I like to think of myself as quite an avid gamer. I have several hundred titles in my collection, I’ll usually take a shot at anything you’ll find on the store, and whilst I’m not the best out there, I’d say my skill with a controller isn’t too shabby either. Sometimes though, a game can come along out of nowhere, that takes everything you know and throws it all into one new hybrid experience, tasking you with learning everything over again. This is the case with the latest title that’s come my way, Thea: The Awakening, but can it bring out the best of the different genres that have been mixed together to make this fantasy title?
Thea: The Awakening is a turn-based strategic survival game. At least that’s the basic idea. Truth be told, if I was to give you a full explanation to what this game actually is, I’m not sure I’d know which part to impress upon you most, given the vast amount of genres that have been thrown in. So instead of telling you more about what it is, I’m going to tell you what it’s about and hope that you don’t get lost along the way.
The story begins with the fantasy world of Thea beginning to awaken from a long magical apocalyptic darkness. In the time since the darkness has been covering the land, civilisation as we know it has been destroyed and the world has been overrun by creatures from Slavic mythology that have grown stronger with the darkness.
You are a God, a weakened deity whose job is to guide a small group of villagers to survival. This is done by crafting, foraging, fighting and negotiating, as well as utilising clever management over your people – making the most of your survivors and sending out expeditions. The latter of these are groups that can be sent out to explore the fog covered lands of Thea to search for much needed resources, with new finds then able to be swapped back and forth to your village. The village itself meanwhile produces weapons, tools, armour and many other things, that can be sent to aid wandering expeditions.
Sending villagers out can be a dangerous task however. Throughout the game, players will come across many random, non-linear story quests. These come in the form of dialogue choices as players explore the land and meet new characters. Many of these come down to luck, with players having a chance of coming away with injured villagers, new items or story opportunities. Unfortunately, these can also be places in which the game can turn quickly on its head, should you have only limited resources and end up with villagers dying due to being attacked.
There is a way to try and beat this from happening, as each combat situation puts players into a card battle, that if won, will beat any aggressive foes, leaving only loot to be had. For me though, this is one thing I found myself trying to avoid at all costs. The combat system, whilst trying to pull the best features of other popular card combat games, is nothing more than a repetitive, wholly luck based, boring experience that would have been better off being left out of the game altogether. There will be some people who claim to enjoy such a thing in games, but the combat system in Thea: The Awakening is certainly not one to applaud. Fortunately, there is an auto-resolve option that works quite well for those wanting to skip past the needless mini-game, to instead ensure you can continue on with your exploration.
It’s also worth mentioning that pretty much every interaction in the game ends up sending XP your way – something which is then used on a web-like upgrade tree that is split between Gathering, Crafting and Construction perks. Many are worth having, with bigger and better buildings being unlocked, which can bring in new villagers to join your cause. Ultimately they will give you a better chance of surviving to the end, and tools to bring more food to your people. Fortunately, the village itself is rather self-sustaining, meaning other than upgrading and crafting, there isn’t really much that needs to be done to maintain it – leaving you to focus on the expedition groups you decide to send out.
Unfortunately, an issue I found with the game is that whilst it isn’t exactly bad, there are never really any moments that feel truly enjoyable.
The entirety of Thea: The Awakening feels like a build-up to something bigger and better, but fails to get past anything more than mini-stories and the gathering of resources. There is an overall goal to achieve in order to win the game, but even achieving the goals doesn’t really bring the game alive. This is quite possibly down the fact that it isn’t exactly clear what type of game Thea is trying to be. With card-based combat, Civilization-like 4X gameplay and point and click style dialogue options, it’s hard to know just what it is the guys over at MuHa Games wanted to create.
That said, if you were to take away the card-based combat sections, and look at each of the different ideas individually, then you’d see that Thea works rather well. But as something that combines everything together, it simply fails to live up to the early promise.
Overall, and whilst most of the individual genres are certainly implemented well, the mixture included in Thea takes away any idea of what it is supposed to be. The game is certainly not a bad showing of a top down survival 4X title, but when compared to other similar titles in the genre, there isn’t really anything to pull the player back in for more.