Banner for Troy: A Total War Saga.

Achilles and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Decade: A Review of the Game A Total War Saga: Troy

I love Total War games!

Almost as much as I love making references to the 1972 children’s book by Judith Viorst. But let’s stick with Total War games and how much I love them.

There are no other games out there that give us the action and the maneuvering of RTS combined with the chessboard-like plotting of 4k games. It is so cool. And I’ve enjoyed them even back when they first started with their first game, Shogun: Total War.

And, if you’ve read any of my other articles, then you know I just drool over history. Total War games give me that fix, too. Even when they are exploring fantasy worlds like with their Warhammer games (Warhammer III looks so cool, guys), you are still able to get a sense of historical realism.

Or, at the very least, the illusion of it. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Without further ado, let’s break into what I thought of A Total War Saga: Troy. And, just like Clint Eastwood, we’re going to look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in this game.

The city of Troy, whose wide walls withstood the Danaan invasion for a decade.

Rage

Rage. It is the very first word of Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad, and the primary source for Creative Assembly’s latest game.

Let’s take a moment to deal with the fact that this poem is so cool and epic that is spawned hundreds (if not thousands) of fan fiction… THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO! Don’t believe me, think I’m exaggerating? Literally read any ancient Greek play. 1000% fan fiction.

Now that we’ve done that, the Iliad (named after Ilus, the poetic name of Troy) may be all about “the rage of Achilles” but the game… only kind of is.

Ithican soldiers
Ithican soldiers.

I will admit, it’s kind of hard and Creative Assembly bit off a lot. But not necessarily more than they could chew, just a lot. It would have been hard for anyone to create a strategy game (which at the best of times are drawn out) about emotionally fueled murder machines (who seem to spend most of their time boasting and stealing each other’s booty call).

I will say that they did a good thing of keeping the character-centered focus of Three Kingdoms with this game, but they could have done more.

Dramatis Personae (aka, the cast of characters)

Much like in Three Kingdoms and Warhammer 1 and 2, you’re able to pick your faction based on a leader. This is different from previous games where your faction was, well, a faction (a country, samurai clan, etc.). This has worked really well in all of these games, and Troy is no different.

In the game, you get to play as a number of different Achaeans (Greeks, also confusingly called Danaans) or Trojans. On the Achaean side, you have Menelaus (the most famous cuckold in the world), Agamemnon (winner of World’s Worst Dad award), Odysseus (one of the few roles that didn’t kill Sean Bean), and Achilles (known as “swift-footed Achilles” but should probably be known as “emotionally unstable train-wreck Achilles”).

Swift-footed Achilles Myrmidon warriors are just that–swift-footed.

With the DLC you can also get Ajax (“big boy”) and Diomedes (“pretty boy”).

The Trojans have Hector (oddly enough, the only name from this roster to still be popular today), Paris of Troy (yes, that is his name, and yes, everything about him makes you want to punch him), Aeneas (one of the few people to get out of this alive, also really looks like Oscar Isaac), and Sarpedon (I don’t have any jokes for him).

A duel between Hector and... some guy who is about to die.
A duel between Hector and… some guy who is about to die.

With another DLC you can get the Amazon warrior queens Hippolyta (old lady, but still got it), and Penthesilea (think of every guy’s crazy ex-girlfriend, but then make her REALLY scary).

Penthesilea, leader of the Amazons.
Penthesilea, leader of the Amazons.

If they follow their trend with Warhammer, Creative Assembly should release a new DLC with new characters to play every so often. Some other characters that might come up are Troilos (on the Trojan side, can’t seem to keep a girlfriend), Pandaros (also a Trojan, and the source of our word “to pander,” that is to pimp), and maybe Nestor (yet another old guy that’s still got it).

The good and the bad of the characters

So the good and the bad is that they modeled their general design off of Warhammer and not Three Kingdoms. As a result, characters are basically just generals, and while there are attempts to make it more character-driven, it just falls flat compared to Three Kingdoms.

General list in Troy: A Total War Saga.

That’s the thing that I want you to remember: compared to Three Kingdoms, it’s flat. Compared to almost anything else, it’s actually pretty good.

Now, what do I mean by this? Well, Troy gives us a lot of characters leading separate armies, as opposed to multiple characters in the same army that Three Kingdoms had. There’s also no relationship tree that Three Kingdoms had that allowed you to see how well these characters work together.

I want to make one final note about what Three Kingdoms did better with their characters: we could actually see their faces.

It’s a small note, and while I do love the attention to detail that the game gave to the character’s helmets (such as giving Odysseus a boar-tusk helmet as described in the epic poem), I still wish we could see the character’s faces more. Particularly Hector and Achilles, but also some of the minor characters, too.

The really good thing about characters

I’ve talked about how Troy’s characters are not as cool as Three Kingdom’s, but let’s talk about how they are also better.

