Looking out over the windswept cliffs my troops had been positioned on, I noticed movement in the trees up ahead. My opponent, Coronos from Tiryns, was trying to camouflage his troops as they moved ever closer to me. Fortunately, I had the high ground with a wide view of the open land his troops would have to move through in order to even start climbing uphill to get me.
Arrows and darts from my ranged units rained down upon the armies of Coronos, my soldiers given more resolve thanks to the fact they had the high ground and allies on all their flanks. As the troops started to make their ascent, my spearmen and sword units closed in to make quick work of the now decimated army of Tiryns.
A Total War Saga: TROY offers many moments like this, as with all Total War games to date. However, the setting and atmosphere of TROY really helped to engage me even more. Set during the Trojan War in the late Bronze Age, TROY takes its influence from the historical documents of the time, as well as from the epic poems of Homer – who actually acts as the game’s advisor. Ensuring fans of the game can get the truth behind the myth is something the development studio behind TROY wanted to get across from the get go.
“The truth behind the myth is a very, very key concept in the development,” Total War Saga: TROY’s Game Director Maya Georgieva told us during an interview this past weekend. “It’s basically the concept that makes TROY possible in the first place because when we realized that we wanted to do TROY as our first game in the Bronze Age, we realized that the information we have for this particular era is mostly archeological. We don’t have good written sources for important, quite crucial details such as the names of the rulers, their families, their origins, their successors, their relations – the names of the states even are not absolutely known for sure.”
Taking what we do know, especially from the sources such as Homer’s The Iliad, can come with its own baggage as well, given that Homer is an incredibly biased chronicler. As Maya puts it,
“It’s a Greek poem created to be listened to by other Greeks. So there’s a lot of bias there.”
The team took their inspiration from these sources, as well as the evidence and research from archeological sources and recreated the Aegean Sea, complete with Greece, the islands and the coast of Asia Minor, where the ancient city of Troy would have been located. The map is massive with Creative Assembly Sofia, the studio behind this Total War Saga, stating that the map size will rival that of mainline entries in Total War. And it certainly felt that way when playing the first forty turns of the campaign.
In our play sessions, we had the choice of playing either Menelaus of Sparta or Paris of Troy – both of them joined at the hip historically for the reasons that in antiquity started the Trojan War – the marrying of Menelaus’ wife Helen to Paris in secret. However, playing as either faction brings with it their own motivations, mechanics and victory conditions.
The Saga entries in the Total War series allow for experimentation not really seen in the mainline games. Brittannia for instance played with the idea of mustering troops – a mechanic we could see somewhat reflected in Three Kingdoms later on down the road. TROY introduces a change that to regular real-time strategy fans may not seem like a massive change, but for the series it definitely is – TROY adds a multiple resource economy.
Resources have always played a role in Total War, but normally it’s been restricted to just counting your coffers. Koku in Shogun was tied more directly to the land itself, representing the rice harvest each season, but by and large it’s mainly just been a form of gold you’ve had to keep track of during your conquests.
TROY flips that on its head by adding multiple resources you now need to keep track of and use to achieve your war aims: wood, stone, food, bronze and gold. Settlements themselves are defined by what they create, and not all factions start equally with what they have access to. While I had not problem with resources early on as Menelaus thanks to rich deposits and fields from which to harvest, Paris starts off without a way to create stone. Finding a territory nearby on the island of Lesbos allowed me to eventually expand and start bringing in the stone, but it took a few turns to get going and even make that possible.
You can issue a royal decree, TROY’s name for the technology tree you research throughout your playthrough to augment your gameplay. Each royal decree branch starts with a base income of a resource, but you’ll still need to source the resources via conquest or diplomacy in order to get ahead.
Resources aren’t always going to be there either, with the team telling me during a presentation Friday that you’ll see gold mines dry up and start harvesting at a trickle. So conquering that gold mine your neighbor has may not always bring the riches you were hoping for if they mined it dry themselves.
