Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Thea: The Awakening is a mishmash of different genres that could have come out feeling jumbled and confused. However, some smart design choices allows Thea to be something bigger and better than the sum of its parts and brings its interesting experience over from PC to console rather successfully.
Having been released on PC almost two years ago, Thea: The Awakening has built up a pretty solid following over there due to its combination of features. The setting has you staring down an evil generically referred to as The Darkness. However, instead of being a beacon of light, wielding a sword of might that allows you to penetrate and eventually vanquish the darkness, the narrative takes a far different approach giving you a much more humble yet equally vital objective – stay alive. You are a god – but a weakened, compromised one who is trying to help your villagers to survive what is coming.
With a large procedurally generated world that plays out on a hexagonal board, it would be easy to mistake this title for yet another 4X Civ clone, but there is a great deal more going on here in Thea. This is an RPG as well as a strategy game, as you take your tired, your starving and