Now, while I’ve mentioned that the characters themselves seem a bit flat (and they are) I was very impressed with how much the factions related to the characters. Odysseus, sneaky boy that he is, has a roster that is all about the guerrilla troops while Agamemnon’s gameplay revolves around making vassals, which ties into his ambition to become the High King of the Achaeans.

Sometimes it makes for difficult gameplay, like with Achilles, whose entire faction is ruled by his (unstable) emotions. Things like attacking, spending literally any time in a settlement, or whatever happens in diplomacy can send him over the edge, providing buffs or handicaps to your economy or military.

Achilles mourning his boo-thang in the cinematic opening.
Achilles mourning his boo-thang in the cinematic opening.

It’s a fascinating concept and one that I hope Creative Assembly can continue to play with and develop.

Legendary Quests

What the game also does well is giving us an updated quest system. In previous games, quests were either posed as requests from a council of nobles (Rome and Medieval II) or as weird “chapters” in the game’s story (worked decently well in Three Kingdoms, but seemed weird in Rome II).

The new Legendary Quests of Troy are much more like the quests of Three Kingdoms but with a much greater focus on character narrative.

Spoiler alert for a three THOUSAND-year-old poem:

So what does this mean? With Achilles, it starts with going to meet your old mentor, the centaur Chiron, who tells you that you have been fated to live a short but very memorable life and it builds up to your boyfriend’s death and the memorable duel with Hector.

There are opportunities to “change” the story, but it still keeps itself pretty well on track.

Achilles marching off to battle... or a bath, who knows
Achilles marching off to battle… or a bath, who knows.

In summation

So, in a nutshell, I really like what they’ve done with the characters. Their narrative storylines through the Legendary Quests are compelling and cool, but as individuals, they just lack that special something.

I also just miss having heroes fight together in the same army, the way that you had with Three Kingdoms and Warhammer I and II. Most of the time it isn’t needed, but it is still sad when you have characters like Ajax and his brother, Teucer, who are described as fighting together in the Iliad.

Hector's Trojan warriors aren't fast, but they can hit hard and take a lot more damage than most of the Greeks
Hector’s Trojan warriors aren’t fast, but they can hit hard and take a lot more damage than most of the Greeks.

That said, the character designs are really great. I love that they chose to go with a more Mycenaean look for the arms and armor rather than the Classical Greek look. Yes, those were vastly different time periods.

I do still wish we could have seen everybody’s faces, though.

Pop on the monocle and let’s talk about the Economy

The changes to the economy (and the game’s tech tree) are actually some of the best things about this game. As a former theatre major in college, no one is more surprised to hear me say that than I am.

Since currency wasn’t a thing during the Bronze Age, wealth is spread out over different resources like bronze, stone, food, wood, and gold. Each resource is used differently for different things, as opposed to just spending gold coins to build and recruit in the past.

The new and improved tech tree that revolves around resources.
The new and improved tech tree that revolves around resources.

What’s more is that the technology tree is based around those five resources. This is really cool because it forces you to think about those resources, and those various technologies, in new and different ways.

All of this, of course, is completely different from the monetary economies of previous games.

The Romance option

No, not that type of romance.

Much like Three Kingdoms, the game offers two different versions of the game. One which is more “historical” with the heroes being attached to a unit of bodyguards, and the other. Troy calls it “The Truth Behind the Myth,” but in essence, it is the same as the “Romance” style in Three Kingdoms.

The general feel is much more epic and it includes things like passive buffs from the gods, some cool mythology-inspired units (we’ll touch on them in a minute), and Three Kingdom style hero duels.

As in the epic, pleasing the gods is a full time business with the possibility of great rewards and terrible penalties.
As in the epic, pleasing the gods is a full time business with the possibility of great rewards and terrible penalties.

These duels are actually one of my favorite things about the game (after all of the other ones). They’re actually in the Iliad (sometimes to hilarious effect) and having them in the game was a great move.

It’s not as–stylized as it is in Three Kingdoms, and I think this was a creative mistake on their part since I loved that, but it’s still cool.

Mythical units

The mythical units in the game are pretty fun. Scattered throughout the map, you’ll see settlements with icons that show that you can hire things like centaurs or giants. Other units are only available if you achieve the maximum affinity with a particular god.

Since this is “The Truth Behind the Myth,” these mythical creatures are actually just regular dudes. Some of these units are really cool and really thought-provoking, others are just kind of silly and seem a little forced, and others… others are just hilarious.

Odysseus and the Cyclops in the Truth Behind the Myth mode
Odysseus and the Cyclops in the Truth Behind the Myth mode.
Odysseus and the Cyclops in Mythos
Odysseus and the Cyclops in Mythos.

The centaur unit is probably the best of the lot. Instead of half-man half-horse hybrids, they’re just barbaric horsemen, a nod to the fact that the myth of the centaur probably came from the Greeks’ first encounter with the horse-riding Scythians in the north.

Some centaurs attacking a bunch of Trojans.
Some centaurs attacking a bunch of Trojans.

