Review – Total War: Arena

We see it more and more in the game industry. Several companies like to team up to make a new great IP or they help each other out by using several elements of their own games and combine it with a new version of an already existing game. Total War: Arena is such a game; a collaboration between Creative Assemble (the studio behind the Total War games) and Wargaming (known for the World of- games).

We know from the past that Wargaming is not afraid to think out of the box (out of the World of- games) with a new version of the 4K games Master of Orion. These games are special for the oldskool gamers, and next to this they did a real bang up job. The graphics are nice, the gameplay got a nice overhaul. In other words, Wargaming has a good history when it comes to collaborations with other studios. But before we rely on the past, let’s take a closer look at Total War: Arena and see if the game can live up to it’s potential.

Since a few days, the game has been in soft launch (it went from closed beta into open beta) and everybody is able to use the progress that they build up in since the first match they played, no matter in which stage of the game you started. In our case, this meant we didn’t only get matched up with reviewers with a pimped account, but we also had to step up our game and play against hardcore Total War: Arena players. While playing the game, the first thing that I did notice is that the game is using a very familiar World of- elements. When we look at the interface it looks a lot like the World of Warships interface, also, when we play some matches, it keeps us reminding on the World of- games. Wargaming and Creative Assembly must have thought that’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to this part of the game. 

But, before we start to play, let’s take a look at the units and faction with which we can conquer the digital world of Total War: Arena. The devs approached it a bit different compared to what we are used to from World of Warships. Instead of making sure you have enough slots for your tanks of ships, we now have to deal with troops who are ready to enter the battlefield. In total, we can use three units during a match. How you are going to use those units, and which units it’s going to be, that’s all up to you, of course, you might need to unlock all the units before using them. You will get the control over every units over time.

We start off with four factions with each having well-known leaders. When we look at the Roman Empire we see that you can choose Julius Caesar as a captain. But also the Barbarians, the Greeks en the Carthago have their own faction including their historical known and unknown leaders.  At the moment you can choose between thirteen leaders, divided over the four factions.

These leaders command several armies from tier 1 to tier 10. The tiers in the game are something we also know from the Wargaming games. The good things about the tiers are that they make sure you never match up against an overpowered army (compared to yours) or that you can crush the enemy within minutes. So they give you the challenge to build up your army, unlock the upgrades and when you have enough money and XP, unlock a tier that is bringing you one step closer to the ultimate tier (Tier 10). But the challenge is about going to the right tier, the tier that you feel most comfortable with. For example, do you prefer swordsmen, javelin-men, cavalry or would you like to use elephants to become ruler, it’s all up to you! But this is where the tactic comes into play. Remember, Total War: Arena is a very strategic and tactical Rock, Paper, Siccors.

But let’s go back to the tiers and take a good look at the troops that you can command. The game is very basic: you and 9 other players go head-to-head against 10 other players. You do this on different maps or arena’s and you main goal is to take over the enemies base… or you need to destroy every soldier who is fighting you. If you fail to do this within 15 minutes (this is how long a match takes), then the game will pick a winner based on stats.

When you combine all of this, that means you will enter a battlefield with a total of 60 armies on a (not that big) map. Tactic, strategy, using the environment and working like a team is essential to the game if you want to become a winner. The maps do help you out sometimes, as long as you make use of it’s potential. There is something in the game which is called “Fog of War”, so you can’t spot the enemy and you can also move around the map without being noticed in the beginning.

This is the moment to, for example, hide your archers in a forest so you flank an opponent. This way you can lower the morale of the enemies, which makes them not fight that hard anymore a.k.a. easy kills and wins.

You can also use this to set a trap (IT’S A TRAP!!) so that the enemy will attack a single unit, while the rest is waiting for them in the bushes to flank them. Next, to the positioning of your army, it’s also very important which army you take into battle. An archer will do some long-range damage, but when it comes down to CQB they will not stand a change. It’s like I said before: Total War: Arnea is strategic and tactical Rock, Paper, Siccors.

When the match is over, you will receive XP and money, based on the post-battle results. Whit this you can unlock or upgrade your army.  And this is where the complex part of the game starts to kick in. Like I told you before, you can choose from 4 factions with 13 leaders.  Each leader has his own skill tree divided into ten tiers. And each leader has around 50 different armies to choose from, which means you can choose from over 600 different type of armies in all of these skill trees.

Whenever you buy some new army you need to make sure your leader has enough experience to unlock it, but you also need to have a fully upgraded army which is from one tier lower than the one you want to unlock. In other words, if you want to unlock tier 10, you first need to grind your way from tier 1 to 9 before you can unlock the highest tier in the game.

Next, to the skill tree you also have an ability tree. In the ability tree, you can buy items that might give you a small advantage during the game. It looks nice, but’s too complex and it misses some organization in the way they display it in the game. This might result in people not using the full potential of this tree. This and the strategy makes this a game which is easy to play but hard to master.

Something I don’t have any problems with is a Free-2-Play game which makes you work, no Pay-2-Win element in the game. Ok, you can buy special units (equiv. Premium tanks/Ships) and you get a head start by skipping the first tiers, but this might not make you stronger or better than your enemies. If you want to purchase something in Total War: Arena it will only help you unlock items or armies faster than normal but you still need to play a lot of matches to unlock everything, because you can’t buy XP, and you need XP to unlock higher tier armies. Next, to this, you can also premium, which gives you end-game reward a boost from about 50%. So you can climb the ladder faster, but you still need to play to get good at it and unlock everything. There is no shortcut to Total War: Arena


When we play Total War: Arena we are left behind with some mixed feelings. We played to game on a press account (which is a pimped account we all dream of) and we played the game on our private account. The reason for doing this is quite simple, to see what the difference is for newcomers and die-hard Total War: Arena players.

A part of me really loves this game. It has an addictive aspect which makes you want to play one more game, you can have some nice encounters and battles and you also need to think before you act, otherwise you will be eating dirt before you know it.
On the other side, I am also disappointed in the game. There is nothing really new to the game. When you hear Wargaming and Creative Assembly are working together on a new Total War game than you are hoping for some out-of-the-box elements.

But now it feels more like they combined elements from both games and I should have been named World of Total War. There are many elements which make it more look like an addition World of-game than a Total War game.

Even though I am not completely happy with this game, the games give me this feeling that wants to keep on playing, so that’s a good thing!


Total War: Arena

  • No Pay-2-Win game
  • Addictive
  • Very strategic
  • Not really out-of-the-box
  • Complex menu’s


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