A Total War Saga: Troy interview: The Iliad, Divine Will, and more

The Total War series is about to go farther back in time than ever before with A Total War Saga: Troy. Shacknews recently had the opportunity to talk to Game Director Maya Georgieva to learn more about its classic inspirations.


The team at The Creative Assembly has covered a number of historical fronts with its ongoing Total War franchise. For its latest Saga side entry, A Total War Saga: Troy, the team is going back to the ancient days of civilization and tackling one of the greatest conflicts ever known. Players are about to experience a new spin on the Trojan War.

Shacknews previously got to take a first look at A Total War Saga: Troy back in early June. We got to learn about the strategy epic's setting, mythical heroes, and a handful of interesting new ideas, like Divine Will, Epic Agents, and Mythical Units. And all of it looks to unfold differently with players taking on different historical figures, like Paris and Menelaus.

To learn more about what players can expect from Sega and The Creative Assembly's next effort, Shacknews took some time to speak with Game Director Maya Georgieva. We asked about following Homer's classic Iliad, some of the new mechanics introduced in Troy, as well as building a Saga for both veterans and newcomers.

Shacknews: Can you talk about the meaning behind the title? What makes this a Total War "Saga?"

Maya Georgieva, Game Director: Total War Sagas are a particular form of Total War games that we are trying to make. Troy is the second one under the Saga sub-franchise banner. The first one was Thrones of Britannia. What makes Saga a Saga? Obviously, the word "Saga" is more connected to the Vikings and the northern regions, but the idea of a saga, compared to a mainline title is that while bigger Total War titles are trying to represent a whole historical era in themselves, Sagas are more focused on a particular place, geographically-speaking, in the world or a particular pivotal moment of history. So they're more zoomed-in, intimate experiences, trying the Total War formula on a smaller scale. Because while there are a lot of interesting times and places in history to cover, not all of them are suitable for grand era games. But a lot of them can still be represented in this form and that is what we are trying to do.

In the case of Troy, we are trying to focus on quite a daunting task, to take the series into the Bronze Age era. It's eight centuries before everything we've attempted so far, which is quite a different world and it's quite challenging for us as developers. And we'll try to tackle one of the most famous conflicts in the Trojan War.

Shacknews: How closely does the story follow Homer's Iliad?

Georgieva: It follows it quite closely in some respects and diverges significantly in others. The thing is, we don't want to make Troy an adaptation of Homer's Iliad. It's more of a game which uses the source of The Iliad and the information that comes through this legend to reveal the actual world of the Bronze Age. The idea behind this (we call it "Truth behind the myth") is basically to use these legendary sources the way actual scientists do, to reveal interesting and plausible explanations and theories of the past.

The way we are doing that is we are using the source material of The Iliad to populate our Bronze Age world with the characters, the names, the countries, and the relations the way they are presented to us through this mythical source. At the same time, our characters are based on the actual archaeological evidence of armors, physical objects, architecture. Everything that is in the game is based off our historical knowledge of this era, which is quite important for us.

This duality is also highlighted into the art of the game in the way that what you see on the surface is the myth layer. You can see that this is the layer that comes from the Greek pottery of the Classical Age and of the subsequent generations, a lot after the actual Mycenaeans. You can see this black figure pottery, you can see on the map the parchment that is inscribed inscribed with words from The Iliad, and when you zoom in, this parchment is burned and you can see the actual Bronze Age reality of the Mycenaean world. This is important for us to try and reveal this lost, forgotten era in history that people know so little about. The popularity of The Iliad is basically the vehicle that is driving us towards this interesting point in time.

Shacknews: Instead of opting for one major resource, you're going to go with five for this game. (Food, Wood, Stone, Bronze, and Gold) What went behind this decision and is there a concern that this may be too much for casual players to follow?

Georgieva: There's always a concern when you're adding complexity to an already-complex game. But at the same time, this is the only fitting way we could basically do justice to the world of the Bronze Age. This is a world that precedes the concept of money that we know. It's an actual world where people were trading and exchanging goods and services. Ships were loaded with bronze ingots in the form of skins, they were customized to this shape, these are going back-and-forth exchanged one against another, not through the intermediary of money. That was a much later concept.

It's also interesting because it's really hard to get a good deal in barter. Sometimes, everybody thinks they're getting a good deal, but there's always discrepencies. You can see that in the game, it's really hard to strike a perfect deal that's completely equal. You're always giving a little bit more or trying to get a little bit more, which is the nature of economics, I guess. This is something that you can also enjoy in Troy.

Shacknews: In what ways do the missions and Epic Missions help newer players learn the fundamentals of Total War?

Georgieva: This questions actually ties into the one about using the source of The Iliad. In the game, we try to keep that duality that gives players the freedom that they would like to experience in a Total War game, to play as they like. At the same time, since one of our source materials is this super famous story that everybody knows, we are also providing a lot of guidance on following that famous narrative.

So the Epic Missions are an example of how we do that. Each character has a chain, a special chain, that's made just for them that is following the narrative of The Iliad, is inspired by works of The Iliad, or other connected bits where The Iliad doesn't cover. All of those stories are based on characters from the myths and legends and if you know that story and enjoy it, you could follow that story and it's going to be part of your Homeric Victory condition. We have two sets of victory options, one is called Homeric Victory, which follows Homer's narrative, and the other is sandbox victory, which we call Total War Victory, which allows you full freedom of expression and puts your own legend in the Bronze Age. This allows you, for example, if you're Achilles to befriend Hector or if you're Paris, you make good with Menelaus. It's probably not going to be easy to achieve, but it's certainly not impossible within the bounds of the system. One of those narrative sets is using the Epic Missions and the other one is free from them and you can play as you wish.

