Total War is back with a game that can only be described as a story-mythology hybrid. After playing us in Warhammer’s fantasy world and so China, we are now back in Europe, more specifically ancient and mythological Greece. Together with Achilles, Agamemnon, Paris and Hector, we will fight for Troy, but how exciting is it to build an empire during the Trojan War?
The enormous world of the Iliad
One can think what one wants about the war for Helena and Paris that took her from Sparta to Troy, but if you are furious at the two lovers or understand their flight, you can choose the nation as it suits you. Troy allows you to choose between the Danaan and the Trojans alliances, which means that you will either want to invade – or defend – Troy.
Greece has not always been given as much love in previous Total War games, but this weighs A Total War Saga: Troy up so it holds. Greece, the Aegean Sea and the Ionian coast west of Anatolia are huge areas with dozens of cities, and several islands, such as huge Crete and little Rhodes, are also included. The size is only outclassed by the beautiful visual effects, whose blue seas and huge mountains almost jump out of the screen. If you have been looking for a strategy game to tamper with when taking breaks from Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, so you do not need to look any further.
Whoever you were to take on the role of, be it Menelaus, Agamemnon or Achilles on one side of the sea, or Paris or Hector of Troy on the other, you therefore have a bunch of expansion opportunities.
Troy’s greatest strength must nevertheless be the unique mechanisms associated with each faction, because here the developer The Creative Assembly has surpassed itself – and that in high time. Each nation has been given two unique aspects that only they have access to, with certain exceptions.
As Hector of Troy, you have the task of protecting the holy city. Hector’s style of play revolves around alliance building, and through The Assuwan League mechanism, Hector’s armies gain higher morale when defending against attackers depending on how many regions the alliance members rule over.
At the same time, Hector players need to think about the Priam’s Heir mechanism. Priam is the father of Hector and Paris, and is the king of Troy, but he still has the benefit of picking out a real heir. By completing certain missions, such as conquering certain cities, fighting enemies both you and Paris are at war with, or building temples, you can acquire the goodwill of Priam. The top price here is Troy itself, but the road there is long and difficult. This is a mechanism that both Paris and Hector share, which means that the two allied brothers compete for their father’s inheritance, and thus can get on a collision course if you are not careful. It’s a rat race to the top, but it’s definitely exciting.
On the Greek side of the Aegean Sea awaits Agamemnon, king of the Mycenaeans, waiting for the chance to sail across the sea. But assembling large enough armies takes time, and the nearby kingdoms must first submit to the rich king. Agamemnon’s unique mechanisms are linked to expansion through the creation of vassal states. In previous Total War games, most nations have been able to ask or demand to become the overlord in such a relationship, but in Troy, Agamemnon is the only one.
The vassal conditions are made even more exciting by the fact that Agamemnon demands taxes from its vassals, and you can decide how much dividend you collect each round. At the same time you can demand to collect a huge sum of one of the game’s important resources. Here, however, it is wise to keep in mind that all relationships – even those with their subjects – only last as long as you have mutual respect. Demanding too high taxes can therefore lead to rebellion and war, so even Agamemnon players must be careful about how much they want to exploit their inferior partners.
In addition, Agamemnon, as the administrator he is, can appoint his generals to important positions in the state apparatus. This gives the selected various bonuses related to, among other things, recruitment of units, personal motivation and combat skills, which in turn helps to make Agamemnon’s generals potentially particularly strong.
Achilles, on the other hand, is a war-hungry hothead who is controlled by his own emotions. Therefore, Hot-Blooded Achilles is a separate mechanism when playing as the invincible hero. Achilles can feel proud, sad, irritated or furious, and the different states of mind determine what positive or negative effects your nation is living with. His emotions are always in swing depending on what is going on in your campaign; if you are at war with a neighboring state, Achilles becomes more and more furious, and can eventually become so angry that you have to live with an Achilles who becomes much stronger in battle, but who gives the bluff in diplomacy and makes life difficult for the rest of your people .
At the same time, Achilles wants to be the strongest warrior in the world, and can therefore challenge other heroes to battle. This will give Achilles different positive additions depending on how the fight goes, and can make it cheaper to feed your troops and spread the influence of your culture.
These are just three of Troy’s eight unique heroes and factions, which significantly increases replayability. The unique systems make Troy almost unique, especially when it comes to how clear and exclusive they are.
The will of God
At the same time, there are several mechanisms that are common to all nations. The Divine Will mechanism allows you to sacrifice resources to the gods, who in turn will strengthen your troops, feed your people, make them happier, and much more. The Greek pantheon in Troy consists of seven gods from Hera and Zeus to Aphrodite and Ares, and having the right god’s goodwill can mean a lot depending on the situation. Building temples will also give you influence with certain gods, and along with the sacrifices you will receive passive bonus effects if you reach certain influence milestones. This is an exciting and cool mechanism that brings Troy a deeper religious aspect than many other Total War games, and allows you to take care of the goodwill of the gods throughout the game.
Research trees have become a central part of the Total War series, and Troy is no exception. Although this goes by the name “Royal Decrees” is little new. You choose what you want to research – be it more food, bronze, or cheaper soldiers – and it takes a few rounds before you achieve results.
Diplomacy also returns, of course, but this time Troy has taken a lot of inspiration from last year’s Total War: Three Kingdoms, which is an exclusively good choice. The diplomacy system is now easy to understand, and you will see how great a chance each proposal, be it a barter or peace negotiations, has to be accepted by the other party.
New with A Total War: Saga Troy is also the absence of an overarching currency resource, and the entry into a barter economy. In Troy, it is important to collect food, wood, stone, bronze and gold, because each of these allows you to perform important actions. Wood and stone are often required to erect buildings, while food and bronze are needed to feed and dress up your soldiers. You can use gold to build certain magnificent buildings, but it is also an important exchange resource for receiving other things you may need.
Every region that is not a capital gives you one of these unique resources, so it is important to keep track of what you need and where you can get more. Being on good terms with those you want to shop with is also a good idea, especially if you find yourself in a situation where you suddenly need some more food than you had planned. In other words, trade is important not only as a major political necessity, but also to run your kingdom as efficiently as possible.
All of these mechanisms come together to create a Total War campaign that is more fun and charming than in a long time, especially when you consider the absolutely beautiful user interface. Virtually all menus and windows are inspired by ancient Greek pottery, and are like being pulled straight out of a Hercules scene. I just wish the city models were somewhat more unique on the campaign map, because right now almost all cities of the same type are completely identical.
A fight here and a battle there
It would not be Total War without huge battles, and you will be allowed to play with thousands of soldiers on huge battlefields here too. But where the campaign is charming and innovative, Troy’s blows only halfway to the finish line.
The battlefields are beautifully designed, and the tops and bottlenecks are fun to place. In other words, you can often play tactically by placing your archers at important heights, while your infantry keeps the enemies at a distance. There have been many matches where the positioning of my troops was the main reason I won, especially because the opponent was in the lead. This is an innovation that must not be taken in vain.
Yet not everything is rosy. Total War: Three Kingdoms not only looks better on the battlefield than Troy does, but the game also runs better (on my PC), and the devices have more attack and defense capabilities. Troy has also taken inspiration from the Three Kingdoms by turning his heroes into actual mythical heroes, who fight alone on the battlefield as supernatural warriors.
For some reason, I feel the heroes as near-gods fit better in Troy than in Three Kingdoms, but we do not stop there. Troy allows you to recruit so-called mythological units such as one-eyed cyclops and minotaurs. The explanation from the Creative Assembly is that these are really just grown men with extra strength and some special clothes, but unlike the heroes who manage to fit into the battlefield, these mythological devices become a little too much imagination for me. It ruins a bit of the Greek charm to see these fantasy devices crash into the flanks, even if it would cause me to win the battle.
A Total War Saga: Troy is an exciting and interesting feature in a series that is now 20 years old. Fun mechanisms that make each faction unique create campaigns you don’t get in many other historical Total War titles, and an extremely beautiful visual style on both models and user interfaces makes it a joy to play. A soundtrack that is deliciously calm and antique-like also sets the mood.
It is therefore a pity that the battles are not quite at their peak. For despite the cool battlefields, there is little else that makes a big impression, and it is quite clear that previous titles show warfare in a better way. I also liked to see some more unique units per faction, because at this point there are many that are a little too similar to each other. Still, it is often fun to fight, and it is vital to think tactically if you want to do well against your Greek opponents.
I’m at all amazed at how impressed A Total War Saga: Troy’s campaigns made on me, and highly recommend them to anyone with a heart for Greece, history, and a tablespoon of mythology. If The Creative Assembly continues like this, it will hopefully not be long before we get a Total War game that excels in all areas – and not just one at a time.
A Total War Saga: Troy will be released for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS at Epic Games Launcher on August 13, and can be downloaded for free for the first 24 hours.