Total War Saga: Troy Review – Immortality! Take it! It’s yours!
Total War Saga: Troy
It was only eleven months ago, at Gamescom, that Total War Saga: Troy was announced. In my preview back then I mentioned how the first Total War Saga (Thrones of Britannia) wasn't quite to the standard and left me looking at this with a willingness to be 'pleasantly surprised'. That preview was paired by an interview with Lead Designer Todor Nikolov and since then I've been able to preview both the combat and the grand-strategy elements. Now it's time for the real deal.
Recently I've been able to get my hands-on with the full release and explore the game in its entirety. Has my earlier hope of being pleasantly surprised been met? I'm going to chalk it up to a yes. I can't say the game is flawless, it's pretty damn close, and the journey is certainly worth it.
While playing Total War Saga: Troy I've spent at least a little time with 67.5% of the game's factions. That is to say five of them. This is the immediate issue with the game, there are only eight factions to choose from. Four on the side of the Danaans (Greeks), four on the side of the Trojans. When the game launches the Amazons will come as free DLC, but I can't include them since they're not in the game I've played. On the side of the Trojans, I've spent a little time with Paris and Sarpedon. For the Danaans, I've had some time with Achilles and Menelaus.
This leaves my major faction. To follow the legendary Sean Bean in the criminally underrated Troy film, I picked up Odysseus and tested my abilities as the true tactician of the Greek army, the only man who Achilles would listen to. I'm rambling, let's talk more about factions. So there's at least a reason behind there only being a small number of factions - each of them having at least one major gameplay feature unique to them, potentially with other smaller features.
Playing as Achilles will give you his hot-blooded rage as well as his role as a living legend. In other words, he likes war and the world and the people under his rule become more aware of him when he defeats the generals of other factions. As Odysseus, however, your coastal settlements will be better than for any other faction, letting them be true economic or militaristic powerhouses. On the other hand, those that are landlocked will find themselves at a weaker position. Odysseus can also use spies to build safe havens in other settlements, slowly influencing them and also letting you recruit units while in their territory.
These features truly direct how your faction operates. While it doesn't railroad you into a particular gameplay style, in some situations it certainly signposts you to where you're better off. Achilles will always be better at war than diplomacy, maybe it's worth just using what assets you have than going against the grain? This is a genuinely interesting aspect of the game and it does offer a good amount of replay value as you take different paths with the same faction. That and the map is just massive, offering so much in the direction you can move.
More than the unique features for each faction, Total War Saga: Troy also brings other differing features than previous total war titles. While the series has featured piety in the past, notably for Norsca in Total War: Warhammer, it has never been this widespread or impactful on the game. The pantheon of gods is restricted to seven, each covering a large aspect of the game.
From Poseidon and his control over the ocean, his support aiding with anything oceanic as well as with the strength of mythical units, to Hera, increasing the damage of slingers early on to later helping with the development and construction within your empire. Each god, when at the pinnacle of support, also offers the recruitment of a mythical unit. Much like the faction-specific features, this also creates an extra layer to personalise your faction and the path you take, creating a divergence allowing for a route-not-taken in another playthrough.
Keeping it simple, Total War Saga: Troy is more about decisions and their impact than any other Total War that I can remember. All of which I've mentioned above is also joined by a sizable number of story elements. From core story missions that follow a rough path that each faction would have taken during the Trojan wars, to smaller missions that offer a rough direction for you to move. There are also little events, from natural disasters to far-off foreign traders bringing in goods or you having to make decisions of how to feed your people.
Every one of them, from the major and minor story elements to the small pop-up events, have repercussions. You'll find even the pop-up events can lead to further ones while also giving you a small boost, or penalty, for several turns. Most interesting will always be following the Trojan war though, with you also finding that one of the main enemy factions becomes your antagonist, with their general tactics against your empire being listed. For me, they always want to just raid me and raze any cities they happen to capture.
If I have an issue at this point, I will say that the agents are still a little limited in value. I don't think any game has truly shown agents at their best since Medieval II, often by spreading limited workloads across too many agent types. I honestly barely use agents here again, with the exception of when I'm Odysseus, thanks to his unique mechanic. It shouldn't take a unique mechanic for me to find something like agents, a long-running aspect of the series, useful.
Anyway, back to cities, just not the razing of them. City building is as great here as it is in Total War: Three Kingdoms (my only 10/10 in over seven years of reviewing games). There is a slight reversion to the old, bringing back multiple military structures that then allow you to recruit specific units based on those structures. There are also other region-specific buildings, such as ones that allow you to recruit mythical units, as well as other categories of structures that are economic or, for lack of a better word, developmental.
What I really like here is that not only do you have limited build spaces, cities having seven spare slots, villages having three, but the villages are also resource-specific, covering all five of the resources found in the game, these five being Food, Wood, Stone, Bronze and Gold. The way resources work add to the level of management you'd usually find in the game. Other titles have mostly had gold as the overall master resource, often having food as a measure of keeping your army fed.
Here, on the other hand, you have food for recruiting units and keeping your army fed. Wood and Stone is used for the building of different structures. Bronze is used for the recruitment of more advanced units as well as the maintenance of them, this is the bronze age, after all. You'll notice a sizable impact on your armies if you don't have the food to keep them fed or the bronze to keep them maintained. More than just your army, running a loss will also see a hit to the happiness of your cities.
