Creative Assembly probably won’t admit it, but I have a sneaking suspicion that A Total War Saga: Troy is actually a bit of a movie tie in. Sure, they’ll say they were inspired by Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad, but deep down I’m sure the team in Sofia, Bulgaria have a soft spot for the 2004 film and its star-studded ensemble cast. I mean, from early 2000s Brad Pitt, to Orlando Bloom and Eric Bana… there were a lot of very pretty people in it. Sadly their likenesses don’t feature here.
The game certainly leans on the fictional and mythological elements of the historical accounts that we have. The key figures of the war – Achilles, Hector and all the rest – are represented on the various sides of the conflict, elevated to their almost mythical might on the battlefields of the historical franchise.
It’s an element that will be familiar to players of Creative Assembly’s recent games. The completely fictional Total War: Warhammer was the first to introduce this notion, its warlords, wizards and kings strutting into battle with weapons and steeds so powerful they have their own names and legends. It was an idea that also simmered and grew through the development of Total War: Three Kingdoms, with the game featuring both historical and semi-fictional modes, the leading figures of the tumultuous period in Chinese history elevated to match the tales told of them in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
With Achilles and Hector leading their respective armies into battle in a Total War game, they’re similarly powerful, able to single-handedly battle entire enemy units, holding down an entire flank while inspiring nearby units with their feats. Alternatively, they can try and go head to head with their foe, issuing a Divine Challenge to draw them to cinematic single combat that can turn the tide of battle.
As in Three Kingdoms, there’s several hero character classes, each lending them to a different role. Fighters, Defenders, Warlords and Archers all have a particular part to play, different strengths and weaknesses and abilities that tie into this. Rage is built up through actions in battle, being spent on key character abilities that can buff attack and defence values of the hero or nearby units, or try to deliver a heavy blow with a special attack.
There’s also Aristeia, an element lifted directly from the Iliad. These are abilities tied to and meant to be used in the defining moments of battle, drawing upon events in Homer’s work, such as when Achilles single-handedly routs the Trojan army. They won’t be quite so impactful here, but will give you a major leg up at a potentially critical moment.
Troy and its bronze age battles take the series to the earliest time period it’s ever featured, and that’s represented in the kinds of units you can lead into battle. Forget siege engines, you’ll have to mainly make do with different types of foot soldiers, while horses are still a precious resource, their scarcity often seeing them limited to drawing chariots into battle.
Because of that, Troy adds depth and variety to the types of soldiers you can field. There’s now light, medium and heavy units, as well as special variants within each category, each with their own advantages that I’m sure you can figure out. Just in case you can’t, heavy soldiers have greater staying power in battle, as well as the ability to switch to alternate weapons like putting away shields, but this strength and flexibility comes at the cost of being slower and more vulnerable to flanking. Meanwhile, lighter units are less susceptible or even immune to flanking, while themselves being ideal for charging into an enemy’s rear.
The battlefields of the lands surrounding the Aegean sea also play a greater role on how battles unfold. There’s wonderful variety to the environments, from the North to the South, from Anatolia to the various islands dotted through the sea.
They now have a number of different terrain types across them giving you more advantages or hampering your actions. We’ve seen this relatively simplistically in previous games, with tree lines able to offer cover and break line of sight, but now light units can hide in tall grass, while sand will slow all your units, and mud will hamper heavy units in particular. It’s another interesting facet to explore, allowing for more interesting ambush tactics to potentially lure the enemy into something of a death trap.
Interestingly, Troy also spices up the action with realistic takes on some of the creatures of Greek mythology. Centaurs appear, but not as half-horse, half-man creatures. Instead they are reimagined as tribalistic horse warriors that could spark such legends. Similarly, Minotaurs are hulking men covered in furs and animal skulls, wielding a giant club that could deal enough brain damage to make their opponents believe they were otherworldly beasts.
It’s fascinating trying to put all of these new elements into effect on the battlefield, our hands on time coming in the form of a battle between Achilles’ Greek army and Hector’s Trojans. Playing as Achilles, his lighter army featured Centaur cavalry and chariots that could harry the Trojan flanks or try to disrupt their archers, you could lure the Trojans to wade through muddy patches, slowing them and letting your javelin troops have more time to cut through their ranks. On the other side, the Trojans have heft and staying power on their side, the archers with longer range, their lone Minotaur almost acting as a hero unit in his own right.
Creative Assembly have picked a much more evocative setting for the second in their historical spin-off games. Drawing inspiration from Greek history and mythology, they can tap into some of the more compelling and dramatic gameplay ideas that the series has started to include in recent years, while exploring a time period and conflict that might not otherwise be seen in the mainline series.