The Creative Assembly Announce F2P Total War: Arena

By Jim Rossignol on March 28th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.


British strategy captains The Creative Assembly have used their lead designer James Russell’s talk at GDC to reveal that they are creating a multiplayer game based on the Total War series. It’s called Total War: Arena [URL dead at the time of writing, but I am told it will appear there], and it will be free-to-play, based on the original Total War multiplayer, and feature 10 vs 10 battles.

I saw the announcement and will serve up some additional details for you just below.

This is a new game made for multiplayer, and as such it’s “Total War’s online multiplayer battle arena,” says Russell. It’s not, however, any kind of DOTA clone, it is “an MMO of the Total War multiplayer”, with additional layers of design to accomodate that position. The meat of the experience will be 10v10 team based battles, with players controlling just three units, with a maximum of 500 men each. These battles will be similar to or bigger than the existing multiplayer.

Russell explains that the game will be based on co-op gameplay, forcing people to have to work together, with the guy controlling archers supporting assault troops, spear-guy keeping the archers free of harassment from cavalry, and so on. The template reminds me a little of World In Conflict’s model for multiplayer, where no one player could have access to all the tools for victory on the field.

Outside this real-time battle game will be a “progression wrapper, where players can upgrade generals, units, and items.” This is the layer of persistence for players: a commander and units that will be developed, become veterans, and so on.

Russell also talked a little about the issues around the game being free to play, and said that the monetisation concept is about accelerators, about advancing progression, and he stressed that most content will be free. It’s just a case of looking at how quickly you can get it.

Battles, he claimed, will still evoke the same skill-based antics as the classic game, and are to have “no free to play distortions.” He also claimed that the game would employ “balanced matchmaking”, requiring a large population, so that’s the main reason for f2p. Russell said that Arena should end up being more accessible than the usual multiplayer format, precisely because of the greater traffic and reduced focus on individual talent: “Playing in a team of ten is far less intimidating than playing 1v1 on TW MP, especially for new players,” he claimed.

There’s a major design challenge for Arena, of course, which Russell admits is the reduction to just three units. He explains: “In TW you can control 20 units, where in Arena you can control just 3. 20 is a lot of management, requires expertise, and CA want that for Arena. It has to be as active and skill-based as the classic game.”

This means that the original game’s template has to be heavily adapted: “With three units there are far fewer degrees of freedom. Things which are passive and automated in TW has to be active n Arena”. This means lots of manual actions, such as manual cavalry charges, manual aiming, and so forth. Needs to be same actions per minute as the original games, says Russell. They are still early in development, and intend to continue developing after launch, so a lot of the concrete details of how this will work are far from settled.

Another aspect of this comes via a new take on damage control – in TW units have 1 hit point, they are alive or dead – but in Arena things will change, specific units will take damage, so that their DPS doesn’t immediately drop when men are lost. Per-man damage adds a lot of information, and makes 3-unit gameplay more complex and therefore, claims Russell, more rewarding.

Finally we are shown a non-final, entirely experimental prototype where there’s drag and drop control over every soldier, allowing you to divide up units into small groups of soldiers (down to a single man) and order when away from the main unit formation. This feature, says Russell, is far from definite, but would add to skill in controlling the three unit armies on the micro-scale.

It’s intriguing stuff.

And the setting? Well, Russell says that it’s an ideal opportunity for The Creative Assembly to finally make a game where they can pitch commanders and soldier types from different eras of history against each other. Spartans versus Templars is finally going to be a thing.

More on this soon, no doubt. And I want to see that more before I can decide whether I really like this idea. It’s got my interest, but will it actually work? Hmm!

Onwards.

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59 Comments »

  1. Cytrom says:

    I never really cared about MP in total war games, making an MP only TW seems a bit thin concept to me.

    • Vinraith says:

      I’m sincerely curious how popular TW MP actually is, that they decided to go with this concept. Does anyone have a clear sense of that? Is there really a huge market of TW players just itching for massive team battles in that engine?

      I suppose we’ll find out. The idea is actually kind of intriguing, and I say that as someone that’s not big on competitive MP. Unfortunately, I would think the sheer scale of the thing, combined with typical internet asshattery, would cause the actual practice to quickly turn into a chaotic clusterfuck.

