Total War: Arena

MMORTT PVP Strategy Game - MMORRT game focused entirely on PVP with massive 10 versus 10 battles. The first MMO in Creative Assembly's esteemed Total War series, Arena offers up a lot of fun and a different spin on the Total War formula.

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Game overview

After being in closed alpha for several years, Total War: Arena has finally opened up to the public. A collaboration between The Creative Assembly and Wargaming, Total War: Arena is based on the famed franchise of the same name but with a twist.

Instead of focusing on a single-player campaign, the game focuses entirely on player versus player combat, with massive 10 versus 10 battles taking place with thousands of units on the field at once.

The Total War series has always had issues with PVP game modes, specifically balance, or lack thereof, and although Total War: Arena is an entirely PVP game, these issues have not been fixed. Be prepared for lengthy queue times and bad matchmaking a lot in higher tiers in particular.

The game's cash shop is relatively mild. Players can have plenty of fun in the lower and mid tiers, however, in the higher tiers, players who spend money will have a significant advantage, and players who don't will be at a significant disadvantage. Balance wise, premium units aren't a big deal compared to non-premium units, but they do offer up increased XP and silver gains. The endgame is almost completely inaccessible to non-spending players, and it is nigh-impossible to reach and stay in the highest tiers unless you spend money in this game.

Total War: Arena is a flawed game with a pretty harsh ceiling for F2P players, but offers up a lot of fun for fans of the genre.

➔ Main points:

  • Downloadable F2P MMO real-time tactics strategy game with MOBA elements inspired by the Total War series
  • 10 versus 10 PVP battles with a 15-minute time limit
  • 4 different factions each with several leaders and dozens of units
  • Unbalanced matchmaking at higher tiers
  • Very long endgame grind - hard ceiling for non-paying players

Full review

When Total War series developer The Creative Assembly announced they were teaming up with Wargaming for their new Free-to-play MMO Total War: Arena back in late 2013, the reception was mixed. Total War: Arena is an entirely PVP game, and the PVP game modes in Total War titles have been criticized for years for their lack of balance. So were players right to be wary? Unfortunately, yes. Let’s delve into why that is.

Presentation: Dated graphics and recycled assets

As far as the presentation goes, it’s average at best. Total War: Arena runs on the dated Warscape engine which was released back in 2013 and used in Total War: Rome 2. That’s not the only thing that was brought over from Rome 2 either, as many of the assets in this game have been recycled from Rome 2 and other older titles in the Total War library.

Commander profiles look pretty good, but the graphics during a match are very bland.

One of the best aspects of these sorts of games with wide-scale battles with hundreds of soldiers fighting each other is seeing it all play out like some glorious historical fiction movie. Speaking of, although this game is in real time, you don’t actually see your units duke it out in real time. They just sort of collide with each other and do…..things until a unit has fallen or retreats. Quite disappointing. The game has 11 maps, which is pretty low and making that worse, is the fact that most maps are tier locked, so it will be awhile before you can get a change of scenery.

Commanders and units

The game currently has 13 commanders, 3 of which are available at the start with the others being unlocked through play or purchased. Each commander has 3 special abilities of which only one is unlocked at the beginning. The other 2 are unlocked by leveling up your leader.

The special abilities can range from damage increases to buffs, to debuffs and it’s important to choose a leader that fits your play style.

Each of the four factions, Rome, Greece, Barbarians, and Carthage have around 50 units to choose from, with the 2 most basic units being unlocked at the start. Like leaders, the stronger units are unlocked by leveling up, although there are also a few premium units which can be purchased as well.

Units come in 5 main categories: Melee infantry, Ranged infantry, cavalry, artillery and wardogs. These can be broken down into thirteen unit types:Swordsmen, Archers, Slingers, War Dogs, Elephants, Javelins, Spearmen, Pikemen, Falxes, Light Artillery, Heavy Artillery, Spear Cavalry, and Sword Cavalry.

