When Netmarble first announced the upcoming Star Wars: Force Arena, we wondered why the company so far best known for Marvel Future Fight in the U.S. didn’t just call it a MOBA. After all, it sure sounded like one with its emphasis on real time PvP, and the sample screens released at the time sure made it look that way. Now that we’ve had some time to play a pre-release build of the game, we can answer that question for both ourselves and for you: Force Arena certainly has some characteristics of a MOBA, but it’s also very much a card game.
Let’s tackle the MOBA parts first. As it currently stands, Star Wars: Force Arena is all about 1v1 or 2v2 play against other human opponents. Each player uses a well-known character from either the light or dark sides of the Star Wars universe (you can fight light vs. light, at least for now, so no Luke against Han) with its own distinct basic attacks and special abilities. The object is to destroy the shield generator on the opposing team’s side of the map so it isn’t quite operational when your friends in the X-Wings or TIE Fighters arrive.
(Sorry, a little Return of the Jedi humor there from Emperor Palpatine’s famous stand-up routine.)
Both the three-quarters viewpoint and the map layout, which splits the battlefield into two lanes are very MOBA-esque. You also have turrets defending each lane, along with a final turret that needs to be dealt with before you can attack the shield generator and deal the final blow to your enemy. Blowing up the turrets gets you points that can earn you a victory if neither side kills off the base before the time limit expires.
There aren’t any auto-generating minions though, and here’s where the card game aspects join us. Each player has a deck of cards consisting of troops, vehicles and special weapons (think grenades or thermal detonators) that can be played on the battlefield using a pool of energy that slowly regenerates over time. Timely and proper use of these cards is the only way to win a battle, as your primary character isn’t powerful enough to go it alone.
If that part of Star Wars: Force Arena reminds you of Clash Royale, you’re not wrong. It’s fair to say the game takes a lot of influence from Supercell’s monster 2016 hit, including the way reward packs for battles you win are queued up and can only be opened after a certain amount of time has elapsed. Unless, of course, you’re willing to spend premium currency on them. Free packs also arrive every few hours, and you can earn a few more every day simply by playing enough battles.
Even the way cards can be leveled up by acquiring enough duplicates and spending some of the normal in-game currency will feel familiar to Clash Royale players, meaning just about everyone. The big difference, and the one that most gives it the standard MOBA flavor, is the way you control your main character and use his or her special abilities, which are on cooldown timers instead of drawing from your deck’s energy pool.
As a result, battles feel pretty frantic when you are up against someone who knows what they’re doing. Since you don’t have a full view of the battlefield, you need to rely on the mini-map to see if your opponent has an attack going against one turret while you are engaged with them in the other lane, which isn’t always easy to do. Characters are controlled with simple tap controls — tap to move or attack, double-tap to dash — but they don’t always feel as responsive as you’d like. Certainly, one wrong tap can tie your character up doing something you’d rather not have them do.
Where Star Wars: Force Arena really might have a chance to shine is in 2v2 play. Playing with a partner makes some of the issues with the super fast pace and attempting to cover the whole map more manageable, yet it could also be intimidating for people not used to MOBAs since there’s a chance that novice play can let your teammate down. Seeing how casual mobile gamers respond to this particular formula might be the most intriguing part of the game’s launch.
As of right now, we still don’t know exactly when that will be. Netmarble only says that Force Arena will launch “in the coming weeks,” and with Rogue One on the way on the 16th, it would seem like the sooner the better from a marketing perspective — particularly since characters from that movie are being promoted for the game. Pre-registration is underway now for both iOS and Android, though the latter offers additional in-game currency above what players unlock before launch on the former.