Multiplayer online battle arenas, or MOBAs, have been around for a while now, with the likes of Dota 2 and League of Legends dominating the esports market. And as great as these fantasy-driven games are, they leave a gap in the market for something with real warfare. Enter Total War: Arena.
Total War: Arena plays out the grand battles that we are used to, but with a big twist. Instead of commanding whole armies, you are tasked instead with controlling three garrisons of troops. Joined by nine online allies, it’s your collective task to organise your troops and overcome your opponents.
The battles feel very arcade-like compared to the traditional Total War franchise. There is some limiting of mechanics from the traditional games, with a focus on three unit types: infantry, ranged and cavalry. The complexity of the war goals has also been trimmed down. In a grand campaign, your goal might not be to win a battle, but instead significantly weaken your opponent in the war. This isn’t the case in Arena; you either win by annihilation, by capturing the enemy’s base, or by having the most men left after 15 minutes.
The simplification isn’t as bad as it may sound, however. It goes a long way in streamlining battles and making them fast-paced and exciting. And while there is some simplification of strategy, there’s still a huge deal of tactics at play that shape the focus of the battle. Depending on your allies’ make-up of units you will need to alter how you and your teammates approach the battle. For instance, in some battles my allies and I had an underwhelming amount of archers, requiring us to force the battle before being too weakened by enemy fire.
Before getting into battle, though, you must choose a general, the units you will bring to war and the equipment they will wear. This is where Total War: Arena starts to feel more like a MOBA. Firstly, each general has their own unique buffs that can be used on cooldown in battle. These can really make a difference if used well. Depending which faction your general comes from also determines the units you will have access to. Each faction also has their own tech tree that uses points earned in game to unlock and pay for new units of your choice.
These differences in unit types and general abilities will certainly shape any metagame that occurs in Total War: Arena. I can imagine this becoming a really engaging sport to watch as it has the bloody warfare and the quick clever plays available that can swing a game around. It will also be much more accessible to the casual viewer than its more standard MOBA counterparts as it is easier to understand what is happening when troops are falling down dead.
Any worry of Total War: Arena becoming a pay-to-win situation was quickly diminished by the excellent matchmaking that created fairly balanced teams, despite some of my allies being fairly stupid sometimes and allowing the centre to crumble – yes, I am still bitter. In fact I would say the biggest credit I give Total War: Arena is how quickly it matches 20 people into a game that runs perfectly on my rubbish laptop with fairly naff internet connection. It played as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
Total War: Arena is an exciting game that takes the Total War essence and creates a short multiplayer contest. These battles may lack the finesse of a great siege or the historical accuracy that we have come to expect, but that’s not what this game is about. It is about accessibility to an intriguing battle system. I can imagine this being one hell of an esport in time.