by Nathan Rowland
reviewed on PC
Have you ever played a game so wonderfully rich and encompassing in its experience that for weeks or months at a time you become lost in its totality? So enthralled by the emotions it invokes in you that a flame within you burns brighter than it ever had before? I hope you have, because these are truly wonderous games to experience, and undoubtedly why I consider gaming to be my favourite artform. I’ve had a couple of those experiences: Demon’s Souls, Fallout 3, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Grim Fandango.
Now whilst I would not ever wish to have not played these games, they do have their downside, a big one. All other games just pale in comparison. Worlds feel void of depth and feeling. Not by any fault of their design, they just don’t possess you in the ways they once did. For example, I can’t play Assassin’s Creed games anymore, and I loved those games. Today I just see empty streets and trite conversations extended across a bland story. I don’t remember how epic it used to feel using eagle vision for the first time in each city or how cool I felt disappearing from pursuers amongst crowds. All those mechanics have lost their lustre.
So, how did this all relate to A Total War Saga: Troy? Well that’s because my most recent ‘wonderous game’ was Total War: Warhammer II. To the uninitiated, the traditionally historically based Total War franchise changed tact in 2016 with the release of the first in a trilogy of games based upon the high-fantasy table top game of Warhammer. Whilst we’re still waiting on the release of its third instalment, these two games have tonally shifted the entire franchise since their release. Where once battles complemented a complex and thematic 4X strategy game, they are now the mainstay of Total War's gameplay. Magic and large single-entity units have revolutionised the tactics and overall fun-factor of the series. As a result, Creative Assembly has created a tricky situation for their ‘historical’ titles. Thrones of Britannia clearly suffered as result of this in sales and engagement, but Three Kingdoms made major improvements in the genre by borrowing elements from its high-fantasy counterpart.
Gifts mixed with good and evil.
Rather than fall back entirely on historical settings, Creative Assembly have begun to favour an element of mythology in their more historical titles. Total War: Troy takes its inspiration from several literary epics set in the Bronze Age. Namely, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as well as Virgil’s Aeneid. As a result, not all the features popularised in the Warhammer titles are lost as Creative Assembly seeks to continue its more traditional titles. Strong single entity units still exist in the form of the Minotaur and Cyclops and leaders are akin to Warhammer’s legendary lords – where characters like Achilles and Odysseus are capable of much greater feats of strength than your average Trojan general.
The pantheon of Greek gods can be prayed to and appeased to gain beneficial boons and soldiers, akin to the Norscan campaign strategy. And whilst magic is an unfeasible addition in this setting, the mythological approach does work to marry the interest between a historical and a fantastical narrative that fans of both genres can enjoy. However, battles don’t feel nearly as epic, and the Aegean setting doesn’t nearly invoke as much awe as the Mortal Realms of Sigmar. Rather, the campaign map holds up most of the game’s style, with a neat visualisation of the geometric Grecian pottery style which is both iconic and capable of instilling some sense of wonderment. An artistic rendition of Mount Olympus looms on the horizon rather than a misted over fog of war. It helps sell the overall mood.
To carry on from its predecessors, Troy has introduced some helpful quality of life issues that Total War games have sorely missed. Diplomacy for example has received a good overhaul. It’s more dynamic, with increased flexibility for bartering rather than a static trade option as well as more options to leverage a relationship with a foreign power like trading whole regions of territory. It also provides transparency in areas that have always been murky, namely the results of trading and how likely a diplomatic action is going to succeed. The guess work is eliminated by the inclusion of a numerical system which calculates in trade whether a faction will or wont accept your terms. Sometimes your reputation will be so low with said faction that trade is impossible, but its better than the vague possibility of trade occurring in previous titles where results were only ever judged by a low, medium or high chance of success. This same system carries over to the auto-resolve feature, being able to distinguish how severe your losses will be before committing to the fight – an appreciated effort which helps curtailing the need to load quick saves over and over when seemingly good fights turn out to be mismatched.
Furthermore, resources and their management have been diversified. A singular income of currency has been changed in favour of multiple assets including: food, wood, stone, bronze and gold. With the lack of a generalised currency, the game encourages investment in non-conventional resource chains. Often moments would arise in Total War campaigns where the choice between training new recruits to fight an oncoming battle was weighed against the need to upgrade your settlements for your faction’s progression. Now, food logically supplies the upkeep of soldiers whereas stone, bronze and gold are reserved for construction of great monuments, elite training grounds and temples. It’s a system I would like to see carried forward into future releases.
The Achilles Heel
But none of these improvments counteract some glaring faults in Troy's design. Missing from the launch is the addition of multiplayer, both co-op campaigns and versus modes which have since become a staple of the series. This seems like a major blow to a new Total War game, as the multiplayer community in the franchise is increasingly growing and beginning to thrive. To limit that scene of play from their latest release seems like a poor move, especially when trying to incentivise a move to a new ecosystem in the form of the Epic Game Store (a move made to introduce new players to both the Total War franchise as well as the e-store). This won’t be introduced until November, so it remains to be seen whether the multiplayer features will strengthen the community around this release.
This major lacking feature adds to a general lack of polish that Troy comes packaged with upon release. Fonts appear blurred and mismatched across gameplay, exploits have been cropping up across the community day by day as well as terrible fighting animations in the small-scale conflicts on the battlefield. It’s clear the ‘Saga’ series of Total War has some issues to resolve before titles like Troy can be a success. Their budget and prioritisation in the series is without direction and with something of an identity crisis in a series that already releases annualised big-budget titles. To conclude, Creative Assembly has a lot of work to do in order to refine this class of smaller budget game before it’ll be a successful addition to their roster.
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Free day-1 release, UI quality of life improvements, mythology setting benefits historical and fantasy fans alike
Battles are lacklustre and poorly animated, weak roster variety amongst unit types, no multiplayer on release