A couple of months ago, Marco tried a few battles in the newest entry in Creative Assembly's long-running strategy series, Total War Saga: Troy. Then, more recently, I tried the first few hours of the campaign. After that, I had the chance to talk with two devs from CA Sofia, Milcho Vasilev (Senior Game Designer) and Victor Dosev (Lead Game Designer), and you can read the full transcription of that interview below. During our conversation, we discussed the new systems added to the game, in particular, the divine will mechanic that has you worshipping gods for certain bonuses, as well as how the studio is going to explore the iconic siege and all the mythology that comes with it, and how the studio has balanced mythology and realism on the battlefield. Check it out, and keep scrolling down for our earlier interview with game director Maya Georgieva.
Gamereactor: So I have a few questions, but many of them are because this felt very Total War at the beginning, but I can also see that there are so many new systems in there - the resources and the divine will, for example - and I'm interested in hearing more about them because I just didn't get a sense of how they're going to feel at the end of the game when you've played a lot more than 30-odd turns, which is all I got to see. Can you please give me a couple of examples of how prayers and worshipping the gods can have a big impact on a late-game scenario?
Victor Dosev: You probably already saw some of the benefits that worshipping the gods can provide you with, and what you can get from the different tiers of favour that you get from the gods. And as the game progresses the system will remain pretty much the same but you will be able to get the favour of more than just one or two gods. At the beginning of the campaign, you can try to specialise with one or two gods, where you are trying to get their favour because of the benefits you get, but as the campaign progresses you're going to be trying to get as much favour from all the gods as you can. I'm not sure how much you interacted with the system but as you can see it can be a little bit hard, but the benefits that you can get from it are really strong. Of course, the 'divine will' system itself is more a side-system to the resource system where you don't really need to be favouring the gods in order to win the game because you can still manage to defeat your opponents even without using all the benefits of the gods, even if you are getting incidents from the gods being neglected sometimes, Zeus destroying your structures and so on, but it's going to be harder for you and so it's in your best interests to try and keep interacting with it to an extent that you feel comfortable with.
Milcho Vasilev: I just want to add that maintaining many gods at once is really, really costly so it's not really suitable most of the time. The gods have been designed to provide strong but situational bonuses, so throughout your campaign, you'd rather switch the gods you favour; it has not been designed to get Zeus to a high level and then keep Zeus all the way through the campaign, it's rather more like you start neglecting one god to starting favouring another more because you have limited resources and you probably won't be able to get all the gods to like you all the time. So it's more like you try to figure out in what part of the campaign you need which god, for example, if you plan to have a lot of sea movement, if you plan to cross the sea to get to the other lands to start or join the war if it's already ongoing between the alliances, between the two great forces, you might want the favour of Poseiden to get that extra boost on the sea and get those bonuses.
GR: On that same theme of things that happen later on in the game, I started the game as Menelaus and I didn't get anywhere near Troy during the demo. I'm really interested to hear about the phases that you'll have to go through to get to that stage of the game and how you are dealing with player expectations around the siege, the horse, and everything else.
Milcho Vasilev: First of all there are two victory conditions that you could strike in the game. One is just to create an empire, cover the majority of the map. It's called a Total War victory. Just be big, just be large, get all the major settlements in all parts of the world, defeat most of the strong factions etc, just be strong. This is not very narratively tight, this is not particular to the Trojan war, this is in the bronze age; if you are a participant in that time and you want to expand your empire no matter what, you could just do it this way. But there's the other victory objective, which is more story-driven, and it's called the Homeric Victory. Essentially you are trying to walk in the footsteps of your character the way it was described in The Iliad. The objectives there are more tightly knit to what happens in The Iliad but... you could say that Troy, the city itself, is the fulcrum for most of the conflict and Helen and Paris and Menelaus are the big players around, with their allies, but, for example, not everything is... if you play with the Trojans you get other similar objectives, just to push off the Achaeans - it's not just "stay there for the entire campaign and only defend yourself". Eventually, they're a bit more asymmetric than that. Sure, if you play Achilles or Agamemnon or Menelaus or Odysseus, the campaign will probably play out exactly like that. You will form an alliance and form strong bonds, you will traverse the sea and get the war on Troy's doorstep and eliminate the Trojans and eventually get a hold of the city itself. It's very fortified, you cannot get it by conventional means early on in the campaign; it's fortified by strong walls, by strong protectors, and you really need allies to muster huge armies to take it by force. But there are other means, so the settlement itself is not like other settlements on the map and you probably... it's very hard to take it by conventional means, you probably need to rely on other measures to get it comfortably, like there's a special technology that allows you to invent, in a sense, the Trojan horse as a war machine to help you breach those walls. We have created different versions of the fight for the settlement. Depending on how it plays out with the Trojan horse. There's a movie on that you could watch that's already public where you could see how we handle that particular battle, the siege for Troy. Apart from that, how we handle expectations, early on in your campaign you will get a dilemma, an event that asks the player whether you'd like to stick more towards the story or you'd like a more sandbox experience. It's phrased in a way that, are you really willing to pledge your allegiance to your alliance or would you like to be more of a... not renegade but be more neutral or independent in that regard. If you choose to be more independent and not follow the story that tightly, the AI in the campaign will just develop more organically in terms of who is strong at what time and who decides to fight who is more... random rather than just following the events that were described in the Iliad, which is the story option.
