Between Sega’s major strategy game releases like Humankind and mainline Total War titles, a new spin-off called A Total War Saga: Troy is here to tide us over.
Following in the footsteps of Thrones of Britannia, Creative Assembly's Total War Saga: Troy is set during the famous war between the Acheans and Troy after the Trojan prince Paris ran off with Helen, the queen of Sparta — best known as "the face that launched a thousand ships." As a budget title that’s part of the Total War Saga spin-off series created on Total War: Warhammer’s engine, Troy won’t make any big strides forward when it comes to the large-scale battles the series is known for, but it is taking some interesting risks with its story and campaign.
“When we selected this setting of the Late Bronze Age, we knew that the battle mechanics that we were going to bring would not be so groundbreaking,” Director Maya Georgieva explained to Inverse. “We decided that we were going to approach this project by making it complex and interesting on the campaign level rather than so much on the battle level.”
The developers did this by taking two major risks: The first is the “multiple resource economy.” Basically, every civilization needs food, wood, stone, and bronze to survive, build, and expand. These resources are tied to expansion and diplomacy in a way that more closely resembles Firaxis’ popular Civilization games rather than the diplomacy and expansion found in previous Total War titles.
Georgieva explained that “this kind of barter economy is more appropriate for Troy than for any other period in history that we've covered.” For example, if you have a lot of stone but need food, and see a neighboring nation is in the opposite situation, you can enter a mutually beneficial trade agreement.
While it might turn off some series veterans by getting too close to the competition, this approach changes diplomacy in a way the Total War series has needed for some time — and it's a system that should be expanded upon in future Total War games.
Another risk Total War Saga: Troy takes is with its faithful approach to history. Instead of going full-on fantastical with gods and mythical creatures, the developers instead explore the “truth behind the myth approach” and are trying to portray these elements in a realistic way. “Every [non-Warhammer] Total War title so far has been historical and we wanted to keep that up,” Georgieva said.
While the developers wanted to stay true to that, most of the historical records for the events surrounding Troy are mainly found in myths like the Iliad. “We are not following the claims that certain characters are actually a son or daughter of a god or goddess,” she said. “We're trying to filter out the supernatural and look into it critically and realistically.”
This approach is unorthodox for the setting, but the team is “piecing it together with both mythological and historical sources” for a conflict that’s mainly been portrayed through biased Greek sources. While Georgieva admits that the developers could’ve made the game more fantastical, the team thinks “taking it exactly as it is written without revealing the actual historical context that it was developed in, is done so many times. We wanted to contribute something new by approaching it from a different angle.”
For more on how A Total War Saga: Troy bucks trends in the genre, keep reading our Q&A with Game Director Maya Georgieva.
What are the biggest additions A Total War Saga: Troy brings to the series?
The campaign mechanics we stepped up because the setting is so far back in history that we don't have a lot of different troop formations. You don't have artillery and other stuff that we are used to in a later era like the Roman Empire.
The biggest addition that we are trying to Troy is the multiple resource economy. This kind of barter economy is more period-appropriate for Troy than for any other period in history that we've covered. It was a time before the invention of money as we know it, so it's more about an exchange of goods. Although it's fundamentally simple as a premise, it actually changes the whole game.
It impacts how you're managing your buildings, your recruitment, what strategic decisions you're going to make, and how you're going to advance your combatant ahead. Are you going to just conquer the neighboring region? Or are you going to pick and choose those that are most important for you at any given time based on resources?
How tied is that trading system to diplomacy?
Exchanging resources has an implication on how you are viewed by the other factions. If you are exchanging high volumes of single barters, that has diplomatic implications. You can see in the evaluation of the deal, and the bigger the volume of the deal is, the more diplomatic implications it has.
If you're making a regular trade, the barter agreement, which is from five to 10 terms long, it might also be considered a treaty, basically something that you need to maintain. If you break a treaty, you're seen as untrustworthy. That has lasting implications not only with this faction but with other factions as well.
Troy: A Total War Saga is much more intensive in terms of management and thinking ahead in this way.
Why did you decide to go the “truth behind the myth” route instead of more fantastical elements?
First of all, every [non-Warhammer] Total War title so far has been historical, and we wanted to keep that up. Going so far back in time, the way that we can approach this subject through historical records is really challenging because we don't have enough information to fill up the usual Total War world. We don't know the names of the rulers, we don't have the actual boundaries, so we would not be able to actually make a living, breathing through the world if we were going only by the archaeological record.
This is where the legendary sources come in. They can fill the gaps in the historical records conveniently. Even the actual scientists that research that this time are also using those sources, but the way they are using them is by critically assessing them. They’re not taking them at face value because a lot of those mythological and legendary sources are just filled with fairy tales as well as actual information.
"Truth behind the myth" comes in because we are taking the legends, we are taking the names, the relations of the characters, and the realms.
Yeah, I could see that being an issue with Troy specifically. How did you handle fleshing that part of the game out, as the Iliad is from a Greek perspective?
You’re completely right. The Iliad is a Greek poem from a Greek poet and is intended for a Greek audience. So it's just a little bit biased. As a sandbox title, we want to offer more angles and perspectives. We give you the opportunity to play as Hector or Paris, so we should be able to answer the question of what their victories would look like.
We use the layout and the characters in the Iliad, but also use a lot of information from surrounding sources, like historical research and other myths. For example, some historians think that there are fragments in the Paris myth that reveal a bigger picture, that he's actually probably been seen as a more heroic character than what is revealed in the Iliad. Obviously, he is the archrival there, so he's the weakest character in the eyes of the Greeks.
We know from historical records and letters from the neighboring Hittites that there was actually a war for a city we think was Troy. That was called Aléxandros, which is the birth name of Paris. There are some rumors that this is either Paris or maybe someone related to him. He was great enough to be noted by the Hittites.
There’s a little bit of imagination as well. The triumph of Paris is a triumph of someone who fights for love. The triumph of Hector would be the triumph of someone who defends his father's seat and fulfills his father's dreams. The story arc of Hector is someone who restores our historical Alliance, and Troy seems like it was actually part of this league, so in the game, if you play as Hector, you're going to restore that alliance of settlements.
Aeneas is another very prominent character, and we use Virgil's epic poem, The Aeneid, a poem from a later time that tells the story of Aeneas of Troy eventually coming to Italy and being the forefather of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. We have encapsulated a little bit and refer to it in Troy. We’ve been scrambling for any information about the topic and piecing it together with both mythological and historical sources.
A Total War Saga: Troy will be released for free on the Epic Games Store on August 13, 2020.