Clash Royale: I complain, therefore I am
Why the hell am I still doing this to myself?
I’ve been playing Clash Royale since pretty much the day it left beta and was released into the Swamp of Occasional Good Things that is the Google Play Store. If that sounds like some early-adoption shenanigans, don’t be fooled! I wasn’t a tester, I wasn’t a Clash of Clans dork (from which the world and units are borrowed), I just happened to check out the store that day (where it was heavily featured, I might add).
At that moment, as I was assaulted by cartoonish imagery from all corners of my phone screen, a thought of great profundity shot into my mind:
“Huh. Looks alright.”
My fate was sealed.
That day was March 2nd 2016, and I’ve played Clash (the shorthand I’ve taken to using; effective, if not exactly creative) practically every day since. And on almost every one of those days, I ask myself the same question:
To be fair, this feeling usually manifests itself after a string of losses (I may or may not be something of a poor loser, with a Masters in Huffing (MHu)), but I do believe these criticisms to be valid and genuinely symptomatic of the game’s flaws.
Firstly, Supercell, with all their money and expertise, still couldn’t evade the single most debilitating aspect of F2P mobile games: pay-to-win. The game is saturated with encouragement to spend, and while the most profligate players will usually occupy the untouchable upper tiers, you just never know when you’ll run into someone playing in your arena (the cosmetic battleground denoting your overall standing) who’s spent their way ahead of the curve in terms of unit attributes. This will never not be intolerable and insufferable.
Then you have the humps. At least a few times in my ascent of the ranks, I came across real progress bottlenecks, where I’d see-saw backwards and forwards around a particular trophy landmark. Your trophy score is how you’re ranked and matched against other players (you’ll gain and drop them for a win or a loss), and advancing beyond a set number grants entry to the next arena. Higher arenas mean more bountiful rewards upon winning, so reaching them is a big deal. Staying in them is an even bigger one.
How strange, then, that progressing past these critical points often feels like a Sisyphean undertaking, despite no real practical reason for it. It’s no secret that your eight-card deck, from which you hurl your units into the battlefield, can never truly be equipped to handle every combination of moustachioed goons your opponent can wield. But my goodness it’s incredible how, after dipping a haggered and exhausted toe into the Legendary Arena, I’ll be matched against a string of players my loadout is incapable of competing against and get bundled back down to Hog Mountain with the sub-3800 trophy riff-raff…
Which brings us nicely on to the meta. This is not a Clash Royale-unique problem, but is notable nonetheless. Certain cards will end up being favoured by the community, and when those cards can be described as overpowered at best, and downright unfair at worst, it’s hard not to roll your eyes a full 180° into the back of your head when they drop into the arena for the 6th game in a row. Supercell implement regular buffs and nerfs, ostensibly to keep every card competitive, but let me tell you, if I had a quid for every game I’ve played against the Elite Barbarians, I’d have asphyxiated in a landslide of coins months ago.
You’re welcome to take my criticisms with a JCB-full of salt, of course; I am, after all, a self-confessed hissy-fitter. But you must be wondering why I bother! What’s with this masochistic, self-flagellating, pity-party? Uninstall it and bugger off, old man!
I can’t, and I won’t. Why?
Because Clash Royale, the actual game, is an absolute barnstormer.
There is, put simply, nothing to touch it on mobile. In a world where we’re suffocating under endless clickers, turn-based upgrade-a-thons, and match-three knock-off bullshit, it stands proud as a game.
Spend five minutes with it, and it’s clear Supercell sat down and came up with the core game first, before figuring out all the superfluous nonsense like how they were going to monetise it. The vast majority of its rivals are money-makers first, and games second (though Clash is most certainly a money-maker: https://venturebeat.com/2017/02/15/clash-royale-clash-of-clans-push-supercell-to-2-3-billion-in-2016-revenue/)
A unique mix of MOBA and CCG, Clash doesn’t attempt to replicate either, instead borrowing their core concepts and creating a recognisable, easily understandable hybrid. By building a bespoke product for the mobile audience, they’ve embraced the benefits of the platform and neatly managed it’s restrictions, something which its competitors are often uninterested in exploring (beyond how best to empty your wallet).
That initially sickening Clash of Clans-like demeanour, all chunky sprites, over-the-top audio and dad jokes, becomes pleasent and endearing. Its accessible too, with a wonderfully interactive and respectful tutorial which doesn’t force you to click buttons for an hour or treat you like a child.
And despite its mobile home, and it’s 3–4 minute games, the moment-to-moment action delivers regular bouts of drama, real back-and-forth conflicts, on par with AAA titles. You haven’t lived until one of your plucky Goblin Spearmen knocks the last sliver of health from a long-besieged enemy tower in the dying seconds of overtime, all while your own tower is moments away from being smashed to bits by a hirsute black man riding a pig.
The Game before all else, then. It seems obvious to say it, but so few do it. It’s this, in spite of its problems, that’s kept me playing Clash Royale, and what’ll likely keep me doing so for some time. I’ll continue to recommend it with a clear conscience, as its approach deserves both the acclaim and its ever-increasing download numbers.
So, to answer my initial question: “Why the hell am I still doing this to myself?
Because Clash Royale is a damn good game. Sometimes, it’s as straightforward as that.