There are few legends as well known or as oft-retold as the Iliad. War, betrayal, love, Gods, mythical monsters, and heroes of legends — Homer’s epic poem has it all. The team at Creative Assembly Sofia have chosen it as their first full release in the Total War universe — Total War Saga: Troy.
I’m going to preface my review with the admission that I’ve been a casual player of the Total War games. As such, there are nuances I might not have picked up between versions. If you are looking for that level of deep analysis, caveat emptor.
Total War Saga: Troy takes the events of the Iliad, namely the “kidnapping” of Helen of Troy by Prince Paris of Priam. Helen’s husband, Menelaus of Mycenae, is outraged and calls to his friends and family to assault the city of Troy to bring her back. Of course, there is the little matter of the fact that she went along with Paris willingly. Homer’s epic poem is nothing if not chock full of betrayal. Focused on the first few months of the Trojan War, it’s this conflict between Troy and Mycenae that forms the foundation for Total War Saga: Troy.
The game kicks off with you deciding between the two sides of this conflict — Troy or Mycenae. Once you decide your allegiance you are presented with four legendary warriors — Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Menelaus to represent the Danaans, with Hector, Paris, Aenaes, and Sarpedon as the heroes for the Trojans. These heroes also represent an easy, two normal, and a hard campaign choice for each side, and are labeled accordingly.
One of the things I liked the most about Total War Saga: Troy is that each commander has their own special mechanic to make them unique. For example, Agamemnon is the King of Mycenae, and as such, he can set the tax rate resulting in a steady income of grain, wood, stone, bronze, and gold (several of which are new resources to the series). Raise it too high, however, and you may find that you have a revolt on your hands. Similarly, he can also demand tribute of those same resources, though it does put a strain on the relationship with any vassals under his watchful eye. Conversely, Paris, the Son of King Priam, has a mechanic that causes his power to wax and wane with his proximity to his stolen love, Helen. By way of another example, Sarpedon is a collector of rare materials like white granite, celestial iron, and Minoan relics. These are useless to any other commander, but are part of Sarpedon’s Homeric Victory objectives. Beyond that, they can also be expended to reduce construction time and costs, improve attack and defense, and increase faction influence. Each commander has a unique mechanic, and it makes their win conditions and gameplay unique.
Nearly everything you do will yield a boon or disadvantage in Troy. If you are steadfastly devoted to carving your will out of the land, you might earn a trait like “Master of Stone and Timber” which saves you 3% on all building construction in your province. Similarly, if you are reckless in battle, you’ll likely end up with a trait to match. Continue to drive that path home and you’ll build up to three pips reinforcing these unique traits for your commander. By way of example, the “Reckless” trait came from winning a “Cadmean Victory” (a victory at near-ruinous cost to the victor where you’ve suffered incredible losses). It earned me an additional 3% damage increase for all of my units, as well as an extra 7% charge for them. Suffering this costly victory multiple times pushed that damage increase to 6% and ultimately 9% — an awful way to bring an advantage to your army.
Victories come in two flavors — a Total War Victory which comes from occupying, razing, or sacking 100 settlements, and taking the opposing side’s capitals through making them vassals, military allies, or directly sacking them as well. The second victory type is more closely tied to the Iliad — Homeric Victory. This more closely ties to the poems of the famous Greek philosopher Homer, asking the player to ultimately complete a series of increasingly difficult tasks tied to the story of the individual commanders, culminating in the control over specific areas of Greece.
Heroes, Agents, Priestesses, Spies, Envoys, and the newcomer Epic Agents all level up and earn skills. There are 14 levels of upgrades, each with a binary choice between two powers that can be unleashed in battle or in espionage, as well as two subchoices in each. It makes each character you create feel unique, though as my army expanded I felt like I lost track of this uniqueness — it’s hard to keep track of half a dozen agents and nearly as many commanders.
Beyond your hero’s skills, you can find equipment, followers, and items to give them additional buffs. This doesn’t just apply to your major heroes, but minor ones you can recruit as well. Armor, better weapons, a mount, and a few trinkets can make your commander formidable in battle. In practice these are stat buffs and modifiers for your troops most of the time. Depending on your playstyle, you may or may not pay as much attention to these items.