      • BooleanBob says:

        > Vinraith expressing interest in multiplayer
        > It is still 4 days to April 1st
        > Pigs remain grounded, at least within limits of observation

        Something is… very wrong here.

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      • Chris D says:

        I dipped into the Shogun 2 multiplayer for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I never had to wait very long to find an opponent and didn’t have any negative experiences with other players. I still reach for the single player campaign first but I do want to return to the multiplayer again.

      • zaript says:

        MP is quite active. There is even such a thing, as competitive TW – regular tournaments each weekend, some of them sponsored. Sometimes, big 2-4 month tournaments launch.
        Coverage is relatively good – most events are streamed live and later available on YT (on my YT as well).

        Now, talking about market – CA seems to be trying to reach new audience, rather then appeal to existing one. Old fans usually want more of the same.

      • frightlever says:

        They want a slice of the microtransactions market, multi-player is the only tool in their toolbox – what are they going to do? I honestly can’t see the appeal of dropping into 10 vs 10 battles with strangers.

        Allowing players to create their own mercenary squads to pit squad vs squad, with the option of forming companies of several squads for epic battles, would have seemed like a more appealing way to take this. Then you’re paying to customize your squad, not for accelerators. Accelerators are cheesy. Just ask Toyota.

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        Okami says:

        I generally don’t play a lot of multiplayer, my reasoning being, that I play games to actually get away from people. That said, I recently played a few online matches of Napoleon: Total War, after buying it on a whim (it’s the only Total War game I never played) and after starting a campaign and quickly deciding, that I’m currently not willing to invest the time it would needed to play yet another TW grand campaign, I decided to try out multiplayer.

        I used the auto matchmaking function and played three battles against three different opponents, never waiting for more than a few seconds to find an opponent, so the multiplayer seems to be in a healthy state.

        I have to say that it also was a surprsingly fun affair, winning (and even losing) a battle against a human enemy is much more satisfying and rewarding than outsmarting and exploiting CA’s sometimes wonky AI.

        I’m wary of F2P games, but I think I might give Arena a try.

    • Magnusm1 says:

      So? The MP is actually the focus now.

      • Grape says:

        So? The MP is actually the focus now.

        Yes, because they’ve dedicated the entire game solely around that subject. Vinraith asks how popular multiplayer is in regular Total War, which is primarily single-player.

    • magogjack says:

      Thin? This is real tactics son!

    • sventoby says:

      The MP in Rome is great fun. Once I started playing that it was hard to go back to the braindead AI. Try playing a free for all battle. I just hope Rome 2 has the same features without forcing me to use an avatar or whatever.

      • MrLebanon says:

        When I logged onto the MP servers in Rome not long ago there were plenty of games running and plenty of people playing. It’s always quick and easy to find a game in Shogun 2. I watch regular streams of competitive Medieval 2 MP. I’m quite surprised to see all these “hurr hurr TW multiplayer lul” comments

  2. CaspianRoach says:

    That really doesn’t sound anything like a DOTA. Other sites lied to me.

  3. PacketOfCrisps says:

    10 vs. 10 = MMO, apparently. Sounds interesting though. I liked the teamwork required for World in Conflict so if this game manages something similar then it could be a lot of fun.

    • Vercinger says:

      Yes, developers like saying MMO whenever they’re talking about a multiplayer only game. Kinda weird that they think lying about what the game is will somehow benefit them.

      The only examples I can think of right now are World of Tanks and Star Conflict. Does anyone else remember any other MMOs that aren’t MMOs?

      • PacketOfCrisps says:

        Simcity and The War Z come to mind as recent examples. I’m sure there are more.

    • El_Emmental says:

      They’re using MMO to describe a MP-only game where you keep the stats/items/gold/XP you won in previous matches/rounds. It seems they’re thinking that the meta part (stats, xp, items, ranks) actually forms a persistent world, which seems to be a far-fetched hypothesis.

      Calling it a MMO is inaccurate, as it would also includes all the games with unlocks (like CoD, BF, etc), but I think they’re using that acronym to reach the MMO websites and MMO players (the WoW crowd), hoping they’re too bored of it and want to spend a few bucks on their game instead.

