Since its first iteration, the Total War series has been firmly rooted in the great conflicts of history. Shogun: Total War was a strategic recreation of Japan's Warring States period, and its sequels followed that same path. Total War: Warhammer and its sequel are the only entries not rooted in historical fact. Total War: Three Kingdoms split the difference, based both on the Records of the Three Kingdoms historical work covering the Han dynasty and the fictional novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which uses many of the same real-world figures to tell intriguing, dramatic myths.
Now the next entry in the Saga spin-off, Total War Saga: Troy, looks to be an exploration of "the truth behind the myth". The Trojan War is one of the most important stories of Greek myth, a part of Homer's Iliad and other works of Greek literature. Scholars have long struggled to determine whether there was any real history behind the Trojan War, with speculation that it's a collection of real-world Greek conflicts in 12th or 11th century BC.
This "truth" casts heroes like Achilles, the Greek hero of the Iliad, and Trojan prince Hector as key warriors, heroes that will lead your armies out into battle. Achilles is a light fighter, but also a hard-hitting unit that'll punish a group of normal soldiers. In contrast, Hector is one of the strongest defensive units in the game, backed by other defensive units like Hector's Chosen. While the Trojan War went in one particular direction, players can choose either side of the conflict and chart their own path.
Greek myths are also accented with mystical creatures: like the half-man, half-bull Minotaur, or the half-men, half-horse Centaurs. In Total War Saga: Troy, they're given a more realistic bent. In Total War Saga: Troy, the Minotaur is less mythical: they're a massive human warrior who wears a bull's skull to create fear in his enemies. Likewise, centaurs aren't half-men, half-horse soldiers; instead, they're cavalry units, a group of mounted warriors who can flank enemies and harry them with thrown spears.
"We decided that this is the best approach for this game because of the time period that we're going through," explains Total War Saga: Troy senior battle designer Milcho Vasilev. "When it comes to which units we decided in particular to be represented, we usually look at plausibility and gameplay effects. We need to be sure that this actually fits something that might have inspired the myth of the Minotaur or the myth of the centaurs. That they actually bring enough interesting stuff to the game in terms of gameplay, so that it's worth including."
The heroes will be key figures in your army, striding forward and turning the course of the conflict. They even have Rage and Asisteia, two in-battle resources that power special abilities and allow your heroes to become near-invincible for a short period of time. Total War: Three Kingdoms offered a Romance mode for larger-than-life heroes, and a Classic mode for players who wanted a more authentic, history-based experience. Total War Saga: Troy is skipping such an option to preserve the "impact" of these Greek heroes.
"Right now, we're releasing only with one mode," says Vasilev. "We were thinking really hard about how we wanted to portray our heroes, but we decided it did not look good for Achilles to be in the middle of an entire unit. We wanted to make sure those heroes are more impactful because this is the age of heroes and we are basing a lot of the game on the Iliad."
Given the time period, Total War Saga: Troy is focused heavily on infantry conflict, with soldiers tending to be on foot. To that end, Troy is offering new terrain options on the battlefield. Sand slightly reduces the movement speed of all units, while mud slows down heavier units and tires them out. Then there's long grass, which allows some lighter units to hide completely, planning flanking attacks and more. Vasilev admits that the studio played around with "several" new terrain types, but decided on the above three as the "most meaningful and the most impactful."
Creative Assembly Sofia offered a short demo of Total War Saga: Troy with a straightforward battle between the forces of Achilles and Hector. The map was intended to show off the heroes, the new terrain types, and the tuned combat physics that give a bit more weight and heft to infantry troops. Unfortunately, it was hard to get a good feeling of how sand and mud factor into battlefield tactics due to the map's design. While it was easy to set up a group of archers in some long grass to surprise Hector's soldiers from behind, the mud and sand terrain were out of the way. That said, the long grass definitely offers some of the strategic options that Creative Assembly Sofia was aiming for.
"What we like is to allow the players to have those tools available at their side if they want to utilize them," says Vasilev. "If you want to actively avoid all kinds of different terrain types and only fight on open fields, you can do that. But using those tools that we've given you—mud, tall grass, or even the forests, which have been there in previous games—is an option that we think brings much more interesting gameplay and gameplay decisions to players. When we were designing our new battle maps, we had that in mind. We made them to make sure that usually there are always different types of approaches."
Total War Saga: Troy is, however, taking one feature from Total War: Three Kingdoms: duels. Called Divine Challenges in this game, these actions allow heroes to challenge each other to one-on-one battles. It remains a great way to remove an enemy hero from the battle for a short period of time, allowing the rest of your army to soften up their soldiers. Total War Saga: Troy also has a few other features, including eight playable factions, a new economy system with five resources (Food, Wood, Stone, Gold, and Bronze), and Divine Will, a new system of religion that tries to get across the belief in gods like Zeus, Hera, and Athena, without actually having those characters featured within the game. Following the tenets of specific gods allows the player to chart the destiny of their faction.
Creative Assembly Sofia is also reaching back to a previous Total War Saga title, Thrones of Britannia. That entry has a stronger focus on sieges, and that idea returns here, given that the battle of Troy was a massive, mythic siege. Vasilev promises 360 degree siege maps, where players will have to decide how they approach and attack a city. Battle maps for smaller cities outside of Troy will evolve as you hold settlements and upgrade them, but Troy itself has different starting points depending on how you've run your campaign.
In one highlighted option, assuming you have access to the hero Odysseus, you can load a ship with gold and soldiers and give it to the Trojan army. When you begin the siege of Troy, you'll be able to start with a small force inside the city, allowing you to turn open the gates. Alternatively, Creative Assembly is leaning on the idea that the Trojan Horse was actually a natural phenomenon. Most know Poseidon as the god of the sea, but he's also the god of horses and earthquakes. The second choice hazards a guess that the Trojan Horse was in fact an earthquake that tore down the walls of Troy, opening the gates to the Greek army. Vasilev didn't explain how players can unlock this choice, but there are apparently other available options. You don't have to literally Trojan Horse up in there.
Siege AI has also improved apparently. "We've done a lot of changes to the battle AI in terms of when it tries to defend a siege. After losing the walls, for example, they try to fall back and make the secondary defensive line against other walls," says Vasilev.
Creative Assembly Sofia is also cognizant of the modding culture within the Total War community. It's firmly on the table and the studio has already been in contact with veteran modders during Troy's development. "We know that modding is a huge part of the Total War franchise and we are making sure that we do anything we can to support the modding community," says Vasilev.
In a weird launch offer, Total War Saga: Troy will be free for 24 hours on launch day, August 13, 2020. The game is an Epic Games Store exclusive until August 2021, at which point it'll launch on Steam. So if you've wondered what the Total War franchise is about, Total War Saga: Troy will be your chance to see if you want to be the commander of a vast army. Just make sure that you keep that Achilles' heel protected.