Total War Saga: Troy, and this goes for all of the Total War games, lets you field massive forces in tactical battles that frankly have no comparators. Literally hundreds of mixed units clash against overwhelming forces on the opposing side. Formation matters, height matters, the speed of the units, their weapon types versus the weapons of those they engage, whether they are flanking, tired, their morale, and much more goes into determining the outcome of any engagement, and you are in control of all of it. As such, this game can be incredibly complicated. Being an ineffective or inexperienced commander, even with an overwhelming force at your disposal, can lead to staggering losses. Even on easy difficulty, the learning curve can be steep. If you want, you can avoid that complexity by having the AI fight both sides, simulating the battle and simply delivering the outcome, but that does effectively nullify half of the game. Know going in that this game is not as casual as a standard RTS — there’s a lot to learn here.
Exacerbating the issue of a somewhat steep learning curve is an occasionally obtuse interface. Some mechanics that seem obvious don’t function the way you’d expect. For example, trying to siege a city with three armies continues to baffle me. I surrounded the city with one army, and figured I could overwhelm it with the other two, but I can’t say I figured out how that works. My cities will go into revolt despite having a relatively decent growth arch and happiness setting, and I don’t see any way to stop it, so I just started ignoring it. Similarly I see that distributing White Granite “Grants ancillaries” but I have no idea what that means. There is an extensive help system, and you can hit F1 for a help overlay, but sometimes that doesn’t function as designed, or I’m using it incorrectly as when hovering over my own Spy the help overlay says “make sure you select a hero belonging to your own army”. Occasionally I just have no idea how a mechanic works and I find myself on YouTube hoping that it works similarly to previous games.
Capitalizing on the myths and legends of the period, Creative Assembly Sofia has integrated “epic” units into the game. Medusa, centaurs, minotaurs, giants, satyrs, and other mythical beasts are heavily featured in Grecian mythology. In Troy they are special units with powerful abilities, but ultimately they are men. A cyclops is a massive hulk of a man wearing an elephant skull — the hole in the center of the skull makes him look like he has one giant eye. Minotaurs are similarly huge men wearing the skull of a bull and wielding massive double-bladed axes. All of these characters are rooted in reality. I personally enjoyed this element, but I can see the pure history buffs scoffing at them.
You couldn’t tell any Grecian tale without the ever-present influence of the Gods. Centering around seven primary Gods — Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Apollo, Athena, and Aphrodeite, the “Divine Will” system gives players a way to try to appease the Gods, or at the very least avoid their wrath. Represented as a climb up Mount Olympus, this new system shows each God’s favor, bolstered by prayer and “Hecatombs” (the sacrifice of 100 cattle). These cost resources that you could be spending to keep your army in the field, but failing to keep the Gods appeased can have all sorts of nasty results such as earthquakes and storms. If you do stay in their favor, however, many of them will grant you a small bonus in battle. It’s a good balancing act, and it encapsulates the capricious and flighty nature of dealing with the divine.
A big part of any Homeric tale is the concept of antagonists, and that’s represented in Total War Saga: Troy. As you whittle down your enemies, you might find one that stands out and hates you unrelentingly. Eventually they’ll be marked as your antagonist, making them a mortal foe that will stop at nothing to destroy you. Their intentions will be made known to you via a panel in the game, advising that they’ll ransack any settlement you leave unattended, or lay waste to any ship that they find on the high seas, or any number of other conditions. This can alter your gameplay as you may suddenly find that you have marauders razing your cities, or just plundering your land. It’s a cool mechanic that shakes up your well-laid plans.
Beyond mythical monsters and self-serving Gods, there has been a solid overhaul to troops from previous games. Before, the units were somewhat sorted into a paper-rock-scissors sort of arrangement. Now, many of the troops have a designation of light, medium, or heavy, granting some additional layers to the combat nuance. There are also defensive postures where your troops will do their best to raise their defense rating by using shields. It slows their movement, but can give them a better chance against an otherwise overwhelming enemy force.
Using a 1080 Ti with settings at recommended levels I was surprised to see a slow degradation of performance over time. Starting off at an average for 61.2fps average with everything at Ultra settings and running 1440p, by turn 32 I was getting a constant red triangle letting me know that I’d dropped below 30fps, which I could readily see. Restarting the game resolved the issue for a time, but it’s clear something is amiss as it continues to happen up to the point of this writing.
A Total War Saga: Troy
Total War Saga: Troy is a step in an interesting direction. The “Saga” distinction allows the team to try some new concepts without disturbing the main franchise, and it does while remaining faithful to the historic roots of its predecessors, with a dash of the fantastical. Some technical wobbles remain, and the game can be occasionally obtuse, but there’s a lot to enjoy here.