Total War Saga: Troy explores the ‘truth behind the myth’ of one of history’s most iconic conflicts19 Sep 2019 0
Over the years we’ve seen the Total War games take a variety of approaches at representing their historical subject matter; using known information to inspire campaign mechanics, and adding embellishments to create interesting playable experiences. But the idea of actually considering the lens through which we view history is a more recent phenomenon within this iconic strategy game series.
Total War: Three Kingdoms, the most recent entry, chose a period which has been retold in both historical and fantastical accounts. The game was split into two modes accordingly: ‘Romance’ represented the retelling of the Three Kingdoms period, embellished by storytellers over hundreds of years, while ‘Records’ reflected a more grounded experience, in line with the historical account.
In the back-drop of all this the Total War Saga games came into being; a series based upon a new approach that focused on ‘pivotal moments’ throughout history, using specific and bespoke mechanics to represent their periods.
The newly announced (and worst kept secret) Total War Saga: Troy could be considered a combination of both of these approaches.
“The story of the Trojan war can only be told with the ‘truth behind the myth’ concept” explains Todor Nikolov, Lead Designer on Troy:
“We have historical evidence, archaeological finds, the helmets of the people, and their armour. We know their cities, where they were, how they looked, and how big they were. What we lack in history and archaeology are characters. But we have the Iliad, and once we combine the Iliad with the history, we have Troy.”
This focus of combining historical evidence with myth is the heart of TWS Troy, and it can be seen in almost every aspect of the game. One of the most interesting features, for example, will be the introduction of mythical creatures — but with an interesting twist.
“You can recruit Centaur units… which are basically horseman” says Nikolov “It’s the Bronze age, they didn’t have horsemen back then, they used mainly chariots to move around the battlefield. So it makes sense that the ancient Greeks would look upon someone riding a horse as a beast, because who rides horses?” There are other ‘mythological’ units in the game as well, such as the Minotaur, a warrior clad in a bull hide who will resemble “a leveled hero character”. If players want these unique units, they’ll have to conquer certain regions with special buildings to recruit them.
Troy also reflects this ‘truth behind the myth’ approach through its god allegiance system:
“If you are affiliated with certain gods, you get their bonuses or penalties, and this is valid for every faction in the game. If you are a friend of Ares and he favors you, but disfavors another faction, it will give you a great edge in combat, because Ares will not only strengthen your units, but also weaken the enemy.”
But the pantheon of gods is extensive, and it’s hard to maintain favour with them all while also pursuing a campaign.
“If Poseidon favors you, you have extended movement range at sea, whereas if he disfavors you, you’ll actually be slower moving, and might even suffer some attrition. In fact, you might change your playstyle so you don’t mind being hated by Poseidon.”
So favor and disfavor can be used tactically depending on what you are currently doing in your campaign. But what’s most interesting about the god allegiance system, just as with the mythical creatures, is the game isn’t saying they exist in any straightforward sense. In Poseidon’s case for instance, Nikolov says that it's up to the player to interpret the source of an event attributed to one of the gods.
While the interpretation of these mythical elements is a significant part of Troy, realistic detail also plays a big role, in particular, on the battlefield. “You can see some units that are literally based on archaeological finds” explains Nikolov “There is a panoply of bronze armour known as the Dendra armour, named after the village nearby where it was found. We have included it in the game as a unit card. That’s an example of how we are working with historical accuracy.”
Troy also focuses on bringing that detail to other aspects of the game, such as also trying to faithfully represent the non-monetary economy of the Bronze Age:
“It’s completely different from previous Total War games. You’ve got food, wood, stone, bronze and gold. You need food and wood to construct your early game buildings and recruit units. As you expand, advanced tiers of buildings and units tend to require bronze and stone, both as price and upkeep. Whereas gold is a resource which is mainly used in trade and bartering.”
But however fascinating Bronze Age economies are, players will be happy to learn that Troy will also have some emphasis on hero combat, reflecting the epic duels of the period. “We decided that we were going to focus on the visual aspect of hero combat, so we have lots and lots of matched combat animations.” says Nikolov “So if Achilles is fighting Hector you will see a certain set of animations, but if Achilles is fighting Paris instead, and Paris takes out his sword, they will trade different animations.”
While it won’t be the same locked dueling system as Three Kingdoms, heroes will have abilities that replicate it, such as ‘Challenge’. As Nikolov explains, it’s an ability that can tie up a hero for the next 30 seconds or more in single-combat. It’s best used to “draw the attention of an enemy hero, or prevent him from escaping.
Three Kingdoms showed us one approach — two modes, each reflecting a different perspective on history. But in searching for ‘the truth behind the myth’ Troy seems to be combining both of those perspectives into one. This is also the first full-game effort of Sofia, Creative Assembly’s Bulgarian division, who have previously worked on some of the more recent experimental DLCs for Rome 2, and on Thrones of Britannia.
“It was the perfect training ground for us” says Nikolov, of Sofia’s previous work. “It prepared us for Troy rather well, and it’s pretty exciting to work on this title. I mean, it’s the Total War about the Trojan war! It’s amazing.”
Unlike Thrones (which used a version of the game engine from the Attila days), Troy will be using the most up-to-date Total War tech. Whether Total War Saga: Troy will successfully realize its namesake is yet to be seen, but with such an interesting historical perspective on design, we're pretty optimistic.
Total War Saga: Tory is due for release via Steam sometime in 2020. You can go wish-list it now if you want.