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Game Info:

Total War: Arena
Developed By: Creative Assembly
Published By: Wargaming
Released: TBD
Available On: PC
Genre: Real-Time Strategy (RTS)
ESRB Rating: N/A
Number of Players: 1 offline, 20 online
Price: Free-to-Play (FTP)

Total War is a genre in and of itself. Its grand scale, boasting thousands of individual warriors onscreen, draws armchair commanders in. While every entry added to the franchise offers a multiplayer mode, it is always secondary to the singleplayer campaign. In that regard, Arena differs fundamentally.

Built from the ground up with multiplayer in mind, Total War: Arena pits ten players against another ten on a virtual battlefield. You choose from a variety of Commanders, legends hailing from the factions of ancient times: Greeks, Romans, and Barbarians. Each Commander has three distinct abilities that buff his or her own units and debilitate enemy units. The Greek hero Leonidas substantially buffs his soldiers’ defense and morale, and an offensive Shield Bash that deals damage to enemies who get too close. The Barbarian turncoat Arminius allows his soldiers to maintain faster speeds with Momentum, and appear as a friendly player through Infiltration (which honestly works a lot better than you might think it would). The Roman general Germanicus lets his Legionaries form the iconic testudo defensive formation, and gain a major damage buff the longer his soldiers stay in combat.

The scope of Arena, on an individual level, is much smaller and simpler than in traditional Total Wars. Every player has just three units to work with. Unit types are distilled to their basic functions: spearmen destroy cavalry, cavalry murders ranged units, archers harass infantry, and infantry do well against spears. Whether you choose all three of the same unit, or a sampling of three totally different types, your scope is limited to under three hundred soldiers. Arena emphasizes teamwork, allied strategy, and coordination more so than solo heroics. Sure, one or two players get the top number of kills in a match, but the other eight teammates assisted them in reaching that score.

In these two regards – picking a specific hero with designated abilities, and emphasis on team strategy – Arena arguably feels like a MOBA ("multiplayer online battle arena," such as League of Legends, Dota 2, and Smite) as well as a real-time strategy game. Rather, it is RTS gameplay with MOBA elements, which works together extremely well. In a time where the MOBA giants are fully established, and new derivatives get made day-in and day-out, Arena’s focus on RTS gameplay with heroic elements added in make for a unique experience.

Total War: Arena
Highlights:

Strong Points: Massive 10v10 battles; deep strategy and tactics; fast-paced battles
Weak Points: Questionable balance
Moral Warnings: Basic, bloodless combat on grand scale; alcoholic references

Total War: Arena is not without its issues, however. For any strictly multiplayer title, balance is and will remain of paramount importance. As of this writing, Arena is still in Closed Beta. The developers have plenty of leeway to make balance changes as they see fit. Engaging in combat, when examined close-up, appears bland and uninteresting. On the contrary, watching a heavy cavalry’s charge nuke a javelin unit’s health bar is far more satisfying than the ensuing combat. And while the game performs very impressively on most systems (I regularly got 60 fps on an Nvidia 660 Ti), the textures take a hit to fidelity when zoomed in on. The camera is fixated less than 100 feet from the ground, which is meant to “bring you closer to the action;” also the more horrifying pixels, they neglect to mention.

The audio in Arena sounds top-notch. The soundtrack, an important part of any game you’ll have to hear repeated ad infinitum, builds tension first as you approach your enemy, then when you clash, and once more as you near victory or defeat. Helpful vocal cues inform you when you’ve slain an enemy Commander, your units have begun routing, or your base is being captured.

Total War: Arena is free-to-play, and follows the progression model of World of Tanks. You begin at Tier 1 with the most basic infantry, cavalry, and archers. As you advance in Tiers, your Commander’s abilities unlock, you gain access to stronger units, and you unlock new types of units altogether, such as artillery, war dogs, and pikemen. Don’t worry: battles are locked by Tier to prevent wild, unbalanced matches. Though you can technically sneak low-Tier units along with high-Tier soldiers; I’ve seen games where T2 units went up against T7….

That said, nine times out of ten, Tier difference will not make the difference between victory and defeat. Your tactics matter far more than your Tier level. Weaker spearmen still beat stronger cavalry, and a low-level cavalry charge will decimate advanced archers.

Total War: Arena
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 82%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 74%
Violence - 3/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

Microtransactions are an important aspect in any free-to-play title. Arena's premium currency, Gold, can generate Silver (used to replenish troops and purchase unlocked equipment), convert one unit's individual XP into Free XP (used to upgrade Commanders, their abilities, and any unit unlocked by the player), enable Premium User status (+50% XP and Silver rewards), or purchase cosmetically-altered shields to flourish the field with beauty. Some accuse that this methodology is pay-to-win: it becomes progressively harder to field higher Tiered units, which are strictly stronger than their earlier counterparts. The highest levels of play, T8-10, require astronomical amounts of Silver, to the point a player cannot consistently put out Royal Spartans or Palatini match after match. As explained before, however, Tiers matter less than tactics. While a premium user is more often able to purchase T8, 9, and 10 soldiers, they will lose to a superior strategy.

I personally am a fan of everything being unlocked to all players from the get-go. Battlerite, LawBreakers, and Overwatch don't hide playable champions behind walls of money or rank. That said, Wargaming's flagship title, World of Tanks, presents the 110 million pound (er, playerbase) elephant in the room: their method works. Out of frustration, love, or both, players accept and support this progression and premium currency system. Placing new players at the controls of Sparta's most elite warriors before they understand the most basic controls, much less the nuanced unit types and specialized abilities of later Tiers, is a recipe for disaster.

For a title dedicated to thousands locked in armed combat, Total War: Arena does not dramatically offend the spirit. Perhaps for the sake of increased performance, the developers do not render any blood in-game (there is blood and gore in a few of the ability icons and accolades, however; do bear that in mind). Yes, Arena has violence, but it is very tame and simplistic; no exaggerated executions, no drawn-out and choreographed kill moves. Arena cares more about numbers and tactics. Virtual corpses litter the ground after the proverbial dust settles. There is also a “Share Wine” consumable for most units, so a reference to alcohol exists. I have yet to hear a swear word from anyone’s mouth.

Overall, my impression with Arena wasn’t so much about recreating historically-accurate combat, complete with blood, gore, and post-battle atrocities. Sun Tzu famously said the greatest battles are won when no blood has been spilled to achieve them. There is that option in Arena: to blitz across the field and capture the enemy’s base before they know what has happened. Mercilessly slaughtering every last soldier is not necessary; a quickly-routed unit cannot return to combat. The objective is what is prioritized: the tactics you use to triumph are up to you to choose.

Total War: Arena provides quick, streamlined, straightforward, chaotic battles for those who don’t want the extensive campaign experience, who just want to hop into a quick war against human opponents. It runs well and doesn’t cost you a dime of your money. Arena is certainly worth at least a try.


- Anax

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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