While I adore the Total War games for their engaging campaigns and full-scale skirmishes, the multiplayer offerings have always come across as weak and poorly balanced. So to remedy this lack of a quality multiplayer experience, Creative Assembly and Wargaming.net collide to create the free-to-play strategy game, Total War: Arena. Set back in the times of the Roman Empire, massive teams consisting of 10 players each must put their wits and ingenious strategies to the test if they wish to become victorious.
Total War: Arena is currently at its closed Beta stage during the time of this piece, meaning that the game is playable, but everything I experienced is subject to change. What I like about this choice is that the community that is slowly building up for the game is communicating with the devs directly, offering critical feedback on balancing, unit viability and General effectiveness. This approach will hopefully ensure that at release, Total War: Arena becomes a game that any level of player can enjoy and learn to become competitive at.
The first step to winning a game of Total War: Arena is by picking a general to lead your troops. Picking a general is more than just a simple click, however, they are the soul of your army and strategy so it’s wise to think about what you want to accomplish as a team member beforehand. By picking a general like Germinacus, the player is saying that they prefer a strong melee focused army and will probably field units with a variety of swords, spears and shields to keep in line with their specializations. Even after picking a general that fits the player’s key strategy, now they must pick out three abilities for that general from a hefty 10 layered skill tree. Obviously, Generals will only start out with a couple abilities at their lowest levels, but as the player continues to play and levels up that General they love to use, more powerful and diverse abilities will unlock.
With the general locked in, players must now pick three units to comprise their army. The roster of Total War: Arena is deep, comprised of a wealth of ground forces, range specialists and siege type weaponry. Now the unit count might sound alarming to some traditional Total War fans because half the spectacle is watching two massive armies of 10-12 types units collide with one another, but three units work well in this 10v10 scenario. By maxing the unit count to three, players don’t have a huge force to micromanage and they can dedicate their focus on getting the most potential out of their army as possible.
Heading into gameplay, Total War: Arena feels like a traditional Total War experience, but with an added boost of adrenaline so battles don’t take a large amount of time. The arena’s themselves are quite diverse and feel comfortable for these large scale, 10v10 engagements. There are towers to plant archers into, there are different height levels to maximize the use of catapults and there’s cover to shroud your army for a surprise flank attack on an unaware enemy. While the game demoed quite well there are some concerns I have for the game as it heads further into development which I discussed with some of the devs.
My first worry about Total War: Arena isn’t the large team sizes, but how the communication between teammates appears limited. The only examples of communication I saw were waypoints saying to attack the objective or defend the base, but the devs assured me that there was more to offer. While waypoints are one of the main pieces of overall team communication the team is actually split up into squads of 3-4 people with voice chat enabled. Squad setups like Battlefield are a great solution to make sure voice channels aren’t flooded with overlapping information and callouts. It also keeps the team focused in on one of the three key lanes of the battle.
My last worry was how the team planned to handle microtransactions for Total War: Arena. Unfortunately, this question didn’t receive a clear answer due to the game’s current development state, but the devs were able to go through with me some of the details. As is the standard for free-to-play titles there will be two types of in-game currency, one free and one paid. The free currency will have no restrictions on it allowing players to purchase anything the game has to offer in its marketplace. The paid currency is akin to a progress fastener, allowing the player to outright buy units and more generals. There are definitely some ways the game could price gouge players like making them pay multiple times for units and upgrades if they die, but because this is the experienced team at Wargaming.net publishing Total War: Arena, I have faith that the microtransactions won’t be game breaking.