We recently had the chance to sit down with an alpha build of Total War: Arena, a collaboration that brings together the historical tactics of Creative Assembly’s flagship game series with the free-to-play business model that has made Wargaming.net a global gaming juggernaut.
We also had the chance to talk with two people instrumental in bringing this project to life: Tatsiana Martsinouskaya, Wargaming head of marketing for APAC, and associate producer Jose Edgardo Garcia. As Tatsiana told us, this project has been in the works for a couple of years now. “It started back in 2015 when we met with Creative Assembly at Gamescom. At that stage we already had ideas about approaching third-party publishing, but we hadn’t given them insight as to what kind of expertise we could provide. At the same time, Creative Assembly wasn’t sharing that they were working on a free-to-play title. We had a very good impression after that meeting, and we stayed in touch, so as soon as we shared that we were actually ready to go third-party publishing, and that we want to share our expertise in delivering games globally, this is how it started.”
Jose told us that Wargaming was lending a wide gamut of expertise relating to the publishing of free-to-play online games, especially with regards to specialisation for local markets. “Monetisation, e-sports, and developing meta-games of games. These are some of the specialisations we want to share with Creative Assembly in making Total War: Arena.”
This is no small body of knowledge; Tatsiana was quick to point out the importance of Wargaming in advancing this business model around the globe. “Let’s not forget that Wargaming is a company that actually brought free-to-play to the Western market. From Asia, where it initially started. With this monetisation model we made World of Tanks a cultural phenomenon for some of the countries in Europe. This is the expertise we want to share, because now we are talking about making Total War multiplayer, online, so we want to address a bigger audience. And we are ready to help them in approaching this bigger audience.”
Any fan of World of Tanks or World of Warships would feel right at home with the way matches and game progression have been organised. In the build we played all units had been organised into tech trees ten tiers across. Echoing the way you unlock a new turret or engine, these ancient archers and spearmen can be upgraded with better armour and weapons before you unlock the next tier. We noticed that one of the unit types was a company of Druids, but Jose assured us that there will be no magic in the game – it looks like nobody’s going to be chugging Getafix’s magic potion.
When we touched upon the topic of monetisation, Jose was reluctant to give any firm details. “Bottom line: free to play. Free-to-play model. Right now, the game’s quite early. We want to make sure that the game is good, that the game quality is really high, before we start talking monetisation. One example is we’re actually testing premium units. And when it comes to the progression, the progression tree, I can tell you that it is quite similar to World of Tanks. The basics of the monetisation is there. And, again, they’re in testing. So we can’t say: ‘Yep! That’s going to happen when we release it.’ But to give you a general idea, it’s similar to World of Tanks.”
Reading between the lines, one could infer that players will be able to pay for Premium Time to accelerate the interminable ‘stock grind’ at higher tiers. It’s certainly very early days for the project; as Jose told us, far too soon to be speculating about ports from PC to Linux or Mac. “We are open to these opportunities. To these avenues. It’s just that right now we want to make sure we make the game right first, and then we’ll talk about it later.” And while Wargaming is keen to get a beta out the door as soon as possible, they’re not going to rush CA. “We want to make sure they’re working really, really hard, concentrating on what they’re experts on. We’re not going to tell them how to make a AAA game. That’s what they know how to do.” Jose couldn’t give us any concrete info on their progress on that front, beyond the fact that they were at ‘Alpha Stage Six.’
As for the game mechanics, Tatsiana praised the accessibility of the interface, while Jose, a big fan of artillery in World of Tanks, told us of his love of catapults. WoT veterans will be familiar with the thorny issue of balancing self-propelled guns – some even refer to artillery as ‘Sky Cancer.’
Jose told us that they’re definitely on top of this issue. “When you play the game, you actually control three units. It’s like a complicated rock/paper/scissors thing. So the thing is, the catapults, the siege engines, are really ye olde time tech. And definitely not that accurate [chuckles]. And this has been a very important thing to balance, even in the earlier alphas.”
To illustrate how catapults are not over-powered, he pointed out that each player controls three units, each consisting of up to 100 men. This results in much, much bigger battles than a 15 vs. 15 WoT skirmish. “We’re talking 3,000 versus 3,000. So I’m pretty sure that if you’re controlling 300 infantry, a lot of them are going to make it to the siege engine before they kill everyone. They’re really more of an area suppression thing, than actual direct kill.” Cavalry in particular is quite effective at rushing siege engines. “They can easily flank you. And once they get close, you’re dead.”
Map awareness is far more important than in WoT, in no small part due to the morale system. “The soldiers have morale. So if you attack them face to face, forward, it’s a normal battle. But then you get your other unit flanking around, and hit from the side, soon you see that morale drop, drop, drop, and then even though the unit’s still intact, they start retreating. It does that.” Terrain type will also have a huge impact, with some units able hide in forests or tall grass.
Jose told us that there would be three factions at launch: the Romans, the Greeks, and the Barbarians. “We want to balance these first, but we definitely want to add content later down the line, because you can’t just have that. So, those three. And we have different commanders and units for each of them.” In the build we played the Roman commanders were Germanicus, Scipio Africanus, and Julius Caesar. The Greek commanders were Leonidas, Alexander the Great, Miltiades, and Cynane. The two Barbarian commanders were Vercingetorix and Arminius.
Each had their own special abilities, their use limited by cool-downs. Leonidas’s ‘Fight in the Shade’ ability increased his troops’ resilience to archers, while Arminius could temporarily disguise his men as enemy troops, a call-back to his historical role as a turncoat from the Roman ranks.
“Why did we pick them? We didn’t. Creative Assembly did. It’s their baby. The adding content part is, that’s where our specialisation comes in. ‘Hello Creative Assembly, our region wants this, maybe you can add it,’ and then they’ll think about it, do their research, and get feedback. And if it’s worth it, add it.”
Jose told us that Wargaming is keen to do an anime tie-in promotion, along the lines of the World of Warships and World of Tanks cross-overs with High School Fleet and Girls und Panzer. The only problem is that they’ve been struggling to find a show that would be a good fit for the setting. At the time of our discussion, the closest match they’d found was Thermae Romae, a show about a chap from Imperial Rome who visits a bathhouse and somehow warps through time and space to a bath house in contemporary Japan. Boggled by modern technological convenience, he tries to take this tech back to ancient times – hilarity ensues.
Jose stressed that there’s no guarantee that this specific anime will work its way into the finished product. “At this stage it’s really more of a proof of concept.”
For more details, visit totalwararena.com.