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Total War: Arena is a free-to-play multiplayer RTS-cum-MOBA

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Creative Assembly have announced their first ever free-to-play game. Total War: Arena will be a solely multiplayer, competitive synthesis of the best of two acronyms: RTS and MOBA.

Lead designer James Russell announced the new game during his GDC talk this evening. Arena is in development under the code-fingers of the Creative Assembly’s celebrated team in Horsham, West Sussex, and represents “over a decade of strategy gaming expertise”.

In what I imagine to be a marginally less faithful rummage in the annals of warfare than we’re accustomed to from CA, the new spinoff will see players send history’s greatest commanders and their armies into battle to bludgeon each other in online multiplayer.

Speaking at GDC, Russell revealed that each player will control three units as part of a 10 v 10 battle. Players will be separated out into particular army elements, so one person will be controlling artillery, another will have command of the heavy infantry, and so on.

There’ll also be a meta game element with upgrades for the generals and new equipment to be unlocked for the units.

Creative Assembly’s goal with Total War: Arena is to encourage “team-based gameplay”. They want to make cooperation essential to a team’s victory.

From a design point-of-view Creative Assembly will actually undeveloping some of the concepts they’ve established in the core Total War games. Because you’ll only be controlling three units, not twenty plus, some of the actions that are automatic in their other games are being made manual in Arena. So the number of actions players are committing per minute will remain relatively similar across the different games despite the difference in complexity.

Another change to the traditional Total War formula is the damage system, they’ve had to completely redesign it for Arena.

Total War games have units get ground down in numbers and their attack power decreases. Hit points do not exist in a traditional sense. That doesn’t work for Arena, so you have to have soldiers in one part of the formation decreasing in hit points but not dying. So now your formation might have a “soft” side and a strong side. Which will generate a whole new layer of micromanagement.

Another change from the familiar rules of Total War is that units can be split apart into smaller groups. Allowing you to micromanage the hell out of these troops.

Creative Assembly are aiming for quick and dirty battles lasting only around 10 minutes, so don’t go expecting an hour of trying to outmanoeuvre the other players.

Now, being free-to-play, we have to be wary of where our money can go, what advantages can a paying player gain. Well, Russell said that they wanted their“fundamental focus […] to be on accelerators. We don’t want pay to win distorition, we don’t want to block off large periods of content from free users.” So expect XP buffs and the like.

Closed beta sign-up begins today, at the official site. Will you be jotting down your name and rig specifics in the appropriate boxes?

With additional reporting by Rob Zacny and Julian Benson.

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