Enter the Arena: A Guide to Tier 1 Units and Commanders in Total War: Arena

By Charles Ellis 16 Apr 2018 0

Welcome to our guide to free-to-play Total War spin-off Total War: ARENA’s Tier 1 content. As of the Open Beta, players only fight against AI opponents until they reach Tier 3, where the PvP content opens up. As such the aim of this guide is to display what each faction is capable of, the basic features of each unit so that you can have a head start against the AI (who will pull no punches, make no mistake) and to show what each faction’s small pool of starting units leads to.

This guide will be progressively updated as new factions are released.


The commanders available to the player just starting out with Arena are the Roman's Germanicus, the Greek's (technically Macedonian) Cynane and the Barbarian's Arminius. Each of these commanders reward different styles of play and unit set ups. To that end, each commander has a basic starting special ability (reminiscent of power-ups in a MOBA) that provide some form of boost to their units. These abilities effect different attributes of different units, and so it’s vital that the three units you command in Arena are able to take advantage of these abilities. As you progress, each commander will unlock more and more varied abilities. For the moment however, we’ll stick to the first units you’ll have at tier one. We’ll be covering the new tier one Carthaginian units below, however, as their commanders are at present locked behind a significant amount of free experience, we won’t be covering them here but in a later guide.

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The Roman commander Germanicus focuses upon solid blocks of heavy infantry. His charge ability, coupled with the Roman infantry’s native Pila ability give his units a significant punch in a straight up fight. Mobility and flanking are key to victory with Germanicus. Make sure when activating Germanicus’ charge ability that you are not too far or too close to the enemy. Too far and the ability will wind down before making contact and any advantage they have gained will be lost. Too close and your troops won’t have enough of a run up to do much damage at all. Germanicus is a solid commander whose abilities continue to improve throughout the game. Use his infantry in the main battle line and to isolate and flank the enemy wherever possible.


Greek's Cynane focuses heavily upon archery, with her abilities geared toward supporting ranged units. At first, her abilities are somewhat underwhelming when compared to the charge of Germanicus. Her 'rapid advance' ability is so short – and the bonus it provides so slight – that it is good only for providing a slight edge over enemy infantry chasing you. Cynane’s weakness in this department is more than supplemented by her access to archers at tier 1, which, as discussed later on, are extremely dangerous if they are left to their own devices.


If Cynane focuses upon archery, and Germanicus upon brawling with the enemy head on, then Arminius is all about mobility. His 'momentum' ability mightn’t seem like much, but its speed boost (unlike Cynane’s) is permanent until your units stop moving. From the get-go, Arminius is the most mobile commander in the game – and will remain so as you move up the tiers thanks to that ever improving momentum ability.

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The units available to the player when they start Arena are the core units of the game, including cavalry, infantry and archers. However, not all these units are available to all factions at the start of the game. The Romans don’t have access to cavalry until tier 5. The Barbarian faction meanwhile has them available immediately. More specialized units, ranging from pikemen and catapults to wardogs and falxmen do not become available until the player has progressed further up the tiers as well. Yet these opening units remain some of the most prolific and versatile of all units in Arena.

Roman Units

Roman infantry can best be regarded as a jack of all trades faction. Strong enough to go toe to toe with most equivalent units, and mobile enough to be flexible, Romans excel at outflanking and crushing their opposition. The Roman player can look forward to a long line of solid infantry units that offer a solution to every problem they may come across on the battlefield. A variety of support units, including adequate cavalry and the largest lineup of siege units in the game completes the Roman tree. Don’t ignore their javelin units however. Whilst easy meat for cavalry and archers, javelins are deadly against armoured targets. Used well and they will give any block of infantry a rather bad day.

Pedites: The classic Roman melee infantry. These guys are flexible, able to perform well in a broad range of situations. In line with most kinds of melee infantry, Roman infantry generally are some of the most durable units in the game. A player who uses these heavy hitters can be confident, even if they do not win a game, that they will contribute a hefty portion to the team’s performance and that their post battle rewards will reflect that. They are by no means invincible and, unsupported, Roman infantry will suffer heavily if left to fend for themselves against missile infantry of all kinds. Two volleys of pila will do little against the constant attrition of arrows, or especially javelins.

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Tirones: Rome is the only faction to have access of javelin armed infantry from the start of the tech tree. Fast moving, relative to Roman Legionaries, Tirones are one of the most effective counters to slow moving, heavily armed melee infantry. Their speed keeps them out of trouble and their javelins cause greater damage to armoured units than arrows. This comes at the price of being easy meat to Greek archers, whose bows out-range javelins. Any javelins caught out by archers can expect to have an extremely bad day.

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Greek units love positional warfare. Their hoplites and (later) pikemen really have a bad day if forced to manoeuvre. Make the enemy dance to your tune however and they’re in for a bad time. From the front, Greek infantry are nigh unbeatable. They will have a bad time if they are out flanked though. Those looking for a change of pace can look no further than Greek cavalry, which whilst slower than other cavalry units, have an absolutely fearsome charge. Well-timed Greek cavalry charges can decide the course of a battle. Keep your front toward the enemy and a Greek commander can do little wrong.

Mycenaean Hoplites

Mycenaean hoplites are the first spear armed units the player will have access to. Spear infantry, frontally, are arguably the most powerful melee unit in the game, when fighting in ideal conditions (i.e. frontally). Greek hoplites, with their access to the phalanx ability, only enhance this. Be warned however, unlike Roman and Barbarian infantry, when things go wrong for hoplites there’s not a lot one can do without allies. Using hoplites is simple. Push forward, front facing the enemy and don’t get outflanked. This being a team game, your allies will or won’t support you, but if your spearmen are in the main battleline taking on enemies (ideally weaker ones who you can grind down with impunity) then you will do well.