  4. Neurotic says:

    ….and slowly, slowly, the non-MMO crowd begin to embrace the obvious.

    • Vinraith says:

      “The obvious” being… ?

      Personally I’ve yet to see an F2P game that was anything I’d actually want to play.

      • Dowr says:

        Tribes Ascend seemed pretty good, until I realized it takes 47 human generations to unlock any equipment and that I was pretty much at a disadvantage until I unlock said equipment.

        Unlock systems are the worse thing to happen to competitive multiplayer games and F2P just encreases the issue even more.

        • MrLebanon says:

          which is why most competitive players use the default weapons mhm…

          • El_Emmental says:

            … which is why non-competitive players feel frustrated by not being able to have fun trying out new (and less effective) guns.

            Tribes Ascend is also about having fun, not just winning.

            ps: They recently greatly reduced the cost of each weapons, it’s now more accessible.

        • zaript says:

          Time-or-money games give you a choice. So, unless prices are ridiculous, players can try for free and pay if they plan to stay.
          Not paying at all would be cool, but unrealistic.

    • KeyboardGato says:

      I don’t get it. What’s the obvious?

    • Grape says:

      …and slowly, slowly, the non-MMO crowd begin to embrace the obvious.

      …That it really, really does suck.

  5. Magnusm1 says:

    It’s not an ARTS.
    And don’t call it crowded when it really isn’t. Compare it to for example shooters. Hell, there isn’t even an ARTS on consoles that I know of.

    • tmargul says:

      I would consider the MOBA scene crowded. Not necessarily because of the huge number of them, but because the vast majority of them are all extremely closely derived from DOTA, so there isn’t much to differentiate them. Compare that to shooters where you have twitch shooters, arena shooters, mms shooters, rpg-ish shooters, etc. Granted, there are still too many shooters, in my opinion, but at least they aren’t all exactly the same.

      Also, MOBAs tend to require that you play one rather exclusively in order to actually get good at them, so it is a lot more difficult to find a place in the niche alongside the big existing titles.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        but because the vast majority of them are all extremely closely derived from DOTA, so there isn’t much to differentiate them

        Precisely. I’m waiting for someone to take the idea in a completely new direction, not just reskin and tweak it. To continue the shooter analogy, I want a Deus Ex to DOTA’s Quake, not just more Quake clones.

        • Reapy says:

          I’ll high 5 you on that. I think dota is interesting in how they can amass so many champions and retain some sort of balance, yet its telling how the game epically will collapse the second you minutely adjust the map it is played on. It’s a huge jenga tower ready to topple, but they keep building it on up, which is cool.

          I really do like champion design, ability interaction, quick to learn , long to master, and constant deluge of new characters. But, I kinda hate the actual game you play with those characters, and would love to see someone explore a different method of throwing them at each other.

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      strangeloup says:

      There’s Guardians of Middle-Earth, a LotR-themed MOBA, on consoles. It’s apparently alright.

      • tmargul says:

        Also Awesomenauts, which certainly changes things up a bit, but at it’s core is still a reskinned version of the basic DOTA concept.

  6. Moraven says:

    So… Shattered Galaxy: Total War?
    When I played usually your squad you deployed with was the same unit, or maybe a mix of 1 support unit with others. You had snipers, air, tanks, teleporter pads, heal pads, etc. The winning teams of a battle were the ones who worked together better.

    I imagine they will let you choose what units to go in with, but it typically is easier to control when you have all Calvary, all infantry, all archers. Maybe 2 archer groups with some spears to protect.

    Brood Wars online Co-op mode could be fun, tho few tried it. 2 of you controlled the same team, starting with 1 base. Some fun games out of that.

    What would be cool is if you drop in to do battle for people playing a multiplayer game. Let others do the battles as you continue your turn or do another battle. Befriend people who do well and they are on a priority list to get into your battles.

  7. Deadly Habit says:

    Unfortunately the monetization option is the same tired pay to win/pay to not have to play any much. Has there been any free2play games that have sustained a steady core playerbase with that model to date?