Resources will also play a huge role in diplomacy, though in my playthroughs it felt more often like an annoyance than something helpful. More often than not when I was being approached by an allied or friendly faction, they were demanding high volumes of resources without anything offered in return. It felt less like diplomacy and more like Bronze-age panhandling. Maya says the system is still being tweaked and that type of annoyance should clear up by launch. Instead, resources and diplomacy are meant to give deeper strategy to how you forge alliances and work with your neighbors to defend or take Troy.
“It’s more of an ongoing process for us to tune the diplomacy to work with the new economy as much as possible. Initially, as you know is a smaller scope project, we decided that the one big thing that we’re going to test here is the resource economy. And you can see it changes the campaign map a lot, because for example each settlement is defined by what it produces. Your campaign planning is defined by what you need and what you want, rather than [who] is your neighbor. So basically you’re expanding, picking and choosing which regions to conquer based on their economic value. “
It’s true as well – during my thirty turns as Paris of Troy, I felt I was expanding less because I wanted another foothold to defend, but rather I wanted a way to more quickly and easily get the stone I needed to upgrade buildings in my home provinces. I found myself giving resources I had more freely to potential or currentl allies, such as Paris’ brother Hector or the Amazonians of Hippolyta in order to hopefully forge better relationships in the future.
It's this dependence on multiple resources that lay the framework for much of what you do in Total War Saga: TROY. As stated, conquest isn't just about invading your neighbors, but rather ensuring you have the resources you need to power your war machine. During my initial 40 turns as Menelaus in Sparta, I found myself eager for more food, and while I had one major food producing region in Laconia, I needed more, especially as I was starting to field more armies and venture outwards towards Crete to establish a foothold in the Aegean.
The campaign map itself is absolutely stunning to look at – and the fog of war art makes the setting feel like it’s just straddling that line of truth and the mythos of antiquity. Looking at the horizon near your camera shows a beautiful homage to the geometric art style we see so often on ancient Greek pottery.
Manuevering around the campaign map is just as it has been in previous Total War games. TROY brings with it its own art style to continue to emulate the art from the archeological evidence from the period. Everything looks like it belongs in Antiquity – it’s a compelling illusion, one that I’m happy to see TROY lean so heavily into as it completely helps set the mood and the setting.
Along with the impressive art design and the new resource system, factions seem to play differently based on their own motivations and characters at the helm. Menelaus, for example, can call upon allies to supply troops for his invasions, as well as quickly colonize razed settlements for a cost without needing to send troops there to garrison. I was able to quickly establish strongholds in the Aegean by sending Spartans to colonize abandoned settlements on the islands inbetween Greece and Troy, making it easier to establish a foothold to launch an invasion from.
Paris, on the other hand, has his own mechanics steeped in his myth. For one, he’s a renowned archer and his armies excel with ranged troops as a result. Curiously, though, Paris’ relationship with Helen is at the fore of his every move, as Helen will accompany Paris wherever he goes. This mechanic affects Paris’ ability to campaign, especially if you’ve been away from Helen for too long.
You can host games or a feast in Helen’s honor at any settlement you own or conquer, so it’s a bit easier to keep Helen nearby if you’re taking over settlements, but it’s still an interesting mechanic that incorporates one of the more pivotal couples that make up the impetus for the war itself. I actually found playing it less of a nusiance as I thought it would be going into my play session as Paris, instead it made me be a little less cavalier with the armies of the Trojan prince and not venture too far for too long, staying closer to home provinces than I might do when conquering rivals.
Paris not only needs to keep Helen happy, but also his father, Priam the King of Troy itself. Completing missions Priam gives you is a way to build up your own personal favor with the King, though your brother Hector is also vying for his father’s favor. While I wasn’t able to do this during my short time with the campaign, there looks to be ways you can undermine even your brother to win the favor of Priam – or support your brother, which ever style suits you best.
These characters not only have their own playstyles and mechanics, but also victory conditions, something that the team at Creative Assembly had to think hard on how to present from every angle. Obviously, Paris and Hector both are striving to protect Troy while Menelaus, Agamemnon and the other Greek city-states are seeking its destruction, but the team had to think about how someone might go about winning as, say Paris or Hector.