Each serve a specific purpose and it’s important to know the role that you’ll be playing, and choose your units accordingly. Although you can only have 3 units in any given battle, depending on what unit you choose, this could mean up to 300 soldiers at your command.

Knowing your commander's ability and when to use it can turn the tide in a battle

Total Warring

Total War: Arena is all about PVP. Each match consists of 2 teams of 10 players each. Everyone picks their leaders, their units, of which you can have 3, and then go off to lead their respective sides to glorious victory. There are three ways to win a match: eliminate all the enemy forces, capture the enemy base, or have more soldiers standing when the timer runs out.

There is a hard time limit of 15 minutes, although most games last 7-9. Some games even end in 2, if you catch the opposing team off guard and manage to blitz into their base before they can react. This makes Total War: Arena a great game to just pick up and play a few games.

Total War: Arena is interesting in the sense that it is both less complicated than the games in the main series, but also more complicated. In Arena, there is far less micromanaging that you need to do overall, but the micromanaging that you do need to do, you need to have a more active role in.

When you’re in battle, you’ll be constantly giving commands to your units, telling them where to go and when. Along with commanders having special abilities, your units also have a few tricks up their sleeves, and it falls on you to use said tricks, as they do not activate on their own. If you’re using ranged units and accidentally friendly fire, you personally need to call off your troops or they’ll keep killing your allies. There are also consumables that can be purchased in-game with silver, and again you personally need to use these items in battle. It can be a lot to contend with.

One of the easiest way to win skirmishes in Total War: Arena, is by routing your enemy. This is done by flanking an enemy from behind where they are more exposed and crushing their morale. It’s important to watch for enemies at all times, because when routed, your units do not fight back, making them easy pickings for the opposing side to thin your ranks. Keeping your eyes out for potential ambushes is critical because as is, the morale system is a bit unbalanced. Units rout far too easily and quickly.

Considering 300 Spartans went up against a Persian army of a million men, you would think that Spartan infantry would be steadfast in the face of enemies and yet if they get flanked and are so much as grazed by the enemy, they turn into the lion from the Wizard of Oz and lose their nerve immediately. Obviously, it’s up to the players to prevent their units from being flanked, but even if you or one of your teammates messes up or you’re simply outplayed, your hardened warriors shouldn’t be so easily broken.

Capturing an enemy's base is one of three ways to win a match.

Being a team game, communication is key. And therein lies a huge problem with Total War: Arena. The communication system is pretty barebones. Pings are very easy to miss in the heat of battle, and the in-game chat is also quite rudimentary and doesn’t give players much room to develop strategies and enact them quickly.

This game would greatly benefit from a Quick Chat system with a number of callout messages such as “Bring up the Artillery” or “Ready your archers for an ambush”. Unless you’re playing with friends and using an app such as Discord or Skype, tight coordination with your allies can be difficult to pull off and that could mean the difference between winning and losing a match.

Progression and lack thereof

Total War: Arena operates under a ten-tier system for you, your commanders and your units. Your account climbs the tiers by winning matches, and your units and commanders level up by playing them and by using one of the four currencies the game has to offer: Free XP, Unit XP, Silver, and Gold.

Free XP is universal and can be used to upgrade your commander and said commander’s skills as well as upgrade your existing units, unlock new ones, as well as new weapons and armor for your units. Unit XP is tied to a particular unit and is gained through use in battle. Keep in mind that once a unit is maxed out, said Unit XP is useless unless you transfer their Unit XP through gold. More on this later.

The third currency, silver is arguably the most important. Silver is used for selecting units that you’ll be using for battle and used to replenish said units after a match is over. Any consumables that you wish to take into battle are purchased with silver, and any new weapons and armor for your units require silver to equip. You’ll be needing a lot of silver in this game.

Battles can get fast and furious very quickly, no Vin Diesel required.

