to it in a bit. Leveling up your monsters also grants them upgraded versions of their abilities which can have increased stats or secondary abilities added on. Make sure you check these often as you play through.

Each full chapter you complete in this mode unlocks a new mode for you to play. Completing through Chapter 2 unlocks the Guerilla Warfare mode, which is a boss rush mode. You jump into a battle royale style fight that begins with one or two bosses which are replaced by more and more as you defeat them. You can win a decent amount of resources from this, but it can take some powerful cards before you’re able to clear past the first few levels of difficulty.

Completing Chapter 3 of the main Adventure mode unlocks the first PVP mode, Mine Defense. You pick a squad of 5 units, and then choose a target from three possible players. The strength of that player’s team determines how much you’ll get for winning. Once you click battle you’re done. You don’t control anything in this mode. You just throw your strongest monsters in there and watch them fight.

If you want a real PVP experience, you’ll have to complete up through Chapter 4 in the regular Adventure mode. In League Battles, you select 3 monsters and the game randomly matches you with another player. Important side note, the matchmaking in this game is awful. You will be matched with much higher level players constantly when you’re new. This also ties into the other major problem I experienced with the PVP in this game.

Tactical Monsters Rumble Arena is extremely pay-to-win. You can buy monster cards with gold, but gold is hard to earn without an already functioning PVP squad. The problem with that is even once I had one, I kept getting paired with people who had level 10+ Epic monsters because they spent a bunch of money on monster chests. That’s one of the keys to this game’s monetization. Getting monster cards that are useful takes a long time, and if you want to actually participate in the PVP you need to spend cash on monster chests. The more you spend on your chests, the better monster’s you’ll get.

In fact, in the most expensive chest, you’re guaranteed to get one of the highest rarity monsters in the game as well as 7 of the second highest. You also get gems (the in game cash currency) and a ton of gold to pay for upgrades for those creatures.

Now I know this is a mobile game and I shouldn’t be surprised by such vicious monetization. The reason why it took me aback a bit though was because Jason, our lead writer over at MMOHuts.com conducted an interview on the 13th of November (just 6 days ago at time of recording) with Michael Tseng. Tseng is the Chief Operating Officer at Camex Games, the studio behind the game.

In that interview, Jason asked,

“I have to ask, because everyone always wants to know: is this game pay-to-win? As in, can people invest money and create far more powerful armies for PVP?”

Tseng’s answer to this question is as follows: “In Tactical Monsters, a player cannot win in PVP just because they have the most powerful characters. There are a lot of strategy aspects that players need to formulate… like which characters to use and where to place them.”

The problem with his answer is two-fold, and you may have already spotted it. You absolutely CAN have a more powerful army for PVP by spending money, which after a point nullifies any need for an actual strategy. The second portion of his answer is also incorrect because in the currently implemented PVP modes, you do not determine the placement of your monsters. They always begin in the same place.

My honest recommendation to you all, after having spent a large and irretrievable portion of my life on this game in the last few days, is to stay far away. If you were considering it, especially for PVP, just go play Hand of the Gods or Duelyst instead.

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Colt takes a first look at Tactical Monsters Rumble Arena