(While we’re here, this game doesn’t have any real cavalry units. This is due to the fact that cavalry just wasn’t a thing during the bronze age when warriors from richer families might ride to battle in a chariot. The Amazons are the only ones in the game with access to cavalry, everyone else has to occupy settlements with centaurs or recruit chariot units, who just lack the power, speed, and flair of cavalry.)

Giants, on the other hand, are kind of silly. Giants, the Minotaur, and the Cyclops are basically represented as just big guys. Maybe they’re Neanderthals (with headdresses in the case of the Minotaur and Cyclops), or maybe they’re just really hairy Scotsmen who got lost. Who knows? Either way, they’re a cool unit with a silly explanation.

Giants in the Truth Behind the Myth.
Giants in the Truth Behind the Myth.

Now we come to my favorite. You remember sirens from your old book of Greek mythology? Winged women with talons and what can only be called an “irresistible” singing voice? Well, they’re in “The Truth Behind the Myth,” but not as you might think. They are an all-women slingshot unit wearing the ancient Greek equivalent of a cocktail dress. And the game’s explanation of this?

Their in-game description, after mentioning the whole bird-lady thing where they shipwreck sailors, states: “though some sources suggest they might actually have been women practicing the world’s oldest profession who led travelers down the road to poverty.”

Not so winged sirens.

Here you have it, everyone, play A Total War Saga: Troy and lead an army of the world’s deadliest hookers.

God, that’s funny!

Stop! It’s (War)hammer time!

With the DLC Mythos, there is a third version of the game you can play: Mythic.

I call this “Warhammer mode” since this game makes it seem much more like a Warhammer rendition of the ancient Greek myths. There’s monsters, a redone campaign map, and the edges of battle maps now feature gargantuan skeletons like the kind you’d find in Warhammers I and II.

campaign map southern sky on normal
Campaign map southern sky on normal.

Otherwise, it’s basically everything that you’d think it would be. Those “mythical” creatures are now actually mythical monsters that you can control on the battlefield. Giants are actually giants, centaurs are fused with horses, and no one in their right mind is going to sleep with these sirens.

Sirens in Mythos.
Sirens in Mythos.

In addition to this, there are quests to go after one of three legendary monsters: the Hydra, Cerberus, and the Griffin Patriarch.

So, two out of three of those monsters are cool, but the Griffin is kind of lame. I mean, there are tons and tons of mythical monsters out there that they could have chosen, but the Griffin just doesn’t inspire the same kind of awe that the Hydra or Cerberus does.

That said, the aesthetic changes are beautiful. The updated campaign map looks amazing, and I love how the star-lit sky to the south now shows Egyptian gods. Love it! Wish they had some Zoroastrian mythical figures to the East, but it’s still cool.

The Southern sky in Mythos.
The Southern sky in Mythos.

In a nutshell

To sum up everything that I’ve been talking about, this is a pretty good game!

It’s still in its early release, but even then this feels like a much more completed product than other Total War games have felt at their release. I’m pretty hard on this game, but I think they held up well.

This is still the beginning so they’re likely to change up a lot of things about this game before Creative Assembly moves on. Which is good, because it can only get better from here. And Troy, despite its flaws, is still much better than the previous Total War Saga game, Thrones of Britannia.

Rest in peace, Thrones. Ya coulda been a contender.

Troops going off to war
Troops going off to war.

It does suffer from one other thing that also plagued Thrones of Britannia and that is its limited scope. The Total War Saga games are designed to be much smaller than their main games, such as the upcoming Warhammer III and Three Kingdoms.

Being a smaller game, however, I feel that the pacing needs to be much faster than the typically drawn-out campaigns of every Total War game. Or, it should have been a regular game with a bigger scope (but I don’t know how they would do that by just sticking with the Iliad).

Lycian axemen
Lycian axemen.

Still, when all is said and done, this is a fun game that I have every intention of playing again. That’s all you really need.

Oh, and a final thing that’s really cool: the adviser, that little annoying guy who keeps on telling you that your general is being attacked (despite the fact that you SENT HIM THERE) is supposed to be Homer.

I’ve never been so happy to see that annoying advisor! You want to tell me a story of Old Nestor in his youth? Oh, it’s just another tutorial… Aw, what the heck. You’re Homer, I’ll listen.

The future?

Troy gives us a lot of really cool stuff, but most importantly–for me, anyway–is that it sets a good stage for further Saga games.

Chariots in Troy: A Total War Saga.

The great thing about this is that it is centered around the build-up and execution of one war, not unlike the Caesar in Gaul DLC from Rome 2. That said, Troy did a much better job, and this leaves open the possibility of more Sagas from Creative Assembly.

What would those games be? Who knows. Personally, I would love to see the Chu-Han Contention from Chinese history (set 400 years before the events of Three Kingdoms). There’s also the mythic founding of Persia with Fereydun and the Snake-King, Zahak; or the very historical invasions of Alexander; or, if you want to go in the opposite direction but keep with the duel mechanic, there is always the epic poem of Ireland, the Tain.

Lots of opportunities, and I’m excited to see what they do next.

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