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Total War: Arena is a MOBA with historical revisions

Total War: Arena is a free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena, series developer Creative Assembly revealed at GDC. The streamlined strategy game will pit two teams of ten players against one another in historically inspired battles.

Each player will directly control three units and cooperate with their fellow commanders to overwhelm the opposition, according to the GDC presentation (via Control Magazine).

UPDATE: We spoke with lead designer James Russell and multiplayer designer Gabor Beress about what's new and what's historical in the upcoming spinoff.

Total War: Arena scales the series' semi-historical battles to the somewhat-more-massively-multiplayer stage. Russell and Buress said the changes, like three units to a player, new Dota-like abilities including skill shots, and persistent upgrades make the game tight and focused but true to the franchise.

"Arena absolutely has to be as active and skill based when you're controlling those three units as core Total War when you're controlling 20," Russell said.

When each player has three units, he or she can still benefit from thoughtful unit composition and flanking--and the battlefield doesn't turn into a featureless slurry of friendly and hostile soldiers. Russell said Arena will launch with a few maps tightly designed to make sure matches never become "a great big mosh group in the middle."

Every match will contribute to units' persistent progression. Commanders like Scipio Africanus or Alexander the Great will level up and gain unique abilities, and their soldiers can be traded out or equipped with new items. This is where Total War: Arena will make its money.

"Fundamentally the vast majority of content is available to players for free as long as you earn it," Russell said. The name of Creative Assembly's money-making game is acceleration: if you want Alexander and his well-oiled men to level faster, you can pay up. Little will be off-limits if you want to pay in time instead of cash.

If you want to get in on some creative multiplayer anachronisms early, Total War: Arena's website is live with early beta details.

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