Posted November 8, 2017 by Andrew Cathie in Feature

PAX Aus 2017: Total War: ARENA Hands-Off Preview

Over the last couple of decades Creative Assembly have become known for one thing – giant strategy games that can easily consume your life. While these games are great for some, there is a large number of gamers that no longer, or never did, have the time to spend tens of hours on Total War campaigns. Creative Assembly have taken note of this and have teamed up with Wargaming to develop a new Total War game built around quicker playtimes and PvP combat, Total War: ARENA. I got the chance to see some of the game at PAX Aus 2017, while chatting with Creative Assembly’s Josh Williams and Wargaming’s Al King.

Designed to be a much faster than traditional Total War entries, allowing for quick games and much lower time footprint. To facilitate this, Creative Assembly have stripped back the experience to focus on the 10v10 real-time strategy battles of Total War, completely eliminating the diplomacy and turn-based parts of the series. Instead, the strategy is based around which Commander and units you take into battle, the strategies you plan with your allies and how you utilise your terrain. Watching a replay of a game Josh played, as he also narrated his movements and decisions, it was clear that Creative Assembly wanted to make sure that players still felt like their choices and decisions really mattered in how the game played out. Fog of war, open plains, choke points, tall grass, high and low terrain and how you utilise them are extremely important and ignoring them comes at your own peril. While Total War: ARENA is a PvP experience based around faster battles than a traditional Total War game, it looks to have kept that central essence of the franchise.

The big change in Total War: ARENA’s battles comes with the make-up of the armies you’re taking into battle. Instead of the enormous armies, filled with thousands of units, you previously had, in ARENA you select 1 Commander and 3 Units (each comprised of up to 100 soldiers) from 3 different factions to take into battle. Each Commander has their own unique and special abilities that can be used during battle, with Factions having different mixes and types of Units compared to others. Some Commanders are built for offense, quickly hitting enemies hard, others are built for surprise attacks and some are even built to provide a staunch defence. As you complete battles with your Commanders they’ll gain experience and level up, independently of your accounts level and unit unlocks.

Being a free to play game without an upfront payment required, there has to be a way for the game to make money. In Total War: ARENA, Creative Assembly and Wargaming seem to have found what I would consider to an extremely fair way to monetise the game without providing ample advantage against non-paying players. Josh confirmed that there are two forms of monetisation within Total War: ARENA. The first of these is a Premium Account, which allows you to accrue experience faster. Now, this would normally give paying players a big advantage, but in ARENA, your matchmaking and battle levels are not controlled by your player level and are instead controlled by the tier of units you take into battle. This looks like it will help curb a bit of the advantage from faster level gaining. It also allows you to manually control your matchmaking tier, providing a transparency and control to matchmaking that I haven’t seen before and appreciate.

The other form of micro-transaction in Total War: ARENA comes in the form of Premium Units. These are a range of units that can be purchased at later tiers and fill unit archetypes that you normally wouldn’t find in that Faction. An example of this is for the Barbarians, who historically wouldn’t have used javelins. Their standard units are devoid of javelins for this reason, but you can buy a premium unit that uses javelins to augment your army. Without playing the game extensively myself I honestly can’t determine if these premium units will provide an extensive advantage to paying players, but I was assured that Creative Assembly wants to make sure that non-paying players are able to have fun playing the game.

With a fast-paced, stripped back experience, Total War: ARENA looks to provide a way for time-strapped gamers to play strategic Total War battles. From what I saw, the game is definitely providing a satisfying level of strategy that fans of both Total War and general real-time strategy games.

Total War: ARENA is currently in closed beta and you can currently purchase a Founders Pack or register for the chance to receive a closed beta key at the official website.

Andrew Cathie

Rocket Chainsaw's premier Fantasy-loving Editor. I basically play anything and everything that looks like it could be fun or interesting.