Austrian historian Fritz Schachermeyr once argued that the tale of the Trojan Horse was spun from a metaphor. Troy, he claimed, did not fall to steed-based subterfuge, but to an earthquake stirred up by horse patron Poseidon. If the climax to my first campaign in Total War: Troy Mythos is anything to go on, the mad old eugenicist may have been on to something.
I strapped on Ajax the Mighty’s hefty sandals for my first run. When he eventually crossed the glittering Aegean to raze Troy, not a single horse accompanied him, wooden or otherwise. Instead, he brought a retinue of giants, a griffon, a hydra cultist priest, and Cerberus itself.
Three turns into a lengthy siege, Poseidon brought the walls down, and Ajax’ menagerie of mythical pets did the rest.
The first change you’ll likely notice in Total War: Troy Mythos is the skyline. Where the pottery-inspired fog of war was once painted with mountains, it now boasts parading centaurs and Olympian messengers. A bronze statue marks the ground where the Spartoi once sprang from dragon’s teeth, and harpies lurk above islets off the coast.
In Salamis, where Ajax begins his campaign, I don’t have to wait long for Mythos’ changes to come to me. My advisor tells me that Edykoyseos, a crazed seer leading an army of bound shades, lurks near my territory. Defeat him, and Ajax would be able to summon spectral Elysian warriors to his cause.
Ajax filled his ranks with giants – no doubt impressed at his own stature – and met the seer on the western coast of Attica. A sun-bleached skeleton of a sea serpent jutted from the sand, and before the day was done, the seer’s bones were added to the pile.
Expanding the myth
Over the following turns, more ill omens visit my lands: Hydra and griffin cultists. All are slain. Ajax fills his ranks with more Mythos-exclusive units. A Hydra priest, a spellcaster with healing and a visually spectacular AOE poison blast. And a lesser griffin, a fast and ferocious flyer perfect for disrupting enemy missile lines.
When tensions between Salamis and Athens boil over, Ajax attacks at sunset, the fading rays dancing on the griffin’s wings as it divebombs the archers atop the city wall, covering the main forces’ approach. My priestess’ prayers to Hephaestus have gained the smith-god’s favour. Javelins bounce off my frontline’s armour.
Around turn fifteen, I’m given the opportunity to send a scouting party after one of three epic monsters. The Hydra and the Griffin Patriarch will have to wait for future campaigns. I’m sure my scouts were thrilled when I packed them a nice lunch and told them they’d be headed down to Hades to fetch Cerberus.
Following Eurydice’s song
Over the next fifteen turns, the choices I make decide what state the scouting party arrives at their destination in. So much of Total War is about telling your own stories, but these journeys are brought to life with short but gripping prose popups. These add literary structure to tales forged through broken alliances and snatched victories.
This all culminates in a showdown with Cerberus and an army of shades at Hades’ gates. A showdown that I’m permitted to teleport Ajax’s main army to reinforce, slightly lessening the impact of the choices I’ve made for my scouting party. It’s a great battle nonetheless. I’m now a proud dog dad.
The following turns are filled with more of these tiny, satisfying, self-contained stories. Each created by the sheer number of moving parts, characters, and new units that Mythos, along with the already substantial base game, provides.
They mostly involve death, to be honest. The commander of the scouting party stays behind in Hades: part of a deal made to secure the lives of the rest of the entourage. Later, a garrison commander is killed by an arrow from the Amazon queen, Hippolyta – at the very moment one of his own arrows fells her.
The myths behind the truth
Mythos, then, is as successful an overhaul as one could hope for, freeing the studio to add tactical dimensions to battle that simply weren’t possible before, and turning a previously visually beautiful but occasionally stilted title into a rousing, romantic epic. Still, there is a bittersweetness to it all.
The game’s original ‘Truth behind the myth’ approach, though no doubt less exciting and varied, offered a unique window into the ancient psyche. It envisioned, say, the centaur as stemming from blurry snatches of rare mounted troops relayed by “The imaginative, terrified minds of drunken soldiers […] or exaggerated war stories,” in the words of critic George Wiedman.
Homer’s creative liberties are still taken, whether you play on Mythos, the original Truth behind the Myth, or the new historical mode, which replaces powerful single entity heroes with retinues and lessens the effect of godly intervention. Even here, the Olympian gods remain present on both sides. This is always a Trojan war with Homeric flourishes.
Those same flourishes play their intended part, though. Mythos may be gleefully fanciful, but it’s still so absorbing that you might not even notice the wrath of Poseidon tearing down your city walls.