“Total War: ARENA should develop into something exciting for players and spectators alike”: an interview with Malakith Skadi

With over 41,500 subscribers on YouTube and a similarly popular Twitch account, Neil “Malakith Skadi” Sangster is one of the Total War community’s top streamers. Now soon to be making his way to the ESL studios in Cologne, Germany, for the upcoming Total War: ARENA livestream event this Saturday, we sat down with Malakith to discuss the game, his expectations and opinions as a Total War veteran.

ESL: Hi, Malakith! First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do for those who don’t necessarily follow the Total War scene closely?
Neil “Malakith Skadi” Sangster: Hello! I run both a YouTube and Twitch channel consisting mainly of let’s play style content, generally focused around strategy games but branching out on occasion. Total War has been a long-standing staple on the channel, jumping between the various games in the series and focusing primarily on the campaigns, both vanilla and heavily modded.

ESL: When did you first get into the Total War series?
Malakith: My initial encounter with the Total War series was their first game Shogun: Total War (2000), having followed every installment with the exception of some early expansions – it has long been a favorite series of mine.

ESL: Having already had a chance to play it, what are your initial thoughts on Total War: ARENA?
Malakith: For anyone coming from a Total War background, the loss of the campaign map aspect of the game immediately makes it feel alien. However, once you get to grips with your first battle, the familiarity returns. With only three units to manage, Creative Assembly have removed some of the automated aspects often found in units such as artillery pieces, which you now fire manually. Side and rear attacks are also devastating to the battle line with the new morale system in place, and the variety of abilities available to the different generals keeps players’ attention firmly on the action.

Small enhancements to the way information about how individual fights are progressing is presented are also likely to upset people seeking realism, but given the team-based nature of the game, having “Friendly Fire” appear as your archers shoot into the rear of a friendly unit will hopefully go a long way to keeping the community mood healthy – something that far outweighs any loss of immersion.

Overall I don’t think it will suit everybody within the existing Total War community, but the adoption of a free to play business model will go some way to soothing those who are unsure as they can try for themselves without losing out if they come away unsatisfied.

ESL: What do you think sets Total War: ARENA apart from other Total War titles?
Malakith: With the exception of the mobile titles, the other games in the series focus on the blend of grand strategy campaign maps and the tactical real-time battles.
Total War: ARENA, however, removes the campaign aspect and instead develops the real-time battles. Increasing the player limit to 10v10 and significantly reducing the unit count any single player controls are also defining features. The handling of multiplayer battles from a server perspective has also changed dramatically, resulting in reliable servers instead of the hit and miss peer-to-peer arrangement of old.

So far I have found it an interesting experience within the series as they have moved away from the traditional dual-game model and in a new direction, and in my opinion diversification is not a bad thing.

ESL: What are your favorite aspects of the game so far?
Malakith: The focus on ensuring smooth, stable multiplayer means working together with your team is more satisfying than ever. Even in a small group with a couple of friends, focusing on a single area of the map together allows for cooperation and interplay that rarely occurs in the previous titles.

Incidentally, this is also pretty much a requirement for victory given that you can only control three units and will likely have specialized to maximise the effectiveness of your general’s abilities – there is little scope for an individual to carry the game.

ESL: What are you looking forward to most about the Total War: ARENA livestream event?
Malakith: I believe this will be the first opportunity anybody outside closed testing has had to see the game – the reactions and feedback this will make available will certainly be interesting to see.

The setting of a 10v10 competitive match is also hopefully a sign of things to come in ARENA’s future, which could answer some questions about how future competitive events may work.

More selfishly, getting to meet up with the other players/content creators that you work with regularly who often are just names behind a screen is, of course, always a draw.

ESL: What do you think the future of the Total War: ARENA competitive scene holds?
Malakith: I believe the team size (ten) may potentially hold back the competitive scene, simply due to the logistics of having that many people available at the same time. The inevitable split of any prize fund may also put off players who are more financially motivated.

That said, I believe the underlying game is well suited to the role with plenty of scope for both overall strategy and local tactics to influence the outcome of the battle. If the competitive scene can attract and retain enough teams, it should develop into something exciting for players and spectators alike.

ESL: How did you get into streaming?
Malakith: I made the foray into streaming after running my YouTube channel for about a year. While it was great to get feedback via the comments system, often a lot of it was only useful if it had been given while recording. A small system upgrade later and the live chat feature of streaming had me hooked – the interactivity and ideas thrown about keep games entertaining long after they would otherwise have grown stale. The ability for newer players to ask questions both of the streamer and other viewers is also invaluable.

ESL: What other video games do you like to play?
Malakith: The entire grand strategy series of games published by Paradox are incredibly fun and lead to countless stories of struggle, victory and betrayal which I would recommend to anyone (Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, etc.). Beyond those, team games such as War Thunder, World of Warships and a collection of MOBA titles consume most of my time currently.

ESL: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Malakith! Are there any shoutouts you’d like to make?
Malakith: Thanks a lot! Firstly I have to thank Lunadusk, the one-man moderating machine who somehow keeps the chat running on all my streams without fail, and of course, all of the viewers on YouTube and Twitch that make what I do even possible. But most of all, I have to thank the group of people who come on Teamspeak daily to partake in gaming, livestreams and generally keep me sane (they know who they are).

To find out more about the upcoming Total War: ARENA livestream event on Saturday the 23rd of May, check out our article as well as the official Total War: ARENA Facebook page.

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