Total War: Arena is a F2P PVP Total War game, and it looks pretty neato

Mm... delicious war...

It feels like I’ve been playing Total War games on and off for my whole goddamn life. Back in high school, I played Rome: Total War and Medieval II: Total War. Since then, I’ve dipped into a couple of the more-recent Total Wars as well. Creative Assembly, the studio, is actually slightly older than I am. They’ve been doing such a good job making this specific kind of thing for so long that I’ve somehow become complacent as an observer— expecting little from them besides more! more! more! Total War (and hopefully more Alien Isolation, cough cough).

Which is why I’m surprised that I haven’t myself personally ever wondered why they weren’t making an online-focused Total War game. In retrospect, it seems like an incredibly obvious move. Shogun 2 had online multiplayer mode, but for some reason I’d grown so used to thinking of Total War games in a certain way that I’d never thought to ask for anything more.

Creative Assembly has not been so complacent about their own output. Their next title, Total War: Arena, is free-to-play online 10 vs 10 multiplayer-only RTS developed in partnership with Wargaming, the World of Tanks folks. Over here, I’m thinking: OF COURSE! Of course! This is probably a really good way to make a lot of money!

Shogun 2 is actually where the idea for this game spawned, actually. “A lot of people cried out and said, ‘we really like this, but it kind of feels like a bolt on to the Shogun 2 singleplayer, is there a chance you could make your own version of that? …’Actually let's make a dedicated multiplayer game.’ That's kind of where the idea started to spawn,” Rob Farrell from Creative Assembly told me.

The result of that line of design thinking is super different from Shogun 2, however. Total War: Arena takes a lot of different commanders from a big old generalized swathe of “ancient times” and pits them against one another in a bunch of giant battles. There’s a Roman faction, a Greek faction, and a “barbarians” faction that will include folks like Boudica and Vercingetorix— people who fought Romans, basically. Commanders will give their armies unique powers; factions will determine what units those commanders have access to.

There will also be a ton of upgrade trees. Like, a lot. Basically everything in the game has its own tech tree. This is where the game’s permanent progression will live— over time, players will unlock and upgrade units and commanders and equip their units with different gear. This process will move them forward through various tiers of power, vaguely similar, I think, to World of Tanks' tier-based upgrade system.

The developers were eager to show me how history-focused they were, how big their in-game historical lore book was, and how well the different Commanders expressed the real personalities of their historical inspirations. They spent probably a third of my time with them talking about this stuff! I honestly found this focus a little odd— history is a big draw for me in other Total War games, but Arena's unique selling points will probably not involve its history or its accuracy. Instead, I'm guessing it will shine through the short-term game session experience and through the long-term progression stuff it might offer a dedicated player. (History is great, but what really matters for games like this is how it feels to be a dedicated member of the community.) I didn’t get a chance to actually play a game of Arena, but they did show me a lot of the progression stuff— the stuff I described above— and it honestly looks pretty good. This looks like a game where you’ll have a lot to do in the long term, and good reasons to keep playing over time.

How will Arena please players who are interested in esport-esque competition? Creative Assembly is just beginning to think about this stuff. Right now, they’re focusing on the more granular gameplay and progression experiences. "We've had a lot of people say... we've played this game and we think it's an esport, we feel like there's something there,” they told me. “We never intended it to be an esport... but with that element being there, if we can add new commanders and new unit types, and we can change and shift the meta in that way, that would really add to the competitive element.” They appear to be open to the idea of shepherding this game as an esport, but it’s still up in the air right now.

Also undecided right now is how the game’s monetization will be balanced. They intend it to be fully playable by F2P players, and the build I saw had buttons for buying things with a “hard,” or purchased, currency. They assured me it would be limited to merely speeding up progression rather than purchasing OP units or commanders.

I was honestly pretty pleased by most of what I saw of Arena. I’ll be keeping my eye on it in the coming months, and I’m looking forward to an opportunity to check out the actual gameplay for myself.