The most important ability to be aware of at this stage is the phalanx ability. In a nutshell, your men make a wall of advancing spear points and anything to the front gets annihilated. Make no mistake, it is a powerful ability. Timed well, you can defeat any unit of equal tier with it. But be careful. Anything, including allies, or your own units, can be damaged by it. If you’re in a big melee with lots of friendly units involved, don’t use it. Doubly so if friendly cavalry is in the area. That said, using this ability on enemy cavalry (it happens) is one of the most satisfying experiences in Arena.

Mycenaean Archers

Archers are very tricky to use well in Arena. The basics are easy enough: See enemy, shoot them, make sure friendlies aren’t in the area for you to hit as well (don’t do that, it’s maddening to see half your victorious force fall to friendly fire – it’s really not that helpful). It’s all the rest that’s the tricky bit. Left to their own devices, archers are devastating, tipping the balance of many a fight before its begun and grinding down enemies who do not wish to engage. But the omnipresent danger of cavalry and the problems of dealing with enemy archers who will grind you down as surely as you will to them, makes working with archers tricky. The best way to play archers I find is bring a friend. Have your friend play melee units and work together with them to shoot anything that doesn’t want to engage you and protect you in turn from those that do. Short of just sheer bad luck, in such circumstances it’s hard not to have a decent game with archers, and a good game will yield an extremely satisfying result for both of you.

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Barbarian Units

Barbarian units rely more upon ambush and stealth than other factions units. A player advancing up the barbarian tree can look forward to a kind of gameplay that is very different to the solid disciplined units that are available to other factions. Manoeuvre, hit and run and finding weaknesses in the enemy’s lines are the name of the game. Finding enemy ranged units and mercilessly crushing them is what a barbarian player dreams of. Barbarian players have some unique units to work towards, including war dogs and falxmen (think warriors with scythes, but scarier).


Used well – cavalry is the most fun you’ll have in Arena. Barbarian cavalry are all about speed, flanking and sheer pluck. Your men are poorly armoured and fare extremely poorly in a fair fight. Any sort of melee infantry will give you a bad day. Don’t bother with them. Run around flanks. Seek out poor suckers with no friends who’ve picked all missile units and ruthlessly punish them. A well timed charge (and if you can’t use charge don’t bother, your cavalry aren’t good enough otherwise) will rout one, two or even three of their units. More than once I’ve ended someone’s game before it has begun. If help arrives, just run. Your cavalry, bar none, are and will remain throughout your time in arena the fastest units in the game. Pick your battles. If there are no archers in range, look for opportunities. A fight can be turned into victory for your side by a well-timed charge into the enemy’s rear. Just do not ever, repeat ever, charge spearmen from the front. It makes the Charge of the Light Brigade look like a success story for cavalry.

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These guys tend to get overshadowed by their more exciting cavalry brothers. But they have more than a few tricks up their sleeve. Their fast, they love flanking (even more than the Romans) they have their own in built charge ability and what is more they are one of the few units that excel in fighting in forests? Want to sneak around the flanks and spring ambushes on people? Use this unit. They are however, very much a thinking person’s melee unit. Whilst you can use Roman and Greek infantry to go right into the middle of the field and battle it out with the enemy’s most powerful units, Barbarian infantry rewards a more subtle approach. Use forests, cover and line of sight mechanics to launch surprise attacks upon enemy units. Your charge will make the damage you inflict all the more devastating.

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Carthage is a relatively new faction, arriving with the Open Beta, both its commanders are locked behind a pretty significant amount of free experience. Nonetheless, for completeness we’ll include the faction’s units here so that you know what to expect when facing them. For those aiming to go down the Carthaginian Tech Tree, there is an interesting selection of units to look forward to. First and foremost, there is a lack of ranged units up until the very highest tiers. Those who enjoy missile unit gameplay should probably avoid this faction (unless they are truly desperate to get at the faction’s javelin infantry at Tier IX). This however is made up for by the ability of the Carthaginians to mix and match their spear and sword infantry, an ability available to no other faction at present (apart from with premium units). Beyond that, the stars of the show are obviously the elephants (no Total War is truly a Total War without war elephants!).

Mercenary Rabble

Functionally, the first units available to would-be Carthaginian players are Mercenary rabble, who despite their name fight similarly to the Mycenaean Hoplites discussed previously, that is in a tight phalanx formation. Stats wise they are slightly more powerful in offensive strength than hoplites, and slightly inferior in most other factors. At this stage however, it is more the positioning of units that will matter to the player rather than stats. This unit should be used in a similar manner to Hoplites. It should always face the enemy, it should use its phalanx ability as much as possible (although it should avoid using the ability with friendly units in the area, as they will take damage as well) and it should avoid being outflanked. Word on the grapevine is that Carthage can be a little underwhelming on the lower tiers, with its strengths being in the other units available to it at upper tiers, but a player who has acquired Carthage should have a fair idea about what the game is about by now!


There will be more unit types and more commanders as a player progresses through Total War: Arena. But you can be sure theones presented above will be present in each and every battle you will join in arena. My final advice to the budding Arena commander is to play what you enjoy. A unit is only as good as its commander and a unit that suits its commander’s temperament is a dangerous foe indeed.



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