‘A Total War Saga: Troy – Rhesus and Memnon’ review: a slightly bored horde

Killing in the name of

Troy feels exhausted. I’m not sure I blame it. It’s the end of a year so long that anyone claiming they can remember when it started should be treated with the utmost suspicion, and possibly herded into a corner and kicked in the shins until they repent. This final content drop for Total War’s jaunt across the Aegean comes hot off the winged heels of Mythos, an expansion so good that difficult second epic syndrome was inevitable.

Rhesus and Memnon is smaller, more focused, and cheaper. Structurally, it experiments with campaign pacing and unit recruitment in interesting ways. Total War’s formula has long been both its Achilles Heel and Trojan Horse, secret weapon and fatal flaw. It’s always good to see it stretched and formed differently. But it also feels like Troy is well and truly running on fumes for this last leg of its sprint to the finish line.

I’d prefer to end on a high note, so let’s talk about Rhesus first. He’s a big lad with a big beard that wears a big dead bear for a cape. The Thracian King’s role in the Iliad is similar to Jack Woltz’ in The Godfather, in that his most notable characteristic is being careless with very expensive horses. Here, he makes a bit more of an impact, lending character to the minor factions at the northernmost part of the map, with the eventual goal of uniting Thrace.

Rhesus’ campaign hinges on a unique resource called devotion, initially gained by performing ritual sacrifices. A theoretical pyre sits at the centre of his empire, upon which bundles of food, wood, and precious metals are incinerated in the hope the fickle gods might pay attention to the smokey updrift. Please the gods, good things happen. Faction and army bonuses, access to elite units, the favour of a specific Greek deity. Bonuses are things like upkeep reduction, replenishment bonuses, global happiness increases, and so on. The more powerful of these cost devotion, but a few increase it.

A Total War Saga: TROY - Rhesus & Memnon
A Total War Saga: Troy – Rhesus & Memnon. Credit: Creative Assembly.

Once the gods are fat and happy, Rhesus can spend that devotion on raising Countless Host armies – one for every forest region owned. These forces require a huge upfront food cost, but have greatly reduced upkeep. Pay the toll, instantly summon a full 20 stack of wild forest bastards. They’re not especially elite units, they can’t capture settlements, nor replenish, nor reinforce or be reinforced. So, a host of drawbacks, but also very useful for weakening enemy settlements or having low-cost defenders for your own. The more forest regions Rhesus owns, the more bonuses the host armies get.

A roster rich in ambushers and some beefy chariots aside, that’s kind of it for Rhesus. There’s nothing wrong with a fairly rote Total War campaign, I think, as long as the hero you’re playing has enough character to make standard victories fun just by virtue of their presence on the battlefield. Remember Ajax? What a Chad he was. For 25 hours, I threw giant rocks at men of reasonable height that nonetheless looked like tiny beetles next to Ajax’ magnificent stature, and it was great. Rhesus, by comparison, is a bloke with a spear who likes trees. The campaign mechanics don’t quite have enough character to carry things on their own, and Rhesus himself doesn’t do much to pick up the slack.

Happily, Memnon fares much better. Aethiopia is a horde faction on a mission to burn everything the Danaans have ever so much as breathed on. If you’ve played Taurox in Total War: Warhammer 2, you’ll find Memnon to be a similar experience, albeit with a bit more finesse. Razing settlements offers a movement bonus and a chunk of resources, complemented by a tab to show you which resources you’ll get from each settlement’s ashes.

A Total War Saga: Troy - Rhesus & Memnon. Credit: Creative Assembly.
A Total War Saga: Troy – Rhesus & Memnon. Credit: Creative Assembly.

Through building chains and tech, you’ll steadily unlock more regions to request reinforcements from. Memnon has no traditional recruitment buildings, instead spending resources to add a selection of troops from a chosen region straight into the special recruitment pool. There’s some great variety, with options to specialise by buffing certain regions. Memnon himself is a beast in melee, but he’s also an interesting pick just by virtue of having a completely different culture represented in Troy.

Memnon’s army can’t use agents, so instead you’ll have access to camp followers that bestow a variety of special abilities. Pick one before battle, pay the cost, and knock the enemy hero down to half health before the battle even starts. Or, force an enemy army to sally out from a minor settlement. Dramatic stuff, for sure.

My problem with Memnon is similar to the one I have with most Total War horde armies. Eventually, I just got burnt out on all the burning, especially with that Taurox-grade power creep that soon had me out-burning everything that stood in my way. I do wonder if this will be the standard, now, for all Total War games going forward. A final DLC horde faction allowing you to rapidly lay waste to the map you’ve just spent 500 hours of your life getting to know. I’m not entirely opposed to it, honestly. Later epic quest objectives, too, feel painfully drawn out.

In fairness to the DLC, I should caveat with the acknowledgement that there’s a stunning amount of unit variety on show here. 49 in total. I reckon that, if you mainly play Troy’s historical mode, especially on very hard battle difficulty, the amount of small stat tweaks and specialists here could end up feeling very impactful indeed. Me? I’m still not tired of playing with all the new toys Mythos delivered. Tiny blokes with a slightly higher speed stat aren’t able to pull my attention away from the hydra artillery.

Overall, this feels like Troy’s least essential expansion. It’s heavily weighted towards Memnon in terms of new ideas and theme, and even that doesn’t have much staying power. Now, go have a lie down, Troy. You’ve earned it.

A Total War Saga: Troy – Rhesus and Memnon launches on December 14 for PC

The Verdict

Historical and high difficulty players may get a lot out of the impressive unit variety on offer here, and Memnon’s half of the DLC is good fun for a short while. But Rhesus feels underdeveloped and unengaging. As a last hurrah for a game that feels like it only just hit its stride, Rhesus and Memnon is disappointingly average.

Pros

  • Expansive unit variety, visually and tactically
  • Memnon’s faction abilities are creative and unique

Cons

  • Both campaigns feel lacking, but Rhesus’ is especially dull
  • An unceremonious end DLC for Troy
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