“We didn’t just look solely at the Iliad,” Maya tells us. “We didn’t want to just make another adaptation of the Iliad, so we actually tried to search as many sources as possible around the subject from other myths surrounding the Epic Cycle. And we pieced them together, and especially on the Trojan side that was really interesting and also challenging because we had to image what a victory campaign would look like for Paris, Hector, Aeneas, and Sarpedon. And we derived those things based on their myths and what we know from other sources.
As a result, characters like Sarpedon are looking to take back the island of Crete from the encroaching Achaeans who are there at this time period. Hector, however, is seen more as the defender of Troy and the Dardanelles, and as such revels in creating alliances. Instead of conquering, Hector players will want to forge strong alliances and bring back the Assuwan League under the banner of Troy. It’s interesting to think of the different ways you could actually win at Total War without possibly needing to do all out total war with these victory examples in mind.
Religion also plays a role in A Total War Saga: TROY, and the Divine Will mechanic, or the pantheon of Gods each have their own uses and benefits. While these gods do not play into the diplomacy of the period, something that the team did look at early on but felt it worked better more as a society management tool rather than diplomacy, especially given the fact that leaders in this time period pretty much all followed the same pantheon, but chose a certain god to follow more closely than others.
“This particular religious system is more of a society management rather than diplomacy. It’s focused internally rather than externally towards the other faction. The way we think about it is on the simulation side. Basically, religion at that time of the Bronze Age for the Egyptians, Mesopotamians and probably the Greeks, it was more a little bit like science for us, so following a certain pathway, the cults of a certain God or deity is more like researching certain aspects of the world.”
So as a result, the different deities in TROY all confer certain specific benefits on your faction, such as following the cult of Ares will give you benefits in War, Athena is both a goddess of strategy and crafts, such as weaving and housework. According to Maya, this would all make sense as they see Athena as the embodiment of wisdom and thinking. So as a result, in TROY she helps heroes themselves.
“They’re helped by their smarts, by their intelligence. So each god has an aspect, which is an interesting concept from the world. And this is their domain and where they would get the most influence on the society that follows them.”
You grow your standing with each god by either praying to them to increase their favor, building temples in their name, or performing a special rite which gives you a massive boost quickly for a higher cost to your resources.
While the world of ATWS: TROY is steeped more in the historical fact rather than the myth and legends of antiquity, the way the game presents them still has that aura of myth as the people in the story would point back to events and such as signs from the gods themselves. So while this isn’t the first time we’ve seen religion represented in a Total War game, it’s an interesting take I can’t wait to dive more into.
Jumping into the battles that make Total War unique among other real time strategy games, it felt a bit more familiar. Commanding troops on the battlefield still takes skill, especially as armies aren’t as cavalry heavy as Total War fans might have been used to. Horses in this time period were more often used for chariots, so the bulk of your armies in TROY are going to be the infantry of the time period.
Archers, slingers, spearmen and more make up your ranks while generals act as hero units that are capable of incredibly deeds on the battle field, including channeling the aristeia, or the moment in epic poems like the Epic Cycle where a character while in battle has their finest moment. Additionally, while the Pantheon of gods in TROY are more settlement management tool, they can confer specialty units that represent those followers in battle.
These mythical units are available through conquering regions or through the Divine Will mechanic itself, and these units while hard to obtain could turn the tide of any battle. Additionally, back are agents in Total War, giving you multiple ways to interact with your enemy and friendly nations alike outside of combat. Recruiting a Priestess for instance gives you a way to perform rituals to boost the favor with the gods, as well as raise morale of friendly units.
Epic agents are more powerful, specialized agents you can employ to your advantage as well. Agents such as The Seer can perform a ritual of prophecy, a way to appease the gods or advance your faction along the path towards and Epic Hero, which act as the army-leading generals in TROY.
During my nearly four hours of A Total War Saga: TROY, I felt I was barely scratching the surface of what was possible in this strategy game. It's a setting that has intrigued me since I was a kid, so being able to play as the characters I grew up reading about and in an area of the world I've spent a ton of time pouring over in The Iliad and the Odyssey, it was really a treat to take TROY for a spin.
After nearly 70 turns across two play sessions, I honestly feel like I’ve just begun the long, journey to victory in the Trojan War. It’ll be interesting to see how A Total War Saga: TROY feels when the game releases in August.