All of this creates a great balancing act where, as with Three Kingdoms, you need to dedicate provinces. You'll want just a few strategically located provinces where you can recruit armies, the rest being for resource production. You will be limited in the number of armies you can manage thanks to how this works, making it very well balanced even in the later stages. Of course, managing the provinces as best you can, picking the right provincial perks and bonuses, like royal decrees (think tech tree), can put you in a very strong position.
Throughout all of this, I haven't spoken much about the combat in Total War Saga: Troy. The fortunate thing here is that Creative Assembly Sofia has truly worked around the limitations that the time period set them. One issue with Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia was that the limited unit pool felt even more limited due to most infantry feeling the same, and so forth. I'm not going to say that the factions here truly feel different on the battlefield, they don't - fortunately, the pool of units is varied enough that it doesn't matter. It's also pretty cool, seeing the units based on myth, like the centaurs, minotaurs, sirens and so forth.
Thanks to a lack of mounted units during the bronze age, you now find that the class of infantry makes all the difference. Soldiers are light, medium and heavy, as they have always been, but here it means more than just their stats. Combined with the inclusion of new terrain, like mud, you'll find that your flanking can be done by your medium and light units. Even more impressive is that the AI has been made to truly take advantage of this, battles feeling more challenging than ever before.
A little side-note on the AI outside of battle. This has been improved, with the antagonist aspect being a good example of this. Adding to the improved AI is the variety of resources and a few other tweaks and diplomacy is improved compared to earlier Total War titles. I can be nonsensical at times, such as factions refusing to swap a village for a village when it would give them control of a full region, requiring persuasion with a load of resources. Almost any deal can be made through the inclusion of a truckload of resources, but it's still a little harder to game than before. A slight detractor, however, is that allies rarely seem to come to your aid. Side-note complete.
It's all the better for the game that the terrain here, the battlefields and the cities, are so interesting to fight in. Over the years Creative Assembly has really redefined the battlefields, cities aren't uniform, the terrain is more invasive - with rocky outcrops, buildings and more acting as impassable elements, adding more tactical nuance. Add to this the new terrain types and focus on unit weight and you have a combat system just as tactical as any other Total War before it.
If I'm missing one aspect from another Total War title, it's the duels between generals. You do get this in a sense, with soldiers letting generals go at it, but you don't have the same level of control as you had in Three Kingdoms. I can understand why. The Three Kingdoms era was known for that type of combat, but I would just love to control Achilles in a fight reminiscent of Brad Pitt in Troy. I will give praise where it's due though, the generals here - particularly in the levelling up and skill selection - still feel like one of the most important aspects of the game and it's pretty new to have a general that can have so many region-boosting abilities in the modern Total War games.
You know, through all of this I've forgotten to talk about the visuals and audio. In earlier previews, I've praised this for the stunning clay-pot style designs on the sky, the burning away of the parchment-map as you explore and the general great visual quality. The game looks brilliant, with a great design choice that is very fitting for the time period it covers. Even the UI is that bit cleaner and easier to navigate. For audio, the music is never imposing, the sounds of battle are as good as they always are.
Total War Saga: Troy is a complete Total War title. Not only that, but it's also in great shape at launch, continuing the recent trend set by Creative Assembly after the issues found with Rome II. While it may not be the most expansive in terms of factions, it more than makes up for it by each of these factions feeling unique, having unique gameplay mechanics and also making the shared mechanics varying enough that no game will ever feel the same.
Total War Saga: Troy is a great first full title by Creative Assembly Sofia and the Total War Saga spin-offs are clearly in good hands, should they keep the studio on these more focused titles. The best part for you as a player? In an incredible deal, SEGA has partnered with Epic to give Total War Saga: Troy free of charge to anybody and everybody who picks it up tomorrow, on launch day. The fact that it is a genuinely great game would make it worth picking up at the regular price Total War titles sell for. For free? There's no excuse not to.
Copy provided by the publisher.
With a focused approach, looking at the Trojan War, Total War Saga: Troy offers you the choice between following the story of the war or forging your own path, each time feeling different. This is enhanced by unique game mechanics for each faction within the game, though there are sadly a limited number, as well as adding mechanics that all factions work with like the favour of gods. This is backed up by a brilliant resource and city-management system, making this one of the more strategic Total War titles out there. There are some flaws, such as agents mostly feeling useless and a few small niggles with diplomacy and allied AI, but these are outshone by the aforementioned positives and a fantastically tactical combat system due to enhanced units and new terrain, as well as mythical units. Put simply, Total War Saga: Troy is an outstanding first entry from Creative Assembly Sofia and a fantastic entry to the Total War franchise, highlighting what the Saga spin-offs can bring.
- Excellent direction through the use of major and minor missions that can, for the most part, act as guidelines.
- Strong character levelling system that provides a strong level of customisation to each general.
- City building system, combined with multiple resources and location-specific resources, offers great strategic gameplay.
- A very strong balance of units, particularly with the inclusion of mythical units.
- The new terrains and unit weight system add a great tactical element to combat.
- The unique mechanics for each faction make them feel and play very different from one another.
- Looks and plays great.
- A very limited number of starting factions considering there are so many in the game.
- Diplomacy can still be gamed and there are some strange interactions here and there.
- The only other slight issue with the AI is that allies never seem to come to your aid.
- Agents are spread too thin and, for the most part, feel useless.