Total War Saga: Troy Review
A solid entry in the long running strategy series
Menelaus, Helen and Paris walk into a bar. Menelaus goes to the bar to order some drinks while Helen and Paris leave the bar and elope to Troy. Thus, the Trojan War began, more or less. This is the setting for the latest Total War saga but, luckily, this won’t be a 10-year long experience.
Personally, I haven’t played a new Total War game since 2013. That last Total War game was Rome 2 and it’s only recently that I’ve managed to properly get into it. I’ve not been as interested in the more tightly focused games like Thrones of Britannia as I loved the grand scale games like Shogun, Medieval or Rome. The more fantastical Warhammer Total War games didn’t really appeal either, so we come to A Total War Saga: Troy. Initially released free on the Epic game store, it was an opportunity I found too hard to pass up and perhaps this would be the game to reignite my love for the real time strategy series.
This game is based upon the Trojan War as told most famously by Homer through The Iliad, adorned with characters made famous from Homer’s poem like Agamemnon, Achilles, Menelaus and Odysseus to name but a few. In keeping with the source material, this Total War has a Homeric victory option which involves wiping out Troy as the Achaeans or doing the opposite as Troy. Of course, you can research a Trojan horse too but this only allows you to build siege towers and you don’t actually see the horse until you besiege Troy. Alternatively, you can win a Total War victory giving, you some options as to how you want to approach the campaign. This Total War has something akin to a narrative (no surprise considering the depictions of the Trojan War in Greek literature) with missions popping up that actually advance the story as well as normal missions to do a variety of things such as vassalize a state or hire an emissary for rewards of stone, wood, bronze, food and gold.
Troy really pushes the narrative of the Iliad and it is the best way to play the game. During a playthrough as Achilles I had the option to allow Patroclus to wear my armour into battle or to deny that request. If you know the story of the Iliad, Achilles gives Patroclus his armour and is then killed in battle. Once Achilles finds out about his friend/probably lovers’ death, he goes on a rampage. This is what happened in my playthrough as the game seems to want you to play to the narrative. You are also given Epic missions throughout the campaign which furthers the narrative, such as landing Achilles in Troy. These missions can be ignored but the game is simply better when you complete them. However, once the campaign is over, there isn’t much to bring you back as it feels like you have seen all it can offer.
There are some scripted events in line with this. The biggest one I came across was the siege of Troy while I was playing as the Achaeans. When you besiege Troy, you get the option to use a Trojan horse and can select 6 units to hide inside it. When inside you then fight a night battle controlling the units inside the city and the rest of your army outside. These events are generally great fun and it is where the game is at its best.
Upon starting, everything looks like Total War. The advisors are there, the map is as expected and nothing looks out of place. Despite this familiarity, it is a particularly dense game with a multitude of systems which I didn’t even get to grips with until at least 30+ turns in. It was only halfway through my game I realised that you can court favour with the gods through prayer or sacrifices for stat boosts. It was even later in the game I realised I can make my game go faster by completing missions that further the narrative. The King of Men system for Agamemnon didn’t even cross my path until I focused on the narrative missions and I had to appoint one of my heroes to it. I may have just been dense, but finding out about it at the stage I did was far too late to make the most of it. I don’t know if these systems existed in previous games but it took me a few hours to finally get up to speed and for the game to “click”. To their credit, Creative Assembly have tried to make these systems as accessible as possible with the advisor telling you to do things as and when required and there is also an overlay whenever you open a new screen which can be toggled, so you’re never left wondering what each screen means for too long.
With all the systems the game has in place, it follows that there is a lot of micromanagement to go hand in hand with the resource management. The resource management is much more important in the early game, as by the late game you, and every other faction, will have a nearly limitless supply of resources. Your main resources are Stone, Wood, Bronze, Food and Gold. If you start losing resources, the first and best option to remedy that is to find a minor settlement that deals with the resource you’re lacking and to take it over, usually by force. The game itself actively encourages a particularly aggressive playstyle and punishes a slow and cautious approach. A lot of my heroes were met with negative traits and debuffs simply because they waited too long within a settlement that had high happiness. Motivation is another system used to keep you on the warpath towards Troy, as some of my heroes had a loss of motivation as they were idle for too long and had found enjoyment at the bottom of a bottle. As such, there is no room for waiting around or playing a long game, the only way to move forward quickly is to kill as many people and capture as many settlements as humanly possible. As I fell into this groove, I found myself auto-resolving battles and sieges more and more as it felt like a requirement as opposed to a battle I was actually able to invest myself in.
This Total War also necessitates a tactical rethink through the troops available. As part of the Greek forces, the focus will be on infantry and missile units. Infantry can come in the form of militia, spearmen, club soldiers and swordsmen. Missile units will mostly be Achaean slingers, with the occasional bow unit but these are far more uncommon than in previous games. There is also very little in the way of cavalry with chariots being the only option. There are mythological units available such as Gorgons and Cyclops’ but these only become available when you’ve reached the maximum favour with the relevant god.
