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PAX West 2017: Total War: Arena Beta Demo and Overview

Total War Arena PAX Preview Header Image

In November 2016, Creative Assembly announced that it would be partnering with Wargaming Alliance to publish its anticipated free-to-play title, Total War: Arena. Ten months later, a new Total War: Arena closed beta has begun. Wargaming was on hand at PAX West to update us on the current state of the game.

Total War: Arena is a 10 v 10 multiplayer strategy game built in the style of Total War. Currently, the game features three factions: Roman, Grecian, and Barbarian. Every faction has multiple commanders available from history, including Leonidas, Julius Caesar, and Alexander the Great; and each commander has three unique abilities based on their history. Abilities are also tied to the commander, so if the commander falls in battle, units on the field no longer benefit from their skills.

The newest of these commanders is Boudica, representing the Barbarians. As her history speaks highly of vengeance on Rome after it wronged her – so much so she burned down most of Old England – her abilities focus on fury and rage. Her first ability, Fury, allows her to lead a charge with her melee units or Wardogs. Ambush allows Boudica to scout the enemy and gain missile range for a deadly and unexpected strike. Her ultimate ability, Rebellion, benefits melee with improved damage, defense, and morale.

Total War Arena PAX Preview Boudica War Dogs

Boudica & The War Dogs

Each faction has its own tech tree, featuring melee, cavalry, and other specialized units that can be upgraded by the player. One of these, the Wardogs, was something the team spotlighted for me specifically. It features trained hounds, which can be unleashed to chase after the enemy, though they attack autonomously once away from their core unit. However, the dogs can be called back – at least those that survive. Think of them as furry missiles, best used to attack less armored units.

Total War: Arena features a matchmaking system that Creative Assembly calls “genetic matchmaking.” Rather than simply taking a look at player level, it also takes into account unit level, unit customization, whether or not the player is in a party, and so on, to the deepest level in order to provide the most accurate and equal match-up it can. While the proof of this concept has to be seen in testing, it’s refreshing to hear about an in-depth matchmaking system that gives more than a cursory overview of player’s stats and skills.

The team played a live match with closed beta players (including the giggle worthy “Ponnhub”) with a three Wardog unit Boudica team on one of its historical maps, Hadrian’s Wall. For me, this was the chance to see something rather unique to free to play strategy games: a thirty unit versus thirty unit battle, with ten players on each side. While it follows the style of Total War (thus, no close-up first person camera or direct commander control in battle), it’s a unique experience to see Total War played in such a fresh new way for the first time. The battle features your standard fog of war and signal tower mechanics, including blindness to the units each enemy commander has until you have seen them in battle.

Total War Arena PAX Preview Battle Begins

Battle Begins: 10v10 Real Time Strategy

Battles have three different win conditions: fight until the timer runs out, defeat all enemy units, or capture the enemy base. If you are defeated in battle before the battle is over, you can remain and watch over the battle (though you are still limited by your side’s fog of war). Alternatively, you can leave the match, with a different twist. Your commander remains in battle until it is over, but you are able to take a different commander into a new battle while the previous one rages on. For example, if you fall in battle as Boudica, you can leave and switch to find a new battle as Leonidas. Because battles have a relatively short timer (15 minutes), you theoretically won’t be locked out of battle entirely unless you’ve gotten good at dying fast.

Total War: Arena is currently in closed beta, but you can get access with a Founder’s Pack, which run as low as $9.99 US. Look forward to more oncoming coverage of this impressive F2P strategy title in the days to come!

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