Creative Assembly's long-running strategy franchise is heading further back in time than ever before.
Total War Saga: Troy is set to become the third instalment in Creative Assembly's Sagas spin-off series. While Thrones of Britannia focused on 9th century Britain (and Fall of the Samurai was added to the series after the fact), Total War Saga: Troy pushes the timespan back the furthest Total War games have ever ventured, to the semi-legendary Archaic Greek period around the 8th century BC. Creative Assembly is getting ready to reveal more on the game in the coming months, starting with a chance for me to play a battle between the mighty Achilles and the noble Hector on the fields close to Troy itself.
Total War Saga: Troy is the first game to be fully developed at Creative Assembly's Sofia studio in Bulgaria. From the outset, their goal has been to deliver a Total War game that blends the mythical with the historical. We know about the Trojan War mostly from Homer's Iliad, which is full of divine interventions and supernatural events. In a nutshell, the Trojan War starts when prince Paris of Troy takes the Greek princess Helena with him. This doesn't exactly amuse her husband, the King of Sparta, who gathers all of the Greeks to sail for Troy, on the coast of present-day Turkey, to demand her return.
In the preview session, I observed how myth and history come together on the Total War battlefield. The demo included a battle that starred a heroic Minotaur unit, which sees the mythical bull-like beast turn into a historically-plausible bandit chieftain adorned with horns to harvest the strength of the bull. Another unit we commanded was a formation of Centaur cavalry: savage-looking horsemen that are almost one with their horses, like the mythical half-man, half-horse creatures. This approach seems promising, with lots of possible interesting units to draw from Greek mythology, and as explained in great detail in the interview below, particular attention has been paid to interpreting the legendary Trojan Horse.
This is an ad:
On to my impressions of the battlefield. Firstly, the battle map is full of detail and closely resembles the battle location on the campaign map I observed in one of the preview videos. There's detail in the rocky hills, lots of difference in elevation, cosy cottages that have pigs and donkeys around them, anchored warships on the beach, and a detailed recreation of Troy and its towering palace in the distance. Such a backdrop certainly helps to make the Bronze Age come alive on your screen. The battle map includes three types of special terrain that players must consider for their tactical movements: mud, sand, and long grass. Long grass allows units to lay in ambush. Sand slows down heavily-armed units and mud even more so, while light units remain unaffected. These terrain types matter in battle as I noted firsthand; having your heavy units literally bogged down in the mud makes them vulnerable to encirclement or charges from the sides and rear by lighter units.
The battles in TWS: Troy are different in another sense: in line with history the timeframe is heavily focused on infantry, as horses were still expensive and a rare sight. This means light infantry moves faster compared to other Total War games, and you'll often need to use these for flanking movements instead of cavalry. I observed a nice variation of light, medium and heavy units during the gameplay session, with units differentiated through their mass and speed. Trojan units are usually heavily armed, with large, colourful shields, sturdy spears and clubs, and plumed helmets. The Greeks, on the other hand, seemed more lightly armed with spears, swords, and javelins. Fast units did seem to be speed-walking instead of running at times, but this might be fixed in the final version of the game.
This is an ad:
The units look right at home in the timeframe, with colourful clothing and characteristic crests on top of their helmets. Graphics-wise, it seems on par with the visuals of Total War: Three Kingdoms. Units have detailed armour and faces, there are clouds moving across the battlefield, and I was told that there's even going to be a day-and-night-cycle on the battle map. History enthusiasts will appreciate units like "Champions of Phthia", the "Myrmidons" and "Pelagic Thessalians" as they refer to many of the Greek contingents Homer mentions in the Illiad. Here again, there's room for lots of interesting units. They can add much to the campaign experience by giving personality to the units. Total War games have always been best when there's room for a little extra fantasy to be added by the players themselves.
The preview build included an easy and hard difficulty option, and thankfully the latter was a real challenge. I've played plenty of Total War battles before, but I only managed to win once out of a dozen attempts on the hard difficulty. I'd like to think that the AI in the game is excellent and challenging, but I must admit I was often unsure what kind of units should use to counter the enemy. My single victory happened as the Trojans when I occupied a hill on the battle map that was shielded by a cliff on one side, allowing my archers to force the Greeks into the attack. Even then, it was a close call. Positioning your units correctly, always considering the terrain and using fast infantry to charge, retreat and charge again seems key to winning battles.
Lastly, I tried to manage my hero units effectively. On the Greek side, Achilles is a hero focusing on speed and quick, high-impact combat. On the Trojan side, there's the defence-oriented Prince Hector along with the semi-heroic Minotaur unit mentioned earlier. The heroes have special powers that can rout enemies at the right moment, while the Minotaur unit has a more limited set of abilities. These heroes require experience to master, yet they can be quite impactful if you use their powers correctly and are able to lock into an amusing duel. The heroes seem to fulfil a similar role as they did in Total War: Three Kingdoms, although I couldn't tell whether the heroes can be transformed into 'classic' Total War general units.
In conclusion, I think TWS: Troy's battles look promising. For many players, exploring the campaign map will be the most important part of the game, and for battles to support the campaign experience, they need to add to the immersion and offer a tactical challenge. Combat in Total War Saga: Troy seems to tick those two boxes, and there are more details about the campaign coming soon.