Total War Saga: Troy brings mythical heroes to bronze age infantry warfare

VIDEO: See the trailer for A Total War Saga: Troy. Also on YouTube.

Have you ever wanted to stuff Odysseus into a cramped wooden box with a bunch of sweaty infantrymen, and then send him into the great city of Troy to destroy the Trojans from within? Creative Assembly have just the game for you.

Total War Saga: Troy lets you take control of some of the greatest heroes in Greek mythology. Today at the PC Gaming Show 2020, The Creative Assembly showed three ways you can take on the siege of Troy, based on different historical interpretations of the end of the siege. You may have a mental image of a giant wooden horse being wheeled into the city as the Greeks pretend to retreat, but historians speculate that the Trojan horse may have been a form of siege engine, or even a symbolic representation of a terrible earthquake that broke the walls and ended the siege.

This is also the earliest setting the Total War series has yet attempted, so there's lots of room to play around with history. This is both an opportunity and a tricky problem for Troy's developers.

"We knew that this was going to be one of the most challenging aspects of going into this period because this is the first game where we've gone all the way back to the bronze age and we don't really know much about how battles were conducted at the time," says senior game designer Milcho Vasilev. "But we do know that this era was dominated by infantry combat."

In all three of the approaches to the siege of Troy in the video above you see those footsoldiers in action. Mounted cavalry soldiers are thought to be rare in this era (though there will be chariots), so the game is exaggerating the differences between light and heavy units to make infantry melee more tactically interesting.

Heavy units will be devastating in hand-to-hand combat, but they are slow and easily exhausted. Vasilev points out that these days bronze seems defunct compared to steel and other alloys but "actually a full bronze-clad warrior coming up against you, that's almost unstoppable."

(Image credit: Sega)

These units will be slow, and vulnerable to exhaustion, which is even more important in Troy. You also need to be mindful of terrain when arranging your infantry. Troy's maps contain more blocking features such as cliffs and valleys, which of course affects angles of attack. There's mud, too, which is particularly difficult for heavily armoured warriors to negotiate.

Light units give you speed and flanking capability. "In Troy a light unit might be twice as fast, maybe even more than twice as fast," says Vasilev, "so you will really feel that difference when it comes to their speed."

Light units tend not to get exhausted, they move easily over difficult terrain, and they can hide in long grass to ambush units. They are also great at flanking units engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Flanking debuffs will matter more in Troy, flank attacks will damage morale and reduce the targeted unit's defence stats. 

This should hopefully lead to more decisive infantry encounters. The developers are tweaking this carefully. Fights won't be as immediate as Total War: Warhammer—no-one's throwing fireballs around in this game. But there's a balance to strike with the game's pacing. Sometimes infantry scraps can become one giant static mob of warring units in Total War, but Troy's famous heroes might be able to resolve these situations a little bit faster.

Vasilev describes heroes as being great close support units. They can't fend off an entire unit as heroes could in Three Kingdoms, but you want to throw Odysseus into a scrap with his warriors. Combat encounters build 'rage' for Troy's heroes, which you then use to unleash their command abilities to inspire nearby units. There isn't a Three Kingdoms duelling mechanic here either, but if two great heroes happen to meet on the field, warriors will back off and let the legends battle it out. Importantly, though you can expect flashy animations as the heroes battle, they aren't locked into that encounter. You can freely disengage and use their command abilities.

(Image credit: Sega)

Ranged units have clear roles to play as well. Vasilev breaks them down into three categories: slings, bows, and javelins. In this era slings are actually the long range harassment option. Bows give you medium range, medium damage power with a little bit of armour piercing capability. Javelins are the heavy-hitting close range option with great armour piercing potential. Vasilev says that the heaviest Javelins will have a range of just 60 metres, which happens to be charge range for most units. That means they will be hard to use, but if you catch a heavy infantry unit slogging through mud, these Javelins might be able to dismantle them with just a few throws.

I've enjoyed The Creative Assembly's recent attempts at interpreting mythology, whether it's Warhammer's Old World or the Three Kingdoms saga. It's fun to play Napoleon and see accurately modeled uniforms informed by copious historical sources, but these settings give developers the space to experiment a little more with the Total War formula. I'm looking forward to the task of project managing the notoriously flaky Achilles. That lad sure could throw a tantrum.

Total War Saga: Troy is out on August 13 on the Epic Games Store, and will come to Steam in summer 2021. The game will be free to download and keep for the first 24 hours of its launch on Epic's store. Might want to put a note in your calendar for that, strategy fans.

Tom Senior

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.