The Total War series is best known for recreating epic-sized historic battles while Wargaming specializes in high-action vehicle combat with games such as World of Tanks. The two come together for the first time to produce a free-to-play multiplayer game Total War: Arena, where 20 players battle each other in 10v10 combat.
Total War: Arena is the first game to be published under the Wargaming Alliance label, which officially launched last fall with the goal of bringing Wargaming’s knowledge and player network to third-party developers that are looking to break into the free-to-play space.
Although previous Total War games included multiplayer, that was not their focus. So, a lot of fans cried out for a multiplayer-only game, and that’s where Total War: Arena came from. “We thought it was a good partnership—joining up with Wargaming—with their free-to-play knowledge and the expertise in that market,” Rob Farrell, Creative Assembly’s lead artist for Total War Arena, told AListDaily. “Since we’re in the historical strategy genre, we thought it would be a great fit.”
Arena will include three factions at launch: Romans, Greeks and Barbarians, with each featuring one of history’s greatest commanders that players can customize to suit their style of play. At E3, Creative Assembly announced Boudica, queen of the Iceni tribe, who wants to get revenge on the Romans. Each player controls three units, and many maps based on historical events. To win, teams must either wipe out the opposing army or capture their enemy base, which is much more difficult than it might sound. Players have to keep in mind multiple strategic variables, flanking positions, terrain and their army’s morale among other aspects. These are some of the features that have made up the core Total War experience in the past, and now they’re being translated to a free-to-play audience.
“There are many differences between a [traditional] Total War title and Total War: Arena,” explained Elliott Lock, the lead battle designer, emphasizing how traditional Total War games focus on the grand campaign, while Arena does away with the campaign altogether. “Total War, as a boxed product, is about the single-player experience, while Total War: Arena is about how you work as a team with everyone else to defeat the enemy.”
Given the relative complexity Total War games are known for, how Arena only lets players control three units each, and that there’s no campaign, we asked Creative Assembly what audience it was trying to reach with Arena.
“To be honest, we really want to make sure the game is accessible,” replied Farrell. “When you come in as a new player, strategy games—never mind Total War games—are a lot for some people to take on, especially if they’re casual players. Even if you’re coming from World of Tanks—that’s a point-and-click game with a first-person perspective. So, we’re looking at ways to introduce people and make the game more accessible with a gentle learning curve. We want to bring more people into Total War and make history cool. That’s kind of our thing. We don’t want it to be a lecture about history.
“It’s like when you see heroes in other games. Commanders were heroes. It’s all there, and we want to bring it out. History is our lore.”
“It’s one of the reasons we joined with Wargaming,” Lock added. “It’s free for everyone. Total War is technically kind of niche, but we still want to keep our fans happy, which is why we have a lot of depth. At the same time, partnering with Wargaming allows us to hit a free-to-play market where more people can enjoy Total War, understand history, and enjoy it. That’s what we’re about.”
Farrell also commented on how difficult it is to control three different units in a multiplayer game, thus keeping with Total War’s reputation for challenging strategic gameplay. As the game grows, competitors will truly see players’ cunning come into play. “You’ll start to see player skill—and I feel like it’s the first time Total War has player skill that you can genuinely see,” he said. “We’ve lowered the floor in terms of accessibility, but we’ve raised the ceiling in terms of skill.”
The game will focus on Ancient Rome at launch, and Creative Assembly plans to focus on this era for the time being. However, Farrell said that other factions and eras aren’t being ruled out. Furthermore, the development team is finishing out the core gameplay before focusing on aspects such as monetization.
“[Monetization] isn’t something that we’re focusing on now because we’re in alpha and we’ve got a great group of core players called the Praetorians, who we listen to for feedback to make sure the game and the abilities are bang-on,” said Farrell. “It’s all about the game right now.”
“It’s about servicing the game, getting feedback, and collaborating with the Praetorians,” Lock added. “We’re seeing what people don’t understand and don’t like, but we’re still making a game that we want to make.”
Creative Assembly relies heavily on its forums to communicate with its community, in addition to releasing developer diaries on YouTube. “The game is powered by the community,” said Lock. “They’re very important to us, and it will continue to be driven by them. What they say matters and we do tell them that. They can be very honest with us, which is great because we listen to them and make changes.”
As for the transition from single release games to developing a Total War game as a 24/7 service, Lock said that “it’s definitely been an interesting challenge. With Total War: Arena, it’s not necessarily about becoming a service, but it’s about producing a game that everyone can enjoy. But with a 24-hour service, one of the difficulties is how we can listen and get everyone on board. That’s what Wargaming is there for. The partnership allows us to collaborate in those difficult moments players have so we can fix their problems and get them back playing.”
Lock explained how the Total War brand was all about epic-scale infantry battles, historical warfare and historical authenticity, which echoes much of what Wargaming sought to accomplish with vehicular combat games such as World of Tanks. In other words, it would be difficult to find two brands that complement each other so well. He also said that Wargaming’s experience running its games a service will be invaluable to developing Total War: Arena.
But in addition to its free-to-play expertise, Wargaming is also known for big esports events such as the World of Tanks Grand Finals, which took place in Moscow in May. Although Lock described Total War: Arena as a kind of “slower MOBA,” in the same way Counter-Strike might be considered a slower-paced shooter compared to Unreal Tournament, he stated that fostering esports isn’t an immediate priority.
“We’re interested in competitive gaming, but at the moment, we’re focused on getting enjoyable battles,” said Lock. “Esports could be a possibility in the future, but it’s not at the top of our list right now. We want to make sure we’re producing a game that people enjoy.”