While at the Wargaming offices in San Francisco, the Wargaming Alliance team gave me an exclusive look at the next Roman commander in Total War Arena, Sulla. We also had the chance to play a bunch of games together and get absolutely stomped. I had been playing the game before our giveaway and a few weeks ahead of visiting their offices. Even before meeting the passionate team, even before interviewing Joshua Williams from Creative Assembly about the game’s design, I would have asked you: why aren’t you playing? It’s good and good from a Total War fan’s perspective. Each match pits two teams of ten players against one another, and each player controls three units, making for 30 units on each team in what is effectively an epic-scaled battle that encapsulates the best aspect of the Total War franchise: the battles.
Partnership between Creative Assembly, SEGA, and Wargaming Alliance
Creative Assembly learned from Wargaming’s experience, expertise, and success in the free to play market. Much of the progression system and its economics will be familiar to anyone who has played any of Wargaming’s other titles like World of Tanks. It works well in Total War: Arena, where players have a handful of factions to play with a few commanders in each and an array of unique faction specific units with multiple upgrade paths.
Image courtesy of Wargaming Alliance
As with most free to play games, Total War: Arena will be implementing purchasable game currency (gold) that can be converted into pretty much anything you want experience wise and accelerating the quality of your units, and eventually cosmetics. Luckily, the matchmaking system matches players with similar tiered units, but skipping progression doesn’t feel satisfying as the progression feels quick and rewarding in its current iteration. Earning experience is easy and comes at a pace that works with the learning curve of the unit. Players earn silver after battles that is used for upgrading units, buying consumables for battles, replenishing casualties, and buying new units. So far it feels like a fair system thanks to the matchmaking, though new commanders do tend to be expensive to buy with Free Exp.
Currently, there are 3 factions: Romans, Greeks, and Barbarians. Each faction has three or four commanders, each with special activated abilities and passive army upgrades. Players earn unit specific experience when that unit is used in battle, and a pool of “Free Exp,” which can be used to upgrade commanders, their abilities, or in place of unit experience for unit upgrades. Unit upgrades consist of upgraded armor and weapons, which increase the unit’s stats. The benefits of these upgrades aren’t immediately noticeable until after the beginning tier units, however, but the higher tier units have a larger variety of upgrades available to them. Players should not expect the same fantastic visual quality for units as other games in the franchise. It’s hard to beat the detail of Warhammer and Warhammer II, and Arena is a far cry from that level of visual appeal on the battlefield.
In my small group of friends, a few of us always find time to play Total War multiplayer, most recently Total War: Warhammer II. Cooperative battles against AI is probably some of the most fun I’ve ever had gaming. Total War: Arena captures that same fun, but in a unique way: smaller control over a larger battlefield versus other players. Controlling only three units changes the typical Total War battle from macro gameplay to micro. Joshua Williams said that in Total War: Warhammer battles, players would issue on average 2-3 commands per unit. In Arena, that number averages around 300. Maps are varied enough for every unit type to have an advantage in multiple areas for smart players, and for those who are familiar with Total War, units have very specific weak and strong matchups. Knowing these matchups is important and means the difference between feeling useful in a battle and being actually run over. Units have special abilities and commander abilities that are determined by the commander brought into battle, making for some interesting combinations. Matches are fast and strategic requiring adaptability, smart setup, and even patience, much like other Total War games. No two battles are the same.
Those bits of rare co-op battles from other Total War titles are encapsulated into a fast, and fun PvP experience in Total War: Arena. Creative Assembly took one aspect of what already made Total War great, the battles, and innovated. Even in closed beta, the game has a lot of polish and even more potential. Wargaming Alliance and Creative Assembly have brokered some kind of deal with supernatural forces, transforming the mantra of 4x strategy from “just one more turn” to “just one more match” in a free to play PvP experience even die-hard purist Total War fans can enjoy. With more factions coming eventually, like Japan, Total War: Arena is a title I’ll be playing far past beta and one you should keep on your radar.