Tobold's Blog
Sunday, October 29, 2017
The best Total War?

I have played a few of the games in the Total War series, but I am not a big fan. Now I'm playing Total War: Arena, which isn't a real Total War game at all, and like it much better. I've already played over 300 battles in the closed beta, in spite of knowing that my progress will be reset. So, why would I prefer this one?

I tend to think of games as having a core game, which in the case of Total War would be a battle, and a shell game, which is the rest of the game outside of battle. Now in the classic Total War games I feel that the core and the shell are at counter-purpose to each other. For maximum success in the shell game, the strategic map, you will always want to have battles in which your troops outnumber the enemy. You don't want pitched battles, because even if you win, the losses will set you back in the strategic game. But if you consider the core game, the battles in which you are clearly superior in numbers and quality just aren't any fun. The pitched battles are more fun, because they are more balanced and have a less certain outcome.

Total War: Arena gets rid of the strategic map, and thus resolves that conflict. And the matchmaking makes every battle balanced. I don't really need to care about losses, because they are automatically bought back with silver, and playing aggressively earns you more silver than your losses cost you. The shell game around the battles is a game of simple progression of units and commanders. And as I said, I don't even care much about that, as it will be reset at the end of the closed beta anyway.

Of course I can see how the battles in Total War: Arena might not be for everyone. You only control 3 units, and the action is mostly tactical. Due to the usual lack of coordination when playing with random strangers, the strategic positioning on the battle map is mostly non-existing. In fact the game appears to be designed to aggravate the kind of player that doesn't suffer fools lightly, because there is friendly fire: Ranged units are not very accurate, and artillery is very slow and might fire on a spot where the enemy has moved away from and an ally moved into, so even with the best of intentions it is nearly impossible to completely avoid causing friendly fire when playing ranged. You can even suffer friendly fire from spearmen or pikemen in phalanx formation. Some players are extremely sensitive to losing units to friendly fire, or losing a battle due to allies playing badly or without coordination. I wouldn't recommend Total War: Arena to them. Me, I'm having a lot of fun and even bought a founder pack.

I agree with your assessment of what the core game has been with the total war series. That's why I always end up in a place with those games where once my empire gets to a certain point I'm just auto resolving all the battles.

They do a nice job of including set piece battles that are one offs outside of the main campaign but pitched battles are definitely not what you want and outside of early game you shouldn't be fighting fair fights.

I have yet to try Arena but you make me interested enough in it that I'll check it out.
It makes sense. The only times a strategy layer combined with a tactical layer work is when either you get forced into tough but not decisive battles, and minimising losses remains interesting even when you're winning (as you should be if you take on a big battle). The HOMM series can work okay that way, for example.

Most games might be better off abstracting away one or the other as much as possible.
I got a closed beta key and had a lot of fun playing this the previous weekend. Then on Tuesday they made a patch that require easyanticheat to be installed. I am not yet comfortable about installing a program into my System folder that contains a key logger.
I am huge fan of Total War games even allowing for their many flaws but I am intrigued at the idea of controlling three units in a large battle. I struggle with micromanagement in Total War battles and my artillery is generally getting overrun on one side of the map while I try to direct cavalry on the other. Three units sounds just about within my capacity to manage effectively.

Given the grouping with random strangers do you have to select three units which are pretty much self contained? For example one melee, one ranged and one cavalry? If you selected three melee units you would have to rely on some else to run down enemy ranged skirmishers for example.

I notice that Wargaming are involved. Does it look like the monetisation scheme will be similar to WoT?
Yes, monetization is exactly the same as in World of Tanks. That is to say you can get everything from playing, but you can get stuff faster by paying for a premium account.

I wouldn't go one ranged, one melee, one cavalry, because you'd have to be in three different places for that. However I did rather good with two units of pikemen and one unit of archers behind them. You also get a 30% xp bonus for taking more than one type of units.
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