At this year’s E3, I had a chance to sit with the team at Total War to talk about their newest title, Total War Arena.
Initially I was blown away not by the booth, the lights, or the buzzing energy, but by the obvious obsession and humble appreciation the Total War team had for those wanting to learn of their hard work. My first 10 minutes in their booth was comprised of each team member professing their love of history, and their passion for conveying it in an accurate, yet entertaining medium. Even as a casual fan of real-time-strategy games, I was mesmerized by the team’s very personal connection with every aspect of Total War Arena.
The game draws heavily from history—not just in design, but in the game mechanics. Our demo started with a carte-blanche of historical heroes, categorized as Commanders. Filing through a list that included the likes of Alexander the Great and Leonidas, we settled on Germanicus. One of the impressive features pointed out was not only a list of your commander’s abilities in-game, but a comprehensive account on the actual historical figure. In any other game, this would be just a cool or quirky component to bring the player closer to combat; in Total War Area, it’s anything but.
Within moments of selecting our commander, sweeping menus appeared. Layers upon layers of customizations, advancement tracks, and upgrades sprawled for various unit types, all leading to a single point: your leader. Each commander has a unique combat style, set of playable units, and ultimately strategy. The commanding officer himself is endowed with special abilities that are, in-turn, imbued onto the troops that he or she leads. Increased agility, stronger attacks, and improved accuracy were a few in an extensive list. However, the true power of command lies in the finishing attack of each hero. Should your commanding officer still be present on the battlefield, they can wreak character-specific havoc on nearby enemies. The circumstances that lead to this ability becoming available weren’t able to be demoed during our time – but it certainly set my imagination loose!
With tears of joy streaming down my face as it was (awkward) – we actually started to play.
Our forces were neatly organized throughout the hillside of a historically accurate map of Thermopylae. With a 10v10 capacity,—twenty individually commanded armies—it’s not hard to imagine the scope of these maps. One specific feature that enhanced the immediate threat was the “fog of war”. Not to be confused with draw-distance, this specific quality is rendered to emulate the visibility during an actual battle of similar size and scope. Each unit type in Total War Arena is allotted its own specific visibility distance based on its height above ground amongst other variables adjusting constantly in-game. After a short prologue, the game settled into a rhythm—directing forces, altering strategy, and zooming in to check on individual units’ progression on the path to domination.
Overall, I was absolutely stunned by the detail, historical accuracy, and flat-out fun contained in this expansive online RTS. With developers so dedicated as to test actual period-accurate weapons on top of the exhaustive historical research, I’d be hard pressed to find a game more worth the time of anyone even curious about the RTS genre.
We received some hints of upcoming additions to the commander lineup. In any other game, I’d be happy to see some new faces, and a few new unit designs. However, with Total War Arena – the bar for expectation has certainly been raised.