The Total War multiplayer experiment hit Wargaming as an open beta in February. Although the controls and the look of the game will be familiar to Total War fans, it’s an entirely different experience. I’m not quite sure who it is for.
Total War: Arena focuses solely on the tactical combat of the Total War franchise. You’ll command a paltry three units with nine other players on your team, instead of commanding an entire army. Multiple active skills help alleviate controlling a smaller force than Total War fans may be used to. Cavalry and infantry can initiate charges or adapt particular formations. Ranged units can switch ammo types or bombard a target area. Additionally, each faction has several historical generals that contribute their own abilities and buffs.
You’ll still spend a great deal of time simply maneuvering your units into position and attacking, even with the aforementioned extra buttons. Combat is typically little more than a spectator sport. Although cavalry has the luxury of pulling in and out of combat to repeat charges, infantry and ranged units often get stuck in a quagmire. You’ll spend a great deal of time patiently waiting for combat to resolve. Look forward to anxiously watching a brawl while hoping your teammates protect you instead of shooting you to death.
That’s right, friendly fire is fully enabled. Any attempt to fire projectiles into a melee will result in considerable friendly casualties. Although this isn’t unprecedented in Total War combat, implementing it in the arena multiplayer environment is boneheaded. Melee commanders have little choice but to cross their fingers and hope their soldiers (which require resources to replenish) aren’t slaughtered by allied projectiles.
You can argue that this mechanic requires ranged units to maneuver around allied defenders and pick smart targets, but there are better ways to accomplish this. Not to mention, the punishment for recklessness is little more than a small tax at the end of the battle. Careless commanders constantly invoke abusive chat from frustrated teammates. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Wargaming title without a toxic chat.
Regardless. . .
Total War: Arena isn’t without value. Maps are large and varied. There are plenty of areas to set up ambushes, flanks, and concealed firing positions. It’s exhilarating to crush an enemy unit with a huge flank charge or brutal artillery barrage. The knowledge that the same fate can befall your own units maintains a high level of suspense.
Wargaming has also included their trademark addictive progression system. You’ll earn upgraded units and unit equipment as you play.
And of course, matchmaking will pit you against players of similar power level.
Ultimately, Total War: Arena looks to be a mostly competent, but niche, arena combat title, that sadly has little to do with the Total War franchise. Not only are the grand strategy elements absent, but your battlefield role has been reduced from supreme commander to line officer.
I can’t help but think that this is less Total War and more Partial War.