After last year’s Total War: Three Kingdoms, Sega and Creative Assembly are back with another instalment in their long-running strategy series, albeit as part of the smaller scale Total War Saga sub-series. Straight off the bat we’re treated to a setting and characters much more resonant with western audiences with the developer’s Sofia studio bringing to life bronze age Greece during the Trojan War.
There’s a reason why they’ve titled the game Total War Saga: Troy – there’s a keen focus on retelling the ancient epic in a way that dramatises not only the context behind each campaign and battle but also works its way into the fabric of Total War’s gameplay. That’s not to say fans who want that pure strategy sandbox experience won’t find their fix here; instead we see Creative Assembly adapting an admittedly worn template to accommodate a wider player base.
To an outsider, this newest game may look like a simple reskin of that same Total War template, made to look that little more jazzier as the series continues to flex its technical muscles. While it’s true that Total War Saga: Troy looks better than its predecessors, there exists a raft of mechanical improvements and tweaks that gives Troy its own unique flare without completely detaching it from what fans have come to expect.
Ancient Greece has proved a ripe source of inspiration for video games, from the original God of War trilogy up to the recent Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Ubisoft’s upcoming Gods & Monsters. There’s a rich tapestry of myths and legends to choose from that blend real world history with hugely exaggerated accounts of heroic bravery and the divine meddling of the Greek pantheon of gods.
Total War Saga: Troy has one foot firmly lodged in history and the other enveloped in these colourful legends, borrowed from the pages of The Iliad and other iconic texts. However, Creative Assembly definitely lean towards realism as much as they can. This isn’t Age of Mythology or a game where you can summon Zeus to reign down bolts of lightning on an opposing army, but the wide array of Greek gods and other myths is felt throughout. For instance, your chosen faction can make offerings to the pantheon via the Divine Will system, earning and maintaining their favour to unlock certain bonuses. You can also recruit gorgons, satyrs, and cyclopses into your army, though these are regular humans who have been given makeovers to emulate their mythic counterparts as opposed to having actual monsters appear on the campaign map.
The main campaign is of course centred around the war between Troy and the Mycenean Greeks following the supposed abduction of King Menelaus’s wife, Helen, by Paris, the prince of Troy. And so sparks a twenty-year campaign of vengeance as told and embellished in Homer’s Iliad. From this and other historic sources, Creative Assembly have fleshed out a huge campaign map with some 250 regions and eight core playable factions that include both Menelaus and Paris among other heroes such as Achilles, Agamemnon, and Odysseus, each with their own unique abilities and units.
Total War Saga: Troy hits all those main beats fans of the strategy series will be familiar with. It follows the same rhythm, split between large scale battles and campaigning that have made Total War an enduring mainstay within the genre and the same can be said here. With Homer as your guiding voice, you will select a faction and cross off a chain of missions before the stabilisers fall away and you’re free to immerse yourself within this sandbox. Even during our brief preview window we felt that same “one more go” factor, egging us on to decimate our foes and paint the map with our banners.
It’s fair to say that those who have bounced off previous Total War games will have a hard time finding a foothold here. Despite a complete change in setting, the only thing setting Troy apart from those games which have come before is a slightly refreshing and remoulding of the existing rules.
For example, Total War Saga: Troy operates on a multiple resource economy that has your gathering and trading five main materials including food, wood, stone, bronze, and gold. These govern the actions you can take, whether that be raising an army, building structures, recruiting agents, and outfitting elite troops. This goes hand in hand with a new barter diplomacy mechanic in which you can trade these five resources seamlessly, while still earning them naturally via conquest and the control of territories.
Since Creative Assembly’s recent affair with the Warhammer franchise, we’ve seen the Total War series incorporate heroes amongst the rank and file grunts that fill out each army. These act as their own supercharged units on the field of battle, cleaving their way through opponents and activating powers which can cause mini maelstroms during the heat of battle. These are accompanied by a new breed of epic agent characters including priestesses, gorgons, and satyrs, who patrol the campaign map, dishing out buffs to allies while hindering your foes.
Other changes made to the existing Total War formula may be harder to pick out. With Troy, Creative Assembly are trying to create more dynamic battlefields by using different terrain types – mud, long grass, and sand have effects on unit movement and visibility that can be utilised to offer certain tactical advantages.
However, on the whole, this isn’t much of a departure from what we’ve come to expect. While some fans may be waiting for a landmark shift in how Total War plays, many will be satisfied by the changes made here alongside the numerous visual, technical, and cinematic improvements on show. Total War Saga: Troy will be launching in less than a month’s time – anyone who’s even remotely interested can grab the full game for free within its first 24 hours on the Epic Games Store.