The fourth and final currency in the game is gold. Gold is the game’s premium currency and can only be obtained by making purchases with real money. In addition to being used to purchase premium units and cosmetic items, gold offers up some pretty hefty benefits through the conversion system. Gold can be converted to silver at a generous rate, which can help keep the coffers filled. Remember when I talked about Unit XP being useless when a unit is maxed out? With gold, that’s no longer the case. Players can convert Unit XP into Free XP by using gold, letting you use all that excess XP on a unit that hasn’t been maxed out yet. Meaning you can always bring your best troops into battle whilst still building up different units.

Progressing through the lower tiers is easy enough, but once you get to Tier 5, the grind becomes considerably longer. Every Total War game suffers from PVP imbalance, and Arena is no different. It isn’t uncommon to get matched with players two tiers above you, and in these situations, there’s not much you can do except lose which makes progressing your account up in tiers challenging. This issue, when confronted with it over and over, can have an attrition effect. And that’s just overall account progression. When it comes to leveling up your units, it takes an insane amount of time and silver to progress to the higher tiers. Your silver supply will be so sparse, that you’ll often drop down in tiers to farm silver and even then, it still won’t be enough. If you don’t spend money in this game, you can forget about Tier 8-10 as these tiers take up way too many resources. Keep in mind when playing this game, that a ceiling does exist, and that ceiling is hard.

Final Verdict

Total War: Arena, is like the military campaigns of the historical figures the game’s commanders are based on; it has its’ highs and lows. Once you get the hang of it, battles are quick and fun. There are a lot of units you can mess around with and it’s very enjoyable testing out different unit load outs to see which synergize best with your favorite commander. There’s a lot of depth to this game, and for the Ender Wiggins out there, that’s something that will be appreciated,

However, the imbalance of PVP that the Total War series is known for, remains unchanged. The visuals and audio in this game are quite standard and forgettable and the lack of real-time combat animations is disappointing. The biggest downside to Total War: Arena, is the insane end-game grinding. The amount of hours you have to pour into this game in order to max out just one unit, is ridiculous.

When it comes to grinding in games, it all comes down to the payoff. Is the grinding worth it? In Total War: Arena, I can’t say that it is. After all, the highest tiers are strictly for the people who spend money, and a lot of it, so what’s the point of grinding 20-25 hours to max out a unit that I can’t afford to use?

All in all, Total War: Arena is like a cup of tea. Tea isn’t for everyone, but for those who like it, they’ll like it a lot. Just remember that unless you are willing to spend real-life money on this game, to keep things on a casual level. The endgame is not for you. Keep that in mind, and there’s plenty of fun to be had here for fans of the genre.

Ready to enter the world of Total War: Arena? Click here to play now!

Graphics: full 3D
PvP: matches or duels PvP
Cash shop influence: high
Exp rate: slow

Originality
Unlike the games in the main Total War franchise, Total War: Arena has players take on a more active role in battles, making you feel like the actual commander of an army.

What We Liked..

Low requirements

Short battles ideal for playing a few quick games

Around 50 units to choose from for each faction

gives players lots of options

Great fun for casual players

.. and what we didn't

Recycled assets and forgettable music

Long endgame grind

Balancing and cash shop issues

Slow matchmaking


Fun factor
4.0 out of 5
Community
4.0 out of 5
Graphics
4.0 out of 5
8.8
Outstanding

Review summary

  1. Presentation: Dated graphics and recycled assets
  2. Commanders and units
  3. Total Warring
  4. Progression and lack thereof
  5. Final Verdict

What we liked..

Low requirements
Short battles ideal for playing a few quick games
Around 50 units to choose from for each faction
gives players lots of options
Great fun for casual players

.. and what we didn't

Recycled assets and forgettable music
Long endgame grind
Balancing and cash shop issues
Slow matchmaking
8.8
Graphics - 80 / 100
Fun factor - 80 / 100
Longevity - 80 / 100
Originality - 80 / 100
Community - 80 / 100

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