For a series well-known for its authentic re-enactments of history's biggest battles, adding a more mythical element might seem a little odd. We're used to seeing the vast swathes of infantry and calvary types of the ages brought to life on our digital battlefields, but A Total War Saga: Troy is doing things a little differently. The team over at Creative Assembly Sofia is bringing The Iliad and The Odyssey to life for this next chapter in the real-time strategy series, and isn't shying away from bringing the more mythical elements of those ancient stories into the battlefield.
Whilst you can leave the huge fantasy monsters found in other games set in the same time period, such as Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, Creative Assembly Sofia is blending the mythical with the historical to make such creatures feel more in keeping with Total War's usual gameplay experience. What you get instead are these amazing hybrid units designed to tell the real-life story behind the legends.
"We decided to approach the historical angle [of the mythology] by overcoming its challenges by including also the mythical sources and the legendary sources," explains Maya Georgieva, game director on Total War Saga: Troy. "The materials from this era are not suitable for the full Total War experience without the help of what we used from legendary sources."
"I mean, even though in The Iliad you don’t see monsters on the battlefield – you get to see a lot of them in The Odyssey, of course. And even though they’re absent in The Iliad, it’s part of the overall, general fantasy of how people perceive this time and these characters. They’re just connected."
In the preview build I get to play, Hector and Achilles are going head to head on the outskirts of Troy. Achilles' armies are poised to attack, famed for their speed and maneuverability against Hector's strong, defensive units, made up of the likes of the Champions of Troy, the Guards of Troy, and Hector's Chosen. But, along with a range of infantry types, each of our heroes has another ace in their arsenal - a mythical unit.
Hector has the mighty Minotaur, usually known from mythology as a giant creature that feasts on human flesh. In-game though, it's a beastly tank of a unit, bigger than the average man and donning a bull's skull to intimidate its foes. In battle, it uses special charge attacks to break through the ranks, only to unleash a roar attack once it's among the fighters.
"With the Minotaur, where you have this single entity – a really, really powerful unit, with really devastating abilities, which can hinder your whole army – you really need to figure out a way of how to deal with it. It’s a really high threat to your army," explains Milcho Vasilev, Senior Designer on Total War Saga: Troy.
Achilles, on the other hand, is taking full advantage of having a cluster of centaurs in his ranks. Typically depicted as half-men, half-horses, in Total War Saga: Troy they're a tribe of incredibly mobile cavalry units made up of riders who are so in-tune with their steeds they're seen as one. Of course, it helps that they're pretty wild looking too. Capable of flanking and harassing enemy troops with ease, these centaurs are quite the battle boon, especially as they're pretty much one of the only means of adding cavalry to your arsenal.
"We were thinking about how to introduce [mythical units] in a way that does not shape the setting significantly. It does not pollute the setting with something completely different. And it looked like this approach of grounding the myths and explaining them somehow was the solution for this challenge," adds Vasilev.
"It also fits well with our defined goal of revealing the truth behind the myth. Because for many people, The Iliad is more or less a legend [...] a work of fiction – which it kind of is, to be honest. But there is a lot of substance behind that fiction. And revealing that to people, it’s something unexpected for many."
It's amazing just how seeing a Minotaur stomping across the battlefield adds to the sense of drama and intensity to a fight. Knowing that they're an intense foe also makes it equally as terrifying to wield one as it does fight against one.
Of course, this wouldn't be a Total War series entry if it was focusing solely on folklore. There are plenty of other enhancements coming to Troy beyond the new unit types, and these include serious upgrades to the three main infantry types - light, medium, and heavy. During this time period, horses weren't really used in battle, so the focus falls on your foot soldiers.
With Troy, Creative Assembly Sofia has drilled down into each infantry type to offer more battle options per class. You can flank with your light infantry, who are now twice as fast as the heavy alternatives, which are stronger but slower - as you might expect. These heavies, however, are almost impossible to attack from the front, making flanking essential to actually winning against Hector's army if you're playing as Achilles, with his legions of light infantry.
New unit attributes only serve to further highlight these enhanced differences too. For example, some units may be immune to flanking, perform better against axe, sword or spear-wielding soldiers, or simply perform better in battle coming in from either side.
And that's before you've even begun to consider the new alternate weapon modes for heavy units. Some can put away their shields and focus on their spears to become a much more offensive chess piece. Suddenly you're balancing several layers of infantry tactics in a way that Total War has never offered to date. New terrain types also play up that intense tactical infantry-focused warfare too, with long grass allowing you to hide light units, mud slowing down heavier soldiers, and sand affecting the movement speed of all units.
Even stripped back to the basic infantry types - plus your mythical beings of course - Total War Saga: Troy still manages to offer the tactical depth you'd hope for from the series. And there's more to come too, including Troy's famous Trojan Horse scene, just to take additional advantage of these snazzy new infantry enhancements.
"We, of course, cannot omit the Trojan Horse in a Total War setting. So we had to decide between the three most plausible explanations. In the end, we decided to have them all. So we have three Trojan horses, and three different interpretations of the Trojan Horse within the game," explains Georgieva.
"One of them is the classic one, which is the gift of the Greeks. You get to play this gambit with Odysseus, who, you know, basically props up a ship with a horse head – this is period-appropriate, actually – full of gifts and hidden warriors, who open the gates of Troy, and lets you play a variant of this map that is with this setting. You can experience your own version, basically – choose your own Trojan Horse."