I have to say that I'm a fan of the Saga format when it comes to Total War games. This more focused approach to grand strategy and epic battles allows the developers at Creative Assembly (in this instance, the Sofia studio) to really burrow into a particular time and place, building mechanics around those eras to really immerse the player in the scenario. They're not for everyone, however, and after two Warhammer games as well as expansive main entries set in Rome and China, the series seems to be heading down a trio of linked yet distinctive paths.
Fall of the Samurai, which was repurposed and turned into a Saga game after the fact, and Thrones of Brittania, which examined a period of history that I'm particularly interested in, are both similarly sized titles set on islands that are in the grip of turmoil. Total War Saga: Troy, on the other hand, is set around water and not surrounded by it, with the Agean Sea encircled by Greek and Trojan states that will come to blows in one of history's most legendary - and mysterious - wars.
I was quite surprised when I found out that there wasn't going to be any naval combat in Troy, given the central role that the Agean Sea plays here (armies that meet on the water will settle their disputes in an island battle), but I wasn't surprised that the campaign map looked great. Confession time, I'm a sucker for beautiful maps, and on that front, CA has been delivering increasingly stunning campaign environments. Troy is no different in this regard, with a themed fog of war decorated with Greek iconography that peels away as you explore to reveal sun-kissed islands that shimmer in the sunlight.
I started out my campaign experience in southern Greece, playing as Menelaus, ruler of Sparta. There are eight leaders to choose from and I was able to pick either old Menelaus or the dashing Paris of Troy (both of whom bore a passing resemblance to their Hollywood counterparts from the 2004 movie directed by Wolfgang Petersen). While there are eight leaders, each of whom has local squabbles to sort through early on, the ultimate goal is to control the entire region by the end of the game, either via total victory or by following story-driven objectives. Alas, I didn't get anywhere close to a siege battle near Troy, which will no doubt play a major role in the game, and while there are a few notable differences between this and other Total War entries, the early game felt very familiar despite the number of changes that have been made.
My first task was to unite my own lands, shutting down a local rebellion before swallowing up a nearby city-state to the south. Diplomacy is at the heart of Troy and there are allegiances being formed all over the place. During the AI turn, there was a lot of back and forth from different faction leaders making demands in exchange for friendship. It's hard to say how these things will develop because there are a few diplomatic options, many of them built around the game's five resources (more on them later), but the unrealistic nature of many of the requests meant I had to spend time coming up with counter-offers. With so many city-states to talk to, my worry is that I'm going to spend a lot of time telling other leaders: "no, you can't have a third of my food stores for nothing in return."
The complicated political landscape also means that it's important to be careful who you attack and when you attack them, as it's very easy to bite off more than you can chew, which is exactly what happened to me. After battling a local army and its garrison in the next city-state along, and having just done enough to edge what ended up being a brutal battle, before I was able to claim my prize, my enemy's allies turned up and absolutely smashed my remaining forces, killing both of my hero characters.
I auto-resolved that battle because the odds were hopelessly stacked against me, so I didn't see Menelaus perish directly, but it was all a bit odd. Part of the reason this whole passage of play didn't feel quite right was that the hero characters seem very over-powered. Using one of Menelaus' abilities to cause panic amongst enemy units, at one point I had two hero units left - just two guys - and they were able to chase down (depleted) units off the map until they had won the battle. It felt a bit cheap.
The battles that I played along the way were typically engaging, and there was one in particular where I managed to scrape a hard-fought victory from an unlikely situation thanks to clever positional play. In that respect, as we covered in our previous hands-on, Troy brings interesting new additions to the series with a battlefield that's more realistic and responsive than ever before. There's no major revolution at work, rather CA has continued to iterate and improve on its already accomplished strategy series.
Back to the campaign side of the game, there's a new resource system, and I really like it. Rather than being focused on generating pure wealth, there are now five different resources to consider. Improvements made to your cities boost production, and you can further enhance that with trade and by following a skill tree of sorts whereby royal decrees let you boost different areas. Food is your most important resource, but you also need wood, stone, bronze and gold (with gold being the rarest commodity), and each one feeds into a different aspect of your expanding empire.
Another feature I like ties into the mythology of the era. By worshipping different gods, you can gain additional benefits to help your expansion. 30-odd turns isn't enough to see the benefit of this system, but having agonised over the decisions about which god to follow and invest my thoughts and prayers in, I'm extremely interested in seeing how faith bears out across an entire campaign. I'm similarly intrigued by the prospect of seeing more of the agents, with the priestesses of particular interest as they will link to the aforementioned 'divine will' of the gods. If you're new to the series, agents are units that you can move around the campaign map but that don't play a direct role in combat, committing acts of sabotage and, in Troy, performing rituals that will boost your favour with the gods and thus grant in-game benefits.
Epic agents are another addition that leans into the mythology of the era. The Gorgon, the Satyr, and the Seer have gameplay features linked to their mythological inspirations, but like everything else in Total War Saga: Troy, CA has employed a plausibility-first approach to the legends of yesteryear. Like the Minotaur and Cyclops units in battle, there's no mystical element here, rather a concerted effort to ground the game in realism while also making sure they retain that special something that has helped their legend echo down through the ages.
Upon reflection, it's hard to predict just how good Total War Saga: Troy will be as I didn't get to see enough of the things that will make this feel like a unique and distinct entry in the series. I love the changes made to combat and the approaches taken for resource management, faith, and grounding the mythology in plausibility, it's just tough to see how it'll all come together in the end. Consider me tentatively excited and certainly intrigued. Everything's there on paper, and we'll see whether it comes together or not when the game lands on PC (where it'll be completely free for a time on the Epic Game Store) on August 13.
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