There are two kinds of mythical units. You have the units you can recruit into your army such as giants, centaurs, sirens and minotaurs as well as mythical agents like the aforementioned Gorgons. These army units are among the most powerful and can only be recruited from certain locations that allow you to construct the relevant building. The mythical agents can be recruited anywhere and only exist for a limited amount of turns. However, if you do use the agents then they have a 100% success chance and disappear once you’ve used them so they can be a real asset to turn the tide of war if used correctly.
Some of the units do fall down in terms of design, notably the centaurs. While they are famously half human and half horse, the actual centaur models that are used during battle are just people on horseback. No half and half mythical creature, just a normal cavalry unit with a human, with legs, on a horse. The giants are also disappointing as they’re not really giant. They look more like a PT Barnum freak show giant as in an abnormally large and hairy person. It is just missing some of that more mythical design. The only unit which is well designed to match their mythical origins is the Minotaur which is a bonus if you’re a fan of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. However, there appears to be a correlation between size of a unit and how good their design is. Centaurs are the largest mythical units, giants in the middle and there is only one Minotaur to a unit. It does feel like the game could have used a bit more time in development to perfect the designs and translate them to the game.
The battle AI itself is quite responsive and I found them attempting flanking moves on me so I was forced to think on my feet and actually react to the other side, which added an extra dimension to battles and tested me in the best way. However, the clever battle AI did not carry over to the campaign and was, by far and away, the most irritating AI I’ve come across. They constantly spam barter agreements that are usually heavily one sided in their favour. I’ve had proposed agreements where I would essentially give up my entire supply of Bronze after I worked to get it to a nice income level. Suffice to say that particular agreement was shot down as quickly as it came. Occasionally, a good deal will come in which you will agree to, but for the most part you have the bargaining power and everyone just wants to take from you. As you move later into the campaign, the AI will also declare war on you. Constantly. Even if the faction is far weaker than you, it won’t stop them trying and just being a general nuisance and distracting you from actually focusing on the story.
Turning to the heroes, I must confess, I’m not a huge fan. For the most part they are souped up soldiers who have abilities that can add more stamina to units in range, add debuffs to enemy units and are able to recruit units at a higher level for example. However, I felt they didn’t really add or do anything to the dynamic of the battle. In reality, they appeared to be quite useless. The opposing heroes just serve to be annoyances rather than an actual entity you have to be wary of or think about tactically. I cannot recall a hero ever turning the tide of battle or making an impact like any other unit could. When dealing with characters from the Iliad and characters with such mythos behind them like Achilles, I was expecting a bit more than what I got. It did make me miss when generals were included in their own cavalry/elite unit where I felt they were more useful.
Another gripe with Troy comes with the units themselves. During any given battle there appears to be a tendency for the units to route early. By this I mean they begin to run from the battlefield only for a minute later to have rallied themselves and they return to the fray. Why? When my units route and I’m already on the defensive, it ruins my line-up as the opportunity to flank is open and always used by the AI. This obsession with early routing is also a habit of the enemy AI which is equally frustrating. Just when you think you’re winning; the enemy units rally around and prolong the inevitable. I would understand if this was due to an ability from a hero but it appears to happen to every unit, in every battle. Lastly, every battle will descend into all the units just chasing missile units to the edge of the map. This happens if you win a battle and if you lose, well, it’ll be your missile units being chased. These units can’t be caught either by any unit on foot so you can choose to chase them away, so they don’t attack your infantry units and then lose stamina, or just have a throwing contest between missile units, if you have enough.
This is a great looking Total War. The background is made out as a gorgeous Greek painted vase, and the map is incredibly detailed and absolutely stunning to look at with lots of colour. It is a veritable feast for the eyes. The maps for the battles also fare just as well. It is apparent that a lot of time and effort went into the maps and they offer much needed variety in the battles. These maps provide a lot of strategic options with plenty of forest areas for ambushes, valleys for the infantry to duke it out in, hill tops to place your missile units to rain down on everyone else. At no point does it feel like you’re replaying the same map as before. You could make your own version of the battle of Thermopylae if you so wished.
With the looks being as good as they are, it stands to reason that this game needs a good PC setup to run. However, even on the medium settings, the game still looks damn good. Just expect the game to start having frame rate issues in the later stages of the game when more of the map is visible and, by extension, more characters on screen. The game also struggles during particularly large battles but never so much that it became a hindrance.
There is a lot here that past and current Total War fans will like, but not enough for them to keep coming back to it. Make no mistake, this is a Total War game, and it is good one, but it’s hard to shrug the feeling that things were just done better, and were more engaging, in previous iterations. Personally, I will find myself drifting back to older games such as Shogun 2 and Medieval 2 as Troy doesn’t scratch that Total War itch.