Total War Saga: Troy's campaign layer offers the best vision of the game yet21 Jul 2020 0
Menelaus’ rampage across the Aegean stalled beneath the walls of Aptera in central Crete. The curs who occupied the western half of the island (their name shall be abolished from history… because I forgot to write it down…) had put up no resistance, but their walled capital still almost proved too much for the mad King of Sparta to handle.
An initial assault on the walls was catastrophic, but due to the mystical powers of ‘save-scumming’, Menelaus managed to starve the defenders enough to make a second assault a success. This formed the climax of my brief stint with A Total War Saga: Troy’s full campaign game.
Besieging walled cities is no joke and it was perhaps a taste of what horrors would have awaited me had I actually made it to Troy itself. That would have been a long ways down the road, though. One of the many misconceptions surrounding the Trojan War that CA Sofia is having to battle is that this saga is not a quick one - it spans literal decades. The siege itself took ten years, and I suspect my Menelaus would have needed to spend at least that long preparing his forces and gathering allies to sail across the sea. Crete was only beginning, but I will have to wait until the game’s release on August 13th, 2020 to see the end.
I spent several hours playing around with the campaign layer (as well as additional tactical battles), poking through menus and there are two main take-aways from my time:
- Total War must never go back to a single-resource economy ever again.
- Raising and colonising mechanics make the campaign layer feel a lot less shackled.
- Bonus: Gorgeous, arty campaign maps are the way to go.
These are two highly specific things to lift out of a multi-faceted game involving epic quests, diplomacy, in-depth building chains and a beautiful strategy map, but they represent the most interesting potential for Total War’s future as a franchise. Allow me to explain...
The economy in Troy is now split across five separate resources: Food, Wood, Stone, Bronze & Gold. Menelaus, at least, started with one source of all five either under direct control, or achievable via early-game quest targets. There also seems to be plenty of avenues for levelling up the output of these resources by Decrees (read: tech tree) but generally speaking taking and controlling more sources will yield better results. Everything in the game will have costs associated with one or two of these resources. Units typically cost Food (and will have a food upkeep) but may also cost Bronze or Gold, depending on which tier they are. Buildings tend to cost wood and stone in varying combinations. Gold is the scarcest resource and is only found in a few very specific areas, so if you don’t happen to control any of them you’ll have to trade.
One of the main bottlenecks to action in previous Total War games was how much money you had. Everything costs money, including upkeep… some Total War games like Rome 2 had additional trade goods but all they really did was net you more money. Money made the world go round but more often than not made it grind to halt as you always had too much to do and not enough money to do it with. Splitting out the economy across several goods is one of the most freeing experiences ever to come to Total War. Sure, you’re still going to face the same kinds of bottlenecks (only being able to afford one building a turn is still pretty standard) but the diversification of costs means that you can always do other things.
I couldn’t afford to upgrade my wood-generating capacity (requirements: wood/stone), but I COULD expand my army (requirements: food) enough to just go conquer another source of wood.
The second point doesn’t quite apply to all eras, but generally any mechanics that make the campaign map feel a little less fixed are a good thing. The worlds of Total War have always been divided up into regions, and by and large conquest by expansion involves a serious commitment to taking over not just the principle region, but all the surrounding ones as well. That means you’ve also got to deal with the hostile population, all of the infrastructure… In Total War Saga Troy, you can instead just raze a town or city to the ground and render it officially uninhabited.
Sometimes you don’t actually want to conquer a certain bit of land - the Cretans had declared war on me. I ended up wanting to take the island anyway but I also took comfort in knowing that, if I wanted to, I could have just reduced the entire island to ash. This mechanic also ties in neatly with one of Menelaus’ special faction mechanics. Typically, the factions that can colonise (it’s not clear if everyone can, but certainly the Greek tribes) need to have an army present to be able to do it, but ya boi Menelaus can just do it remotely at a cost. I probably should have done it more in the early game, because by the time I got to the end of my limited campaign run most of the near island sites had been gobbled up by my AI companions.
There are other observations that can be made about the campaign layer. The map is indeed huge, for starters, and does a great job generally reminding you that there is a world beyond Troy and the Greeks under Agamemnon. I found engaging with the religion system a tad confusing, not really knowing how to engage with this deity or that, or how to make full use of the effects associated with choosing one to follow. It’s hard to tell how improved the diplomacy system will be, especially because due to the highly narrative nature of this game certain factions are going to be predisposed towards liking you anyway.
There’s nothing much more to be said about the tactical battles themselves though I did get a far better feel for them compared to my hands-on a few months ago. Generally speaking armies are capable of getting larger, quicker but the number of armies roaming around is being kept in check. You’ll need to make smart alliances so that you can feel comfortable sailing away to the other side of the map to fight a war.
I feel A Total War Saga: Troy is being given the best chance it possibly could: a romantic subject matter (plus one with few historical sources so: making it up! Yay!), the latest Total War tech and a smart team who’ve got some interesting ideas as to where the series can go. Whether it will succeed is another question; it’s still not going to be a full-featured game like Three Kingdoms. There’s still Thrones of Britannia acting as the only true example of a SAGA game right now (I will always think fondly of that game, but I wish it had been given the same chance Troy has been given) and ultimately there’s the fact that fans are fans - they are suspicious and hesitant when it comes to adopting new things.
One of the things Total War games can struggle to get right is pacing and agency of action: I felt quite comfortable during my short time with Troy and confident I could get things done at a reasonable pace (bar sieges). Even turn resolution was quite smooth (although YMMV depending on hardware) and overall I think this will turn out to be the real poster-child for what a Total War Saga game can be.