We were lucky enough to get hands-on with Total War: Arena - the new online free-to-play multiplayer strategy game from Sega - and it's come a long way from the day it was announced as a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game.
Here's Dominic Sacco's thoughts on the game and how its 10 versus 10 match-ups could shake up the e-sports scene.
Total War: Arena is nothing like League of Legends or Dota 2 - it's not a MOBA where each player controls one character, destroys turrets and traverses lanes into the enemy base. It's a war strategy game, much like the other Total War games in the series, but it focuses on team play (developer Creative Assembly calls it a 'team-based strategy game').
There are two teams of ten players going head-to-head, and each player takes on the role of a commander who controls three groups of units - whether they're archers or infantry. These commanders fall into offensive, defensive and support types.
For example, I played as Julius Caesar - a support commander who has two troops of archers and one group of infantry armed with spears. The idea is to collaborate with the other nine players on your team - and their corresponding units - to form one big army that works together to take the enemy base by staying within it for a certain amount of time to claim it.
Each commander has special abilities too - Caesar has a 'sprint' ability which enables his troops to flee from an impending battle or get closer to the enemy. In our first match, most of the players on my team had ground troops, which went head-on with the rival team's army in the centre of the map. I decided to lead my archers around the side and down a cliff path, flanking the main battleground. From here I had a good shot at the enemy troops, and killed a lot of their men.
I also purchased extra fire arrows which really tore into the enemy troops, but a Creative Assembly spokesperson told me this is "completely overpowered" at the moment and will be fixed after the closed beta goes live later in 2015.
In terms of how you pay for things, gold can be bought in-game using real money (like RP in League of Legends), and this can be used to purchase new commanders, skins and more, while silver (like IP in League of Legends) can be acquired for free by taking part in battles, and this can be used to upgrade your troops' unit gear. One of the most expensive units we saw in the game was Pretorian Cavalry which costs 38,222 silver to unlock.
Considering the commands are so basic (left click to move your troops, right click to attack, number keys to issue special commands like sprint, and WASD to move the camera), the battles work really well. It's great fun coordinating a strike with your team and coming up with battle tactics to secure the win.
In fact, during the loading screen map before the start of each game, you can hit F2 and click to doodle on the map, letting your team mates know what you think would be the best course of action. It took all of two minute before a few cock doodles were drawn on-screen, before the developers swiftly asked the room full of gaming journalists not to draw anything obscene!
Creative Assembly describes Total War: Arena as 'the thinker's choice' for an online multiplayer game, and recommends it especially if you like the idea of strategy games like Total War but without all the time-consuming base building. It's quick, it's fun and it's not a MOBA but that makes it massively different to anything else out there at the moment in terms of free-to-play competitive multiplayer PC games.
The developer also boasts bespoke matchmaking and online arbitration to prevent players from cheating, plus they are open the idea of professional gaming teams embracing Total War: Arena and putting it on the growing esports map. Here's to that - we can't wait for the full game to go live in 2015. One to watch.
Check out an interview with the Total War: Arena developers I conducted for PCR