    • Moraven says:

      LoL has the pay to access content and accelerates. Not having a good champion set and runes can be a slight imbalance, but is not a big factor for most playing.

      Dota 2 went with you have access to everything, pay for cosmetic items.

      The mobile free to pay is big on accelerates. Basically we are buying what were cheat codes in the 90s.

      • Deadly Habit says:

        LoL and Dota 2 seem to be the only ones with a sustained and growing playerbase though (personally can’t stand MOBAs so don’t have any experiences with them). It seems like the companies that use this monetization option are just trying to be the new LoL or Dota and probably like the MMOs trying to be the WoW killers will see an initial surge due to interest, the core playerbase will just go back to the originals.
        I thought the coverage of Bennett Foddy’s talk at GDC this year on 5 reasons freemium sucks holds quite a bit of truth http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/189362/The_five_reasons_freemium_sucks_according_to_QWOPs_developer.php

        • Reapy says:

          Nice article.

          I think the latest batch of F2P games that seem to be tanking or have people walk away from make the mistake of becoming grindy.

          I think marketers have figured out that they have to say ‘it’s not pay to win’, basically every interview with a f2p game says that. Though free grind avoidance is still pay to win, for this small fee, become effective.

          I don’t know that studios are ready to really embrace f2p and give away their stuff. They chop the game up so much into pieces that they forget that new players only get to evaluate the little tiny piece that is offered up for free, and if that chunk is not interesting, best to charge for the whole thing, or give them a more savory slice.

          I have a feeling in this game my three ‘level 1′ units will be routed by someone else’s multi-hitpoint, unshakable morale troops regardless of how I maneuver them.

          I wonder how often teams will fight over the cavalry role as well… You sir, you march your 3 blocks of infantry right up the middle, now you engage and you pin them up, now stand there for 30 minutes engaging them while I ride round and have fun maneuvering, ye haw.

          • Deadly Habit says:

            Personally I think the old shareware/episodic model games used to have was the most efficient free 2 play model to date.
            Play the entire first episode, pay to get the rest.
            Yea I’m also interested in how they’re going to handle this as a Total War fan, and that speculative scenario doesn’t seem too unlikely.

  8. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    F2P has definitely become a tainted word in my eyes. That’s not to say there can be no good free to play games with a decent model but those seem to be exceptions rather than the norm. Or perhaps that’s the negative examples hogging all the spotlight.

    Regarding this title I’m interested in what it’ll end up being.

    • Premium User Badge

      Smashbox says:

      Yep, the term F2P makes me lose all interest in this. I’ll PAY YOU MONEY for a good game, but I’m not playing at all if you’re going to remind me you want my money throughout the whole experience.

      • BioSnark says:

        It’s not “Pay 2 Win” if it speeds up the progression system outside of matches, themselves. If the progression system breaks balance (like in CA’s last game), the game will be unbalanced and at no fault of whatever monetization strategy.

        • zaript says:

          Play field pretty even when your Avatar reaches 10 stars. And doing that isn’t that difficult.

    • mouton says:

      Path of Exile is a good F2P – you pay only for cosmetics and additional stash space. I am hearing League of Legends also has a non-intrusive model.

      Few and far between, though.

  9. Strangerator says:

    This could be interesting, although with 10 players it seems like it might wind up a bit of a mess if you are playing with random people. I also don’t see the need to artificially increase actions per minute, like I don’t want to have to manually fire every volley with bowmen, just to keep me “busy.” Fewer units should allow more time for me to be watching and thinking about how to move next.

    Maybe this means CA are thinking about not shipping Rome TW2 with multiplayer and are instead lavishing detail upon the campaign mode? It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if the TW releases were pure single player and this online game fills the role of multiplayer from here on.

    • zaript says:

      I wonder, why no one mentioned teammates problem on a first page.
      Having 9 potential trolls in your team, and 10 in opposing would be a source of frustration. As it is in current 5v5 games.

      Personally, I can only imagine it working in 2v2 or 3v3 teams (still big chance of trolls/weaker players), or in CS-like style with very short round and fluid team mixing.

  10. Arkh says:

    It’s a intriguing game concept, but the part I find the most intriguing is, how could spartans charge on XIX century Infantry? They would lose thousands of warrios and have a chance of, you know, run in fear. How could you even balance that?

