Posted December 25, 2014 by Peter in Previews

Hands on: Total War: Arena

Total War Arena logo
Total War Arena logo

Until now, the Total War series have been best known as single player experiences, allowing players to spend considerable amounts of time overlooking battles and planning strategies. But after its annoucement at 2013′s GDC, Creative Assembly is setting foot into the Strategy-MMO genre, with Total War: Arena in development and now available for applications to join the closed alpha.

Games Fiends got hands on with it recently, finding in the process that being a military tactician may not be a good career move. The setup of the game sounds quite simple – 10 vs 10 player battles, with each player controlling three squads of troops, seeking to either completely defeat the enemy armies or to occupy their base. Of course, numerous elements add levels of complexity and strategy to this basis.

Your troops fit various roles, such as a solid wall of melee or a softer group of ranged fighters, with options for upgrading their efficiency using XP and silver earned after combat. Your chosen commander also makes a difference, being able to issue orders for specialist skills based on their role – defensive, or disruptive, to give two examples. Similarly, as your commander gains ranks more skills and troop types become available.
Total War Arena screen
Combat itself is surprisingly quick. Of the games played, none ran to the full 15 minute timer, with surprising amounts of movement back and forth across the battlefields in the process. Basic strategy is important – moving through cover to engage an enemy from a blind spot, getting your groups to fight the enemy from multiple directions at once, keeping ranged teams free to shoot (but breaking off to prevent friendly fire)… with skills specific to certain commanders available on a cooldown. Shield bash was a favourite, knocking opposing soldiers down briefly but earning a considerable timer before another use.

As a multiplayer game it is important to keep an eye on your allies as well as enemies though – seeing a friendly group flee combat near you and leave you open to attack being a basic cause of dread, although opportunistically attacking an enemy from the rear while they are caught by an ally gives the counteracting degree of glee. Knowing how to play in a team is essential.
Total War Arena screen
Communication will definitely be useful, although perhaps not as essential as a personal plan to stick to – my initial games keeping my three groups together ended in distaster, while later giving them some distance to properly flank and support each other went far better. However, even if your teams get annihilated you can still watch the fight through, and are able to draw advice on the map if you feel it can help.

The game is due to be free-to-play, although there was no announcement on what role any form of monetisation may be. Unofficially a team member said that the goal was for the game to remain balanced whether someone has paid for content or not, and given the room for players to be good or bad strategists this may result in a game where planning and teamwork can exceed all else.

While currently being in development and not available as a public build, prospective players are invited to sign up for a chance to participate in the closed alpha that is now running.

Total War: Arena is currently in development, and is due for release on PC in 2015.


Peter can be described as an old, hairy gamer, a survivor of the console wars of the 1990s, and a part-time MMO addict. He has an especial fondness for retro gaming and observing the progressions in long running gaming series. When scandalously not caught gaming, he can also be found reading comics and fantasy fiction, or practising terrible photography.