The 'truth' of Total War Saga Troy is unknown, but it's pulling out all the stops to create its own legend

By Joe Robinson 04 Jun 2020 0

Three months from now, A Total War Saga: Troy will unleash its own unique blend of turn-based strategy and real-time tactical battles on strategy fans. They’ll be waiting for it, but whether Total War veterans will embrace Troy with open arms or send it back into the sea from whence it came is something that not even the Oracle of Delphi will be able to foretell.

If you do this job long enough, you start learning how to look beyond what you're shown; how to spot that 'truth' behind the near-mythological phenomenon that is an upcoming game’s pre-release tour. Creative Assembly Sofia are a passionate team, known for some of Total War: Rome 2’s more exciting DLCs and they clearly know their stuff. But we know some things as well.

We know that Creative Assembly have decided to get some money upfront by making it an Epic Games Store exclusive, even sweetening the deal for those reluctant to change platforms by making it free for the first 24 hours. We know that confidence in Total War Saga games is shaky, given the lukewarm reaction that Thrones of Britannia received. We also know that Creative Assembly Sofia have been given access to the latest Total War tech to make this new game (Thrones used the TW Attila engine, to its disadvantage).

But finally, we know that - nine months from the original announcement of the game - the only thing that Creative Assembly and Sega felt confident enough to show us was a single tactical battle. The same one in fact they used to demo the game when it was revealed to the world. The playable build we spent some time with featured the battle from the announcement at GamesCom last year, and we could play it as either Hector or Achilles (with Trojans/Greek units respectively). One map and two factions hardly a game makes, but it was nice to actually get a bit of hands-on time with Troy, and the battle was fun enough to play around with.

total war saga troy battle preview

To be fair, this is a very subjective view of events, as Game Director Maya Georgieva pointed out to me when I asked her about why they chose to show us what we’ve (technically) already seen:

“I understand - to you subjectively little has changed but for us… we’re finally able to reveal ourselves to the wider audience. We’re focusing on battles first because this is one of the biggest challenges in terms of braving this era for a Total War game.”

“I’ve never had any doubts about tackling this era in terms of strategy, but in terms of battlefield tactics and mechanics, it was always going to be a challenge.”

If you consider the Roman-era, which is (relatively speaking) quite well documented, there are still massive knowledge gaps in terms of the tactics and minutia regarding how Roman Legions conducted their battles. The period where the Trojan War was supposed to have taken place has no sources at all, thanks to an event known as the Bronze Age Collapse.

total war saga troy tactical battles

Despite being brief, the playable build DID allow us to get a glimpse of what CA Sofia has been doing in the tactical sphere - where there’s been a lot of subtle changes. To name but a few, things like weapon switching, unit weight categories, meaningful flanking and new terrain types & unit attributes are all coming to the tactical battle spaces.

Not all of these changes are telegraphed as well as they could be, but it would have taken longer than the time we were given to truly get to grips with the nuances. CA Sofia recognises though that tutorialisation is always a concern, and in fact they are taking steps to try and improve this area of the game with Troy:

“It’s always been hard to teach the intricacies of strategy games to players. We’ve got all the usual things, such as Keywords, Tooltips, Help pages… we’re making tutorial videos as well.

Usually you start your game with a tutorial battle, and you’re funneled through a script that eventually comes to an end, and if you learned you learned. Usually you just skip that though as you’re eager to play the game. We’ve made the tutorials available permanently, and you don’t need to leave the campaign to access them.”

It’s a shame that we weren’t able to see some of the campaign layer, as from what we know this is where the more interesting improvements lie. For the first time, a Total War game has ditched a monetary-based economic system and gone for a multi-resource, barter-led economy, which would have been more accurate for the period.

“It [was] very complex to design and balance, and to relay to the player. So far we’ve had very positive feedback. They all have their ‘domains’ of usage, and you definitely need to trade a lot, so the other factions have to like you enough to trade. It’s changing the face of the strategic layer.”

Faction design and the religious system are other ‘big’ new features coming to Troy. Factions are being given exaggerated differences so that they stand apart from one another (considering half of them are all proto-greek tribes, this is probably necessary to keep things interesting) and each one has two unique mechanics.

total war saga troy strategic zoom

A new religion system is being brought in, offering players the choice of up to eight gods to try and appease through their actions. The further down a God’s ‘path’ you go, the more bonuses and unique benefits you get. Combining around 3-4 Gods (the theoretical optimum, according to Maya) essentially represents your faction’s ‘build’ for that playthrough, which bodes well for replayability at least.

There are also two different types of victory in the game: The ‘Homeric’ victory is a narrative driven condition that essentially follows the tale of the Iliad. Being true to the quasi-sandbox nature of Total War titles, the team have also provided an alternative win condition called ‘Total War’ Victory, which gives you the freedom to make alliances with who you want. You can even reconcile Achilles and Hector, if you want.

total war saga troy centaurs

The exaggerations of TWS Troy defines where it tries to stand on the design spectrum. At the moment, Total War game philosophy is split between two extremes - the fantasy-fuelled chaos of Total War: Warhammer, and the historical seriousness of Total War: Three Kingdoms. Granted, even Three Kingdoms has edged into the realms of fantasy with some of their hero mechanics etc., but it’s not quite the same. Maya explains they’ve tried to capture the best of both worlds:

“Troy fits somewhere in the middle, as we take inspiration from both. Troy is more inclined towards historical design, even though we use a lot of mythological elements. It still leans towards the rational.

There is the challenge in that we don’t have the luxury of offering different modes, such as ‘Records’ and ‘Romance’ - we have to pick one thing. Maybe in the future we could revisit that with additional content.”

Come August, the 'truth' of A Total War Saga: Troy will be laid bare. I’ve not really seen enough of it to be able to tell you one way or another whether it’ll meet your expectations. Using the most up-to-date tech helps, fleshing out tactical battles will certainly win brownie points (although I actually quite liked Thrones tactical battles). So much is resting on the shoulders of the campaign layer, however, that all we can do is watch and wait for more. We’re told CA Sofia will be ready to share more on this soon.

A Total War Saga: Troy will be releasing on PC via the Epic Games Store on August 13th, 2020. A Steam release is expected in August 2021.

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