    • Delusibeta says:

      Probably by not having XIX century infantry. tbh, I’d expect to see stuff no later than Medieval in this game, otherwise it’ll either be blatantly immersion breaking or hilariously unbalanced.

      That said, there’s also a hell of a lot of history before the Medieval period, so there should be enough content.

      • Njordsk says:

        My featr too, I don’t want cross-period immersion-breaking battles.

        Go with athenes, spartes, delphes etc… if you want.
        france; italian, spanish in middle age if you want.

        But man I don’t want to fight phalanges with a heavy horse charge.

  11. JohnnyMaverik says:

    In be4 pay to win. Haven’t been impressed with “free to play”. Usually when I work out how much it’s going to cost to unlock the content I want (never all of it) that I can’t get with grind or at least can’t reasonably get with grind (see Planetside 2), it comes to minimum 3x normal release day price for a game, £100 + and quite often a hell of a lot more than that.

  12. SKapsniak says:

    I’m thinking this sounds very like World of Tanks only with less tanks,

    • Chris D says:

      I hadn’t made the connection but that seems like a useful comparison. Good call.

  13. One Million Monkeys says:

    I think this could really work, and somehow simulate the confusion of the battlefield, where no one knows the masterplan.

    Back with Total War Rome I played 3v3 with two friends I shared office with. One would choose an infantry only army, one archers and one cavalry. I was quite fun and felt like a Single large army instead of three separate. There would be some initial juggling of troops to get them aligned, but after that we where near unbeatable for non organised opponents.

  14. Thrippy says:

    I hope CA looks closely at Company of Heroes Online post-mortem in hopes of avoiding whatever economic pitfalls forced Relic (or THQ) to shut it down. Guessing both TW and CoH regular multiplayer player base number in the low thousands roughly. Single player has been hugely mainstream in times past, but MP never has been for both franchises.

    More importantly, a robust ten versus ten RTS type skirmish would, even now, constitute a major technological innovation. I beta tested Triton’s End of Nations. It is gone with no word as to why. Is it ever coming back? I think it is dead. It was not robust although they designed and built the game from the ground up precisely to be a “massively” game. It was intended to be an RTS game hung on a feasible, practicable 28 versus 28 player engine.

    There still ain’t no such animal as an F2PMMORTS. From two practical experiences that ended in failure I have no expectations there will be sufficient demand for one anytime soon.

  15. Jake says:

    Sounds quite like that arena mode thing in Dawn of War – reducing the amount of units you control but adding more powers. Never really liked that, I’d rather play with an increased amount of units.

    It just seems like there are so many great possibilities for total war games that this one doesn’t appeal to me. Total Warhammer obviously, but Malazan: Total War would be my favourite.

  16. rockman29 says:

    Glad to hear it is not a DOTA clone. Many publishers have made the mistake of not understand what DOTA does that makes people like it (kind of like how you can’t beat CS by being CS).

  17. moltobenny says:

    Oh, and since somebody asked for it: http://www.caltrops.com/pointy.php?action=viewPost&pid=148680

  18. Universal Quitter says:

    This sounds like something I might have just paid 20 or 30 bucks for. I really am gunshy of anything that reeks of micro-transactions.

    Please don’t abuse us, CA. You’re one of the last bastions of actually listening to your community.

  19. supermcbadger says:

    personally i would want to see smaller teams with an overall command structure, a decent means of communication between players and a rewards and punishment system for obeying or disobeying orders. doesn’t matter if you get lumped with an idiot in charge or the next Alexander stuff like that happened you would just have to deal with it and either protect your men (and suffer the consequences) or sacrifice then for the sake of orders

  20. lshallperish says:

    Heres the problem with this.
    People that play the totalwar series play it to CONTROL the way they win the battles and how to take over citys etcetc

    To me playing with strangers is not real tactics, I mean I dont want to play a game where im playing with kids that dont have a clue on whats going on.

    Working together online with strangers is rare.. for example people that play league of legends, each team has 5 players but if one disconnects or has no idea what his doing it affects everyone in that team hence the reason why this is just stupid.