From Salamis to Argos: Designing Ajax & Diomedes
Ajax and Diomedes are two of the most well-known fixtures of the Iliad, and will soon be joining the Hero lineup of A Total War Saga: TROY as part of the Ajax & Diomedes DLC.
With this in mind, today we chat with lead designer Teodor Kozhukov about the creation and introduction of these two new Epic Heroes, covering everything from the pros of being a (maybe) giant to the thrill of crushing your enemies in an effort to outshine your father – read all about it below!
CA: Hi there! First of all, could you please introduce yourself?
Teodor Kozhukov: Hello, my name is Teodor Kozhukov, and I led the design team on the Ajax & Diomedes DLC for A Total War Saga: TROY.
CA: So what exactly did Ajax and Diomedes do during the Trojan War?
Teodor Kozhukov: Ajax and Diomedes are the two most famous characters from the Iliad who were not yet playable in the game. They were both suitors of Helen, and swore an oath which bound them to join forces with the brothers Atreides against Troy.
Whenever the Achaeans had a problem that they couldn’t figure out how to solve, they called upon Ajax – and he never disappointed. He faced Hector in a duel three times (almost killing him with a boulder at one point), protected the body of the fallen Patroclus, and prevented the Trojans from burning Achaean ships by jumping from deck to deck and fighting them off single-handedly.
Diomedes is the first character in the Iliad to receive his so-called Aristeia – his moment of greatest accomplishment in battle – when, with the help of Athena, he wounded Aphrodite and then Ares. He also often volunteered for special military operations, such as raiding Trojan camps at night with Odysseus.
CA: Where did you start when you knew you were going to be bringing these two legendary heroes to TROY?
Teodor Kozhukov: The Iliad is by far our best source material for this DLC, and both Ajax and Diomedes are well represented in it. Their origins and culture are similar to those we’ve worked with before – they are both Achaeans, and so we had an easier time looking for historical and archaeological data about the cities of Salamis and Argos.
CA: What was it like designing Ajax? How did you go about it?
Teodor Kozhukov: Ajax was a challenge to work on, partly because of his fame. His name has countless appearances in popular culture – any time a new character with a big shield is created for an original IP, there’s a good chance that they’ll get called Ajax because he is so well known for being a defensive giant who protects his friends.
But Total War is often not a game of defending – it asks the player to go forth into the world and conquer. As such, we had to figure out a way to include defence in his gameplay as much as possible without holding the player back or compromising the sandbox of the game.
CA: And what do you think playing Ajax will offer TROY players?
Teodor Kozhukov: With Ajax, players can act as the strongest ally of the Achaeans, indirectly offering protection to friendly factions without simply standing guard in their territory. One of his faction mechanics focuses entirely on this – creating peace between multiple factions in order to shield allies from an unnecessary conflict or finding common enemies between Ajax and his allies.
CA: How did you approach designing Diomedes?
Teodor Kozhukov: Diomedes is a very interesting character because he is known as a tactical genius and the most experienced military commander despite being the youngest of the Achaean heroes. We wanted to portray a special approach to war in a time where military strategy and theory didn’t exist, so we had to find creative tactical and strategic options within the Bronze Age period.
Another big part of designing Diomedes was his relationship with his father. The Iliad has many examples of how great Tydeus was and, in comparison, how not-that-great Diomedes is – so we dedicated a lot of time and effort to giving the player the ability to rise out of this looming shadow and over the king of Argos.
CA: What kind of experience will Diomedes bring those who play him?
Teodor Kozhukov: Argos is the faction most focused on creating a plan for war. Both faction mechanics help with preparation: either building up armies with specialized Paragon units or carefully selecting valuable targets.
Apart from being ready for war, Diomedes’ faction mechanic helps with controlling conflicts. The king of Argos can use his Dominance to achieve peace on his terms, gaining a favourable deal in the process and freeing up his forces for a different direction.
CA: Tell us more about both Heroes’ new faction mechanics.
