Turn-based strategy isn’t a genre you often see on consoles. Sprawling games with carefully constructed mechanics and extremely long play sessions are usually reserved for the PC crowd. Furthermore, most of them fall into the same mold: you must build, expand, and conquer across a gargantuan world, turn-by-turn.
Thea: The Awakening bucks these trends by providing a unique experience set in Slavic mythology. It also mixes in decision-based storytelling and even a card game mechanic for solving encounters. It’s a lot of different pieces, but is Thea: The Awakening more than the sum of its parts, or should we send this one straight to the Baba Yaga? Read on to find out!
A Scorched and Fallen World, Lit Only by The Fires of Hope
Thea: The Awakening presents an interesting premise for you to explore. The opening tells of a great Cosmic Tree and pillars that ensured the world was balanced in perfect harmony. The arrival of a force known only as The Darkness resulted in the destruction of the Cosmic Tree.
The world was plunged into chaos as gods fell from the heavens and the gates of the underworld released demons and spirits onto the land. You play as one of these fallen gods, and your choices grow as you play through the game multiple times and unlock others.
Each god presents their own benefits as they level up, and your choices of both dialogue and action are affected in encounters by which god you’ve decided to play as. It’s up to you to raise a village and bring stability back to the world of Thea.
Victory in Thea: The Awakening comes from multiple options. You can either pursue the main quest line and win that way, or you can visit your god’s menu and see what other things you need to fulfill to win through domination.
There are also side quests and random story encounters that occur both at your home village and when exploring. These scenarios are always interesting and offer the chance to make decisions on how you approach each situations. This applies to the main story as well, and your choices are affected by which god you represent.
For example, once while I was exploring, an event triggered where I was approached by a fallen goddess who offered me the chance to be healed by her power, but it could come at the cost of a curse. Depending on my dialogue choices, she may not have offered, but I was able to get my party healed through this event.
Other events can result in free loot. Even combat encounters can be swayed into another direction, but we’ll discuss that more momentarily. Despite some repeating art assets, I really enjoyed all of the story elements in Thea: The Awakening. While the premise is classic good vs evil, the Slavic elements of the lore slowly start to reveal themselves the more you play, and it was these elements that I really enjoyed.
The fact that a strategy game like this has such an in-depth story aspect is also admirable. I very much enjoyed the narrated encounters and choose your own adventure interactions for each of them.
If I had any complaint about the story, it’s simply that Thea: The Awakening gave me a taste of Slavic mythology and I would have loved to see more. More lore, more options for random encounters, a more in-depth story. Even so, what we have here is an interesting and ultimately successful marriage of turn-based strategy and choose your own adventure storytelling.
An Amalgamation of Genres Merged Into One Game
Thea: The Awakening seeks to be a lot of things at once. It’s a turn-based strategy game with elements of 4X strategy, but it also combines choose your own adventure narrative elements, crafting, and even a card-based mini-game!
It’s a lot going on at once, and in the hands of a weaker developer, I would use the cliche term that “the whole doesn’t exceed the sum of its parts” but that’s not entirely the case here. The disassociated parts of Thea: The Awakening have never (to my knowledge) been mixed into one game like this, but the developers have managed to create a cohesive, if overwhelming, mixture.
When I say overwhelming, I mean that Thea: The Awakening, despite having a tutorial, is a very complicated game. Even a seasoned gamer like myself was left scratching my head during the early hours. There’s just a lot going on, but once you understand it all, the game hits a flow that really pulls you into its world.
Let’s look at these parts separately. For starters, we have the narrative structure. Encounters can happen at any time, regardless of where you or your expeditions of explorers are. Some are triggered by scripted events, but many are random. Here you simply read/listen to the narration and make choices to influence the outcome. Simple.
Next, we add in the resource management. You have one main village/city in Thea: The Awakening and that’s it. Here you can assign villagers to various tasks gathering food and fuel in the vicinity of your borders. You can also specify which resources are used, and which ones need to be saved for crafting.
Of course, you’ll need more resources to flourish, and this is where the expedition mechanic comes into play. You can send specific groups out on their own (supplying them with food and fuel from your stocks), so they can explore the world, complete quests, and gather other types of exotic resources.
Expeditions need to be stocked, but they also need to be given weapons and equipment if you hope to survive. They can make camp and collect resources from any area, but they are vulnerable to attack. This is why you should have a balanced set of people in your expeditions to fulfill a wide range of roles.
Still following? Next we have the crafting and research mechanics. Crafting can be done using the resources you’ve gathered, as can construction of new buildings in your town. What's interesting, is that you can substitute better or worse materials if you have them, to complete recipes.
This affects the outcome of your crafting accordingly. As you explore and fight, you’ll also receive research points which are used to unlock new crafting recipes and construction options. All of this makes total sense, but then you throw in the combat/encounters and things start to get confusing, but only in the beginning.
The card-based encounter mechanic has you play a minigame for combat, stealth, and social encounters. Depending on the stats of your expedition members, different skill will come into play. When you begin an encounter, you’ll have a offensive and tactical set of cards to choose from.
These can be reshuffled once for free if you prefer. Whoever goes first, and the number of actions you can take per turn are all decided by stats. As you play cards, the attack order goes from left to right. If you have actions to spare, you can use abilities in your tactical hand to turn the tide.
The game goes through two rounds of fighting, and if no one wins then it goes into a new round, complete with another shuffle if you’d like. The relevant statistics do make a difference here. Sheer power works great in combat, but it doesn’t mean much in a war of words or a stealth scenario.
While there’s no denying that this card game can get old, an auto-resolve option is there, for less meaningful encounters. While one could argue that all of these mechanics lack stronger depth, taking them all together in one game is enough to keep you on your toes for the first few hours.
After that, repetition may set in, but there’s no denying the amount of gameplay value in Thea: The Awakening. The amount of time it takes to finish one playthrough, let alone others as different gods, is more than enough to justify the cost. It does a lot, and while it can be overwhelming at times, it’s ultimately a ballet of seemingly disparate mechanics that somehow manage to fit together into a cohesive experience.
Excellent Art Combines With Simple Graphics
The art on display in Thea: The Awakening is excellent. The character portraits on cards have great detail, especially the monsters, and the encounters are paired with colorful and well-realized landscape/scenario portraits.
The narrator fills a lot of roles during his time reading, but the voice actor does a good job of changing their voice to match dialogue and keeps the atmosphere intact with their tone and approach to each scenario.
The rest of the game’s graphics and UI are simple, but effective enough to get the point across. It doesn’t make your eyes melt with gorgeous graphics, but the art is more than enough to carry the strange enemies and situations you’ll encounter.
Ultimately, Thea: The Awakening isn’t going to win you over if you’re not a fan of turn-based strategy, but for those who are longing for more story and a little more engagement to the gameplay in these types of games, Thea: The Awakening will give you exactly what you’re looking for.
While it can get repetitive after some time, there’s no denying that this game offers a ton of content for your dollar, and a unique take on the genre. If your game selection is boring you to sleep and you want something different, perhaps it’s time for an awakening.
Final Score: 8.5/10
A copy of Thea: The Awakening was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 6/7/17