There are times where you want to go all-out and go big with an army instead of one sole hero. You want to command a batallion of soldiers who will follow your every order no matter how suicidal. You want to see them march slowly, position them and then ambush the opposition when they least expect it. You want to recreate all those scenes from films like Centurion, Troy, and/or Titus: lots of flying piercing arrows, clashing of blades, and cavalrymen tramping their victims.

Maybe a little less Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, but whatever floats your boat, right?

Fighting with spells and magical weapons is fun and all, but what’s equally entertaining is playing god general, commanding your units alongside other generals to achieve total nation domination. Game publisher Wargaming & developer Creative Assembly are planning to scratch that god complex itch you have.

Good For Absolutely Nothing?

Total War: Arena is a free-to-play real-time strategy game where you lead three army units alongside 9 other players in a 10-versus-10 skirmish. The game uses classic civilization leaders like Julius Caesar and Leonidas of Sparta as avatars you can choose, with each of them having different unit setups and boons/skills that can be activated on the battlefield.

This does beg the question: why go for this F2P scheme of a game when there’s already Total War: Warhammer and past Total War series instead? Simple: they want players to get into the nitty-gritty of battles on a large scale and appeal to a wider audience.

To quote Creative Assembly game director Gabor Beressy : “A passion for history and multiplayer gaming, combined with years of fine-tuning and hard work from both our developers and our valued players, has gone into bringing this [game] to the public. We can’t wait for new players to try out this unique Total War multiplayer experience, while we work on more factions and features to add to the Total War: ARENA experience.”

How Does It Play So Far?

Pretty damn good, if you need a real-time strategy fix that’s free. See, you get to pick a commander and work with three units. You then team up with nine other commanders to fight in 10-versus-10 skirmishes where you win by (i) killing every enemy or (ii) take over their territory.

The second objective will be the most common win condition. See, even if your team is down a few guys, you can sneakily push your remaining forces to your enemy base, kill off whoever is defending there, and then hold that position until it’s fully captured. We’ve seen quite a number of games won using that tactic during the open beta, so you may want to consider that as a last minute change of plans.

You also have to worry about positioning yourself during a fight and planning your attack with your team. Strangely enough, there’s no lobby for players to discuss strategies; everyone just chooses their positions on the map, and then let loose. You’re expected to discuss tactics on the fly while the war goes on. With just three units, that’s enough to start forming quick skirmishes and perform flanking maneuvers against the opposing team.

You can level up your commanders so that they get more skills, weaponry, and armour to use. You get to command legendary generals of history like Leonidas of Sparta and Alexander the Great. Each of them have their perks and weaknesses. If you control any Greek general, you can play the long-range game where you poke your enemies from afar and then bait them to get close. Meanwhile, your online friend can use his Barbarian/Gaul horsemen who can ram into enemies from the side and then dissipate their morale, meaning that they’re susceptible to retreating and routing.

Still, your Barbarian pals need help since they do burst damage better than sustaining themselves, which is where the Roman faction comes in. They are better at close-quarter combat and the occasional burst long-range attacks.

Getting Tactical

All fights in Total War: Arena all boils down to which team is better at coordinating and initiating attacks, and whether they can defend long enough from counter-attacks. Screw historical accuracy; just mix and match factions to see which ones suit your playstyle and your team’s dynamic. Because you’ll never get tired of seeing large-scale fights in this game at all.

For a F2P game, Total War: Arena is pretty generous. If you have played Wargaming’s World of Tanks, you will get into the F2P groove here.

Wins and losses will earn you XP, which increases your rank, which also means new unit types for you to buy and upgrades for existing ones. A small subset of units can only be bought with premium currency (ie: real money); everything else can be bought with in-game currency if you don’t mind the grind.

When you fight, you will be matched with players of your own tier, meaning that you will not be destroyed by a player who paid more for their prestige. Of course, you won’t be seeing high-level ballista/elephant cavalry units and mass battles involving high-tier units at lower ranks so early in the game, so you have to keep playing until you’re at a decent or high rank.

At the end of the day, we’re surprised at how fun this real-time strategy game turned out, from Creative Assembly and Wargaming no doubt.

The devs took the fun visceral bits of the Total War series and just made it instantaneous to get to; you just have to focus more on the large-ass skirmishes.

Whether they end up as total wipes lasting mere minutes to drawn-out battles, the fights in Total War Arena succeeds in streamlining it well and getting to its point.

If you want the other micromanaging aspects of the series, however, you will not find it here. To everyone else who wants a competitive version of a Total War game that doesn’t last hours? This one’s for you!

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