Total War Arena – Hands On Preview

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CRY HAVOC! AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR! These were words I did not scream at the top of my lungs to my teammates as I flanked my way around a mountain pass. But they were in my head rather poetically as the hoards of Roman armies powered forward. As I took command of Leonidas of Sparta, my little army of an archer unit and two spearmen units charged their way forward to take the enemies base.

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Total War Arena is the new venture into the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre from Creative Assembly and the Total War team. In fact, a completely separate and dedicated Total War team. This real time strategy MOBA, like the rest of them, will be free to play but will give the big scale of the historic battles that the franchise is known for and the accuracy in the units and commanders it uses. So as you would expect, it excels at this. There’s a great levelling system which rewards your battles with unit upgrades, a tech tree, fancy hats (they aren’t just hats they are actual upgrades) and unit customisation. You’ll also unlock special attacks that you can use during the battle between cooldowns.

Battles, battles, battles. The 10v10 real time strategy is very effective and forces you to do a few things. Firstly, it makes think about where you places your troops and how you move them. Much like the Total War games, the ability to flank and hold your archers back to get some good shots on the opposing troops, is essential. How you play the map environment is equally as important as how you play. Charging is a fools errand but being stuck down hill with a unit of archers above you is equally foolhardy. All of this really makes you think about how you approach your movement. Secondly it makes you communicate with your players. This is very much needed with such a large amount of teams and battles commencing and with two different ways to win a game. Having tactics is one thing but talking with others to make sure they work is equally important and using the in game pen drawing system works very well… As long as you understand what the person is saying.

This game follows in a similar vein as World of Tanks in creating a player controlled set up that makes you work with others and using historical military gaming as its set up. The maps we played were very challenging with their own quirks, sneaky ways to base capture or ways to funnel the enemy in to certain death. Which, if we’re honest, is half the fun of these things. The actual combat is easy and smooth and it works very well. Although it can be hard to pull your troops out of a situation if they’re bedded in to a ground skirmish. Well, it would be hard in real life when people are jabbing spears around you and others are smashing their shields in to your buddies. So in this way the game plays very real and in quite the epic scale.

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The upgrading system is privy to in-game purchases, despite the game being free to play. Whilst we are not fully sure how this will work yet, you can use your commander XP to upgrade your units as well as your commander. So we’re guessing the purchases would work in a similar way but we’ll see. The commanders range from the most historically notorious to the entertainment-friendly generals Hollywood has made us love. The aforementioned Spartan is joined by Julius Ceaser, Alexander the Great, Germanicus and their units all have the relevant and correct attire and tools from their period of history. Much of Total War has been their unerring attention to historical detail and with Arena, you get it for free and with a very accessible and dynamic feel thanks to the smooth multiplayer.

The game will be on PC and is currently in Closed Alpha, which means a Beta is surely on the horizon and it would certainly be fun to try. So keep your eyes open. We enjoyed what we played and it’s certainly something that serves the Total War fans and the community very well, as well as the MOBA players and curious minds. Although it might feel a little too refined for the die hard Total War players, it might also allow them to experience something new in either the ingenious way that other humans play, or find themselves some easy cannon fodder for them to destroy.

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