We've previously covered Total War Arena during our hands-on preview and studio visit last November and found that the game offers the best tactical combat of the Total War series so far. This week Gamereactor was invited to a snow-blanketed Paris to attend the announcement of Arena's open beta which will kick off on February 22.
The Open Beta offers a lot of new content, such as new maps and customisation options, and will feature a complete reset of all Closed Beta progress for existing players. By way of compensation, up to 500,000 free XP, 250,000 Silver, and unique shield decals will be available to Closed Beta veterans. However, the highlight of the open beta release is the addition of a new faction and two new commanders: the North-African city-state of Carthage is joining the Roman, Greek and Barbarian factions that were already playable in the Closed Beta. And yes, this also means the addition of a completely new unit type: War Elephants!
The new Carthaginian faction features two unique commanders: the legendary Hannibal and his less famous sibling Hasdrubal. Like the existing commanders, both will have their own unique abilities. Hannibal is famous for leading his army and war elephants on a hazardous journey through the Alps and into Roman Italy. In line with history, Hannibal's abilities focus on speed and whipping his units into extraordinary feats. Hannibal's basic ability is called "Forced March" and lets you move units faster at the cost of morale. Other abilities, such as "Determination" and "Ad Portas" focus on boosting attack and defence when your units have reached an advantageous position. Hasdrubal, on the other hand, is purely about supporting allied players. The "Deep Pockets" ability boosts attack and defence of a friendly unit, while the ability to "Bribe" an enemy unit means it will take a big hit to morale and lower the unit's attack and defence.
The new unit roster for the Carthaginians progresses along the lines of Hannibal's famous campaign which started in Iberia (Spain), through Southern Gaul, the Alps, and ended in a 15-year occupation of mainland Italy. The Carthaginians therefore start out with Iberian sword infantry, mercenary Greek-style hoplites, and Numidian light cavalry in the lower tiers. Around tier V and VI the war elephants appear, as do Gallic and Italian infantry units that historically joined Hannibal's army in the hope of throwing off the yoke of Roman occupation. By the highest tiers, you'll be able to call upon the veterans of the Battle of Trebia and Carrhae and a mixture of Numidian cavalry and Barbarian skirmishers. We think it's a very nice approach to a unit roster in a historical game and it's a good idea to mimic this progression system for other upcoming factions. Lead game designer David Petry confirmed that this was definitely something the developers were pondering for future factions.
Elliott Locke, lead battle designer for TW: Arena, told us that Carthage was picked as the next faction to be added because it had most opportunity to add new unique playstyles to the game. The biggest impact on the gameplay will obviously come from the Carthaginians' unique unit: the War Elephants. The idea behind the unit is that it offers players a single highly micro-manageable unit that can turn the tide of battle if you correctly use abilities such as stomping the ground for area damage. David Petry told us that they considered between one and eight elephants per unit, but having multiple ones always broke up the micromanagement they wanted to achieve. We experienced first-hand how a single elephant can wreak havoc on most unit types and can be a pain to defeat if you lack either javelin troops or a phalanx formation of pikemen. Despite being the tanks of the Classical battlefield, if you micromanage your elephants badly it takes just a few seconds for them to die if they run into a hedgerow of pikes. There are five elephant units in total, starting with the tier V premium "Surus" unit, the sole War Elephant and favourite animal of Hannibal that survived the crossing of the Alps. Tier VI to X have their own elephants named after Carthaginian (Phoenician) Gods, with the tier X "Baal" having a "Charge" ability and the tier X "Tanit" able to trumpet to lower enemy morale, for example.