Shacknews: You've introduced Divine Will in this game, in the sense that armies are fighting for the gods. How did you go about working divinity into this game and how have you kept the idea grounded in reality?

Georgieva: It was really important for us, if we wanted to represent Bronze Age society, to have religion in it, but also to be faithful to its impact in society. In the case of such an early era, the followers of different gods were not looking at religion the same way we do in a more abstract way or in a more moral, but in a more practical way. They look at it in a way that directly touches the practicalities of life, the universe, and basically everything.

Each god is an aspect of some sort of event or concept in reality. Each god has a domain, based on this character, that influences one or another aspect in society. What you are doing with the Divine Will system is providing, from a gameplay perspective, more freedom to players to build their own pantheon of the gods that they're going to follow, by which they will be customizing their campaign and their faction for each playthrough. That basically means that when you start to play, you're going to pick several gods, work towards one at a time. You're not going to have a lot of resources and get the benefits of the whole pantheon, so you're going to set up three, four, or five, something like this, and maybe next time, you're going to change some of those or try some different gods. Or when you play a different faction, you're going to look at which different god fits your factions' peculiarities better. It brings a lot of new decision-making, choice, and also replayability into the system while also modeling the actual influence of religion in historical societies from that era.

Shacknews: You've also introduced Mythical Units. Can you give me a few examples of those and how they work in battle?

Georgieva: The Mythical Units are the more, let's say, fun aspect of the "Truth behind the myth" approach. We are not only using "Truth behind the myth" to populate our world and use mythical sources to inform ourselves about the past, we are also enjoying following some plausible theories about what might have inspired some more interesting myths and especially the monsters in them.

For example, the Cyclops, that was probably one of the most interesting to realize. Our research showed that a particular type of animal has lived in the Mediterranean basin in a previous era, like 10,000 BC and that was a pygmy elephant, a small type of elephant. The skeleton and skull of this animal really resembles a giant human with one eye, because the trunk, where the nasal cavity goes, looks a lot like an eye socket. Even in the antiquity and later times, people were thinking that people living in previous eras found those skeletons, those remains, and thought they were the remains of an extinct mythical giant. This is how the myth of the Cyclops came about. Of course, we don't know that for sure. It's just an interesting story and in the case of Troy, we found several of these stories and implemented their corresponding Mythical Units.

For example, we have the Cyclops, which is more like a pirate, which uses such a skull as a helmet in order to appear like a Cyclops. And of course, he has unique abilities in battle. He can throw a huge stone, as a Cyclops does. But he and other Mythical Units also have an impact on morale, which cause fear, basically, because their strength isn't so much physical, as psychological. Of course, they're balanced for gameplay, so they have practical strength on the battlefield, but the main idea here is they're like psychological warfare.

We also have Centaurs! They're a textbook example of how some people are influenced by unknown things in their reality and creating myths about it. The myth of Centaurs is derived from people who are not riding horses seeing horseback riders. We know that this happened in later eras when the Conquistadores reached the Native Americans in South America. So they are also considered these amalgamations between humans and beasts, though they knew better afterwards. Centaurs in Troy are horseback riders in an era when horseback riding is not so common.

We also have others, like Giants and Harpies, which are loosely based on their mythical counterparts. Sometimes those units are based on an explanation of the myth, sometimes they are referring to the myth. For example, nobody thinks the Minotaur is a half-human, half-bull person. He's more of a person who refers to the myth of the Minotaur by using those insignias, those symbols, like the two-handed axe and the bull skull, because the bull used to be a sacred animal. It's more like people living with those myths, they are being part of their reality, so they are cool with both believing in them and referring to them and these are our more exotic units, which have a more specialized use on the battlefield.

Shacknews: Lastly, The Creative Assembly has been wrapped up in a lot of Total War projects over the years, covering different time periods. Was the Trojan War something you recently decided to take on or was it a setting that's been on the list to cover for a long time?

Georgieva: You're right that we are trying to tackle a lot of different periods and, as far as I'm concerned, because I'm a fan of Total War games, I would like to see one day all of the globe covered across all the timelines. But until then, of course we do keep a list of ideas to explore and we didn't put Troy in there. It was an obvious option before us, but at the same time, it has a unique connection to our team.

Our joining of Creative Assembly came from creating a lot of content for Rome II. While we were doing that, can we do a game that explores the origins of Rome? And that basically answers the question: How far back can we go for Rome, right? We ended up not doing this because it wasn't possible in the campaign format. It required its own game, but the idea stuck and we followed the myth of the founding of Rome through Romulus and Remus and then through their own mytical origin with the Trojan prince Aeneas, who supposedly fled Troy after its destruction, or at least this is how the Romans see it, and eventually founded the dynasty that would lead to the foundation of Rome. So in a way, Troy connects uniquely, interestingly, with our previous work.

A Total War Saga: Troy is set to release on PC on August 13 as an Epic Games Store exclusive, where it will be available for free for the first 24 hours of release.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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