Victor Dosev: Basically, your campaign is going to be divided into three different parts that will be distinct. The first part of your campaign is going to be: consolidate your own forces, make sure you don't have any immediate threats against your kingdom, depending on which ruler you choose. As the game progresses into the mid-part of the campaign you need to organise your allies. You need to make sure you build a good, large alliance which can take on the other force. And as you progress into the late game you will have to cross the sea, basically, and fight the other force with your whole alliance in all-out war, which can get really rough. And at any point in the campaign, you can try to follow the narrative of The Iliad, or you can try and just branch out and do something that you think would be fun, like try to ally Achilles and Hector together and see what happens if you try and do that. So this is why we have those two victory conditions.
GR: My next question is about the hero characters and how you've handled the mythology around those individuals. I like the plausibility-first approach that you've taken with these character designs, also with the Minotaur, the Cyclops, and the Priestesses, but I also noted that the hero characters that I took with me into battle were very powerful units on the board. How have you balanced those characters and their abilities against realism? Because you've gone for plausibility within myth in terms of the unit types, but you've also got these powerful hero characters who almost have superhero strength. I'll give you an example: in one of the battles I played, I had two units left, two hero characters, and they were able to chase much larger enemy units from the field of battle but using one of Menelaus' abilities that let him sap the morale of opposing units. I was able to clear the field and win a battle that I probably didn't deserve by leaning into the mechanics. My question is how have you balanced those myth-inspired units that are grounded in realism with hero units that are more powerful?
Milcho Vasilev: So Troy is the age of heroes, as Homer describes it, so from the very start that heroes are again going to play a very central role in the conflict, as they do in the Iliad itself. So we wanted to make them a little over-the-top, but not push it too much in the places where a hero can decide the outcome of a battle for himself. So we've already had the examples of heroes in Warhammer and Three Kingdoms, which are also quite over-the-top, and we wanted to make sure that the heroes in Troy stayed a little more grounded compared to them. For example, Achilles is an amazing hero and he will be really great in battle, but he will not be as good as Lu Bu in Three Kingdoms who can basically win an entire battle all by himself. And we wanted to make sure that they do play that central role, but they still feel kind of vulnerable to the enemies. And as the campaign progresses and as you upgrade your units more and more, you'll encounter more elite units who can withstand some damage before they runaway or before they perish. Heroes start having the role of a utility type of unit because as heroes progress as well they will unlock more and more abilities. I'm not sure if you checked the skill trees that we have in the game; all the epic heroes have their own unique skill tree, and all the others fall into like 11 different hero classes, which also have skill trees and have access to different abilities. But to use those abilities you have to have your heroes in the midst of the fighting because heroes need 'rage' in order to activate their abilities, we don't need mana or 'the winds of magic' or something like that used in other games, here we have the rage mechanic. So, in order to utilise them best, you need to keep them in the midst of combat, where they can get quite vulnerable at times because if your hero dies all of your army will suffer great morale penalties and it's much more likely for them to run off. And when it comes to the comparison with the mythical units themselves, like the Minotaur or the Centaurs or the Giants, it really depends on the type of unit you are comparing it with, because some of the mythic units are really, really strong, like the Minotaur or the Cyclops. But they are also a unique type of unit, which first you need to interact a lot with the divine will system in order to get. And secondly, only one faction in the whole game can actually have access to one of those units, so once someone recruits the Minotaur, there are no other Minotaurs in the game - he's a unique type of unit which is extremely powerful, but it doesn't have as much abilities and doesn't give that much utility that a hero can possibly give. So we try to go in this thin line where we tried to balance the heroes to be both over-the-top amazing characters, which when they encounter each other on the battlefield they fight in a spectacular way and other units around them will just give them space around because they see that those warriors are so much superior to them that they don't want to interfere in their duels. This is something that Homer describes well in The Iliad. And on the other side, we still want them to be a bit grounded and vulnerable to certain types of action, so you really need to be careful with your heroes in battle.
Not enough Total War Saga: Troy for you? Check out our interview with game director Maya Georgieva below for even more insight into the next game in the series, which is due to land on PC on August 13.