Teodor Kozhukov: From conception, we wanted both Heroes to be two sides of the same coin.
Ajax and Diomedes both use Paragon units – special elite versions of regular units who carry the name of a famous warrior. Ajax goes out into the world, challenging powerful warriors to friendly battles where no lives are lost – if Ajax wins, the opponent joins his faction as a Paragon unit, offering unique options not otherwise available in Salamis’ roster.
Diomedes gets his Paragons by selecting a unit from his regular roster and training them with a tutor called a Strategos. These veterans are all members of the Epigoni – sons of heroes who fell in a battle against Thebes (Diomedes himself was one of the Epigoni).
Their second mechanic focuses on having control over when a conflict ends. Ajax takes a friendly approach: he can gain Renown as a steadfast ally and use it to hold Celebrations – funeral games which honour fallen heroes and cause peace between selected factions. Diomedes ends wars in a much more forceful manner: by using smart strategic decisions and attacking the right targets, he gains Dominance, which he can spend to force his terms of peace on a weakened enemy faction.
CA: What will these two’s Epic mission chains look like?
Teodor Kozhukov: Ajax is most well known for his moniker “the Great”, created to set him apart from Ajax “the Lesser” of Oileus. However, we chose to explore the concept that Ajax wants his nickname to mean more than just being large, and we included his aspirations to fame in his Epic missions. The missions involve the leader of Salamis being the most reliable Hero that he can be – defeating dangerous foes so that his allies are safe from them or strengthening alliances to hold the Achaean host together. There is also a hint towards the origin of Ajax’s great size and whether he is a descendant of the mythical giants.
Diomedes’ single greatest curse is the burden of his father’s legacy – Tydeus was so great that even after his passing there was not much room to praise his son for his own achievements. The king of Argos is determined to surpass his father – and, as luck would have it, fate allows him a battle against Thebes, where a usurper unseats Thersander, one of the Epigoni. Diomedes already marched against Thebes once before, winning alongside six other heroes, but now he has the chance to do it on his own – a feat that not even Tydeus could perform.
We’ve also taken the opportunity to include as many nods to scenes from the Iliad as possible, such as Ajax’s madness and Diomedes striking down the god of war.
CA: What about the new unit rosters?
Teodor Kozhukov: The roster of Salamis is based upon the relationship between Ajax, son of Telamon, and his half brother Prince Teucer, a renowned archer. As the two siblings fight together – with the great shield protecting an accurate bow – so are their armies built, a strong line of heavy infantry that create protection for the most damaging missile units on the Danaan side of the war. The archers and slingers of Salamis have an ability called Expert Accuracy which means they can safely fire into crowds because they never deal damage to friendly units. If the enemy chooses to hang back and not engage Ajax’s line, his warriors can perform a reckless charge, gaining incredible speed for their heavy armour but forgoing defence and becoming easier targets for a flanking attack.
In order to win a battle with few casualties, Diomedes believes that he needs to strike hard and fast, making the enemy rout before a stray javelin can end a soldier’s life. The units of Argos employ vanguard deployment similar to Odysseus, but where Ithaca chooses to skirmish with the enemy and throw javelins without engaging directly Argos favours sudden charges from unexpected locations and crashing into the enemy with axe or spear. Many of Argos’ units have an ability called Ferocity, which increases their melee capabilities, as long as the units have high health – very useful when attacking, but risky if charging into the wrong target or being peppered with arrows.
CA: As is to be expected with new Heroes and factions, there’ll be new skill trees and building chains – what can you tell us about these?
Teodor Kozhukov: Ajax, unsurprisingly, is a defender – and one who can take a lot of punishment to protect weaker targets. His first skill allows him to throw boulders at enemies – a nod to one of his duels with Hector. Further down his skill tree, the giant warrior can choose to embrace madness and go berserk, unleashing his fury on the enemy but losing his regard for the lives of his allies.
Diomedes is a fighter who focuses on exploiting enemy weaknesses and debuffing targets before crushing them. His first skill is named Might of Athena, acknowledging that the goddess of wisdom favours him as she did his father. It greatly increases the rate at which Diomedes gains Aristeia, giving him much better control of when he can use his “ultimate” ability.
As for buildings, Salamis can construct fighting pits, which grant passive experience gain to units in the province and improve heavy infantry. It also unlocks access to warriors of similar stature to Ajax – whether they are actually giants or just big burly men is left to the myths.
Ajax can also build an artisan’s camp – great size is not only useful for war, but for construction and artifice as well. As an extra bonus, it grants favour with the new FLC god Hephaestus.
Argos’ buildings include a strategy camp, where Diomedes conducts meetings on planning for war. It grants favour with Athena and improves the Heroes of Argos, granting them experience and teaching in the form of a trait. The other special building is the Army Supplier – a way for Diomedes to give up a settlement’s production in favour of military bonuses.
CA: What about starting positions?
Teodor Kozhukov: Both factions neighbour Mycenae – Salamis to the north, Argos to the south. Returning players will notice that, on turn one, Aegina is no longer owned by Ajax – it has been taken by the pirates of Akis and it must be reclaimed! Following that, to the north of Salamis is Athens, which can be a strong ally or a dangerous enemy.
The regions around Argos also have changes. Corinth have taken over Erchomenos in an attempt to expand around Mycenae – but Diomedes will not let this treachery stand. After dealing with them, the road to Thebes is clear for the king of Argos to plan his assault. Apart from that, Athena’s favourite has the option of either peace or war with his western neighbour the Arcadians.
CA: Are there any new battle maps?
Teodor Kozhukov: Yes – Thebes has received special treatment as the great ancient city built by Cadmus. Legend states that the first king of Thebes followed a sacred cow – wherever the cow chose to lie down and rest, there he would build a palace. The fates had the cow stop near a mythic water spring, where Cadmus encountered a dragon spawned by Ares. After slaying the dragon, from its teeth grew the Spartoi, fierce men who are said to be the ancestors of Theban nobility.
The city itself features seven gates, each emblazoned with the markings of a fallen hero’s shield. The settlement’s violent history has seen it be conquered and burned down multiple times, part of it remaining shattered on the battle map itself. Its size befits a fearsome garrison, and players have to carefully plan overcoming its walls. Luckily, they have many options for entry…
CA: What challenges did you face when working on A Total War Saga: TROY – Ajax & Diomedes?
Teodor Kozhukov: We needed to think outside the box for both of the Heroes, both with making defence as a concept engaging and creating military strategy in the Bronze Age.
We also added two factions near Mycenae, creating a dynamic with many playable Achaean factions next to each other. This reduces space in the region, and carries the risk of being forced into war with supposed allies.
CA: What is your favourite thing about this new DLC?
Teodor Kozhukov: We finally got to put two of the most famous heroes from the Iliad into our game! Aside from that, I believe we’ve given Salamis and Argos enough variety to enrich both the campaign experience of TROY and the custom battle metagame with new rosters.
CA: A tough one – if you had to choose (at Bronze Age swordpoint, let’s say): Ajax or Diomedes?
Teodor Kozhukov: This is no easy answer for anyone at our studio but, if held at the proverbial swordpoint, personally I would go with Diomedes – I want the rush of crushing my enemies, driving them before me and hearing the lamentation of their envoys as I force my terms of peace upon them.
CA: Thank you for your time! Any final words on A Total War Saga: TROY – Ajax & Diomedes?
Teodor Kozhukov: Thanks for the opportunity – I hope players have fun burning down the city of Troy with the two newest Achaean heroes!
A fine bromance
To delve deeper still into the development of A Total War Saga: TROY DLC, check out our interview with game designer Ivan Voulpe about designing the Amazons here.
Ready to tower over the competition as Ajax or crush your enemies as Diomedes? Make sure to pre order your copy of A Total War Saga: TROY – Ajax & Diomedes here!