Total War Tries to Make Infantry Matter in Troy, But It's the Mythical Units That Shine

A Total War Saga: Troy treads new ground for the franchise by heading to the Bronze Age, and that’s presented some interesting challenges for the developers at Creative Assembly Sofia. Among those is the reality that the battlefields of the time were almost entirely populated with infantry, which isn’t exactly ideal for a game largely about moving groups of units around in large-scale battles. Thankfully, the mythological aspect of it all significantly helps.

Sofia’s worked on downloadable content for the franchise before, but Troy marks its first outing with a standalone Total War title and the pseudo-historical time and place in which it is set means that the developer can take some liberties not available to some of the other historical entries. While it’s not on the level of, say, the Warhammer games in the franchise, it’s also not exactly another Rome either. Even so, when it comes to battles, the new Total War largely keeps it grounded.

"First thing is we've tried to improve on the maps themselves to make them have more obstacles, more allowing more tactical options, and different stuff like that by implementing new terrain types, like the mud or the tall grass [...] which affects different units in different ways,” says Milcho Vasilev, senior game designer at Creative Assembly Sofia. “Since we have almost exclusively infantry, we had to make sure that it feels different when you're playing with light units, medium units, or heavy units and different weapon types they have."

total war troy battle
(Photo: Creative Assembly)

The first major step to making all those infantry units stand out from one another, as Vasilev tells it, was to really lean into their differences. The new terrain, which includes mud, long grass, and sand has different effects on various units, but light infantry less so than others. They have higher speed, but aren’t great when standing toe-to-toe with another unit. Heavy units shine there, but are significantly slowed by mud, can’t hide, and aren’t great in ambushes.

“We've done the same thing for the missile infantry, where the slingers at this period are actually the type of units that were able to shoot the farthest because the bows were not yet that good,” he continues, talking about the different weapon types and how they all have their strong points. “They didn't have access to composite bows or stuff like that. So the slingers were actually have the longest range, whereas the javelins have the shortest range but they have the most impact when it comes to damage and armor-piercing damage, and bows being somewhere in the middle between damage and range.”

All of this rings true with my experience with the game thus far, having been able to play through a single battle between the two epic heroes Hector and Achilles outside the gates of Troy several times. There are obvious strengths and weaknesses for the infantry, and battlefield awareness perhaps matters more than ever before, but even with more prominent differences, it often felt like I could slam a bunch of units together with little rhyme or reason and not change the outcome overly much.

total war troy hector vs achilles
(Photo: Creative Assembly)

But the “mythical” units are another story altogether. In the battle preview I played, two different units of this kind were available, one on either side. Achilles had Centaurs, but Hector had the Minotaur. In keeping with the pseudo-historical feel of the game, neither unit is truly magical, but instead a sort of attempt to bring the myth to life in a way that feels potentially true. “We went for this approach, that is the truth behind the myth, where we explore how certain myths were probably formed and where they come from,” Vasilev says, “and one of the forms that they have taken place is this new mythical creatures that we're adding, which are not like monstrous infantry or something that would come out of Warhammer, for example, but are our ways of representing how we think those myths started.”

Centaurs, for example, are mounted cavalry that just so happens to be extremely good at what they do, essentially becoming one with their mount, while the Minotaur is pitched as an incredibly powerful bandit lord that wears the skull of a bull. Each has unique abilities, but it’s the Minotaur that really stands out -- and not just because of his stature. While he’s just one single, larger-than-life unit, he’s an incredibly sturdy one, and nothing else in the preview demo quite measured up to siccing him on light infantry and watching him throw them around with ease.

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Now, admittedly, battles are only one aspect of a given Total War title and the one I was allowed to play wasn't exactly a complicated setup, but I genuinely enjoyed my time with it. If there's more in the game in the same vein as the Minotaur -- grounded in reality, but mythically oriented -- then I am excited to see the rest of it when it releases later this year.

A Total War Saga: Troy is scheduled to release for PC via the Epic Games Store on August 13th. You can check out all of our previous coverage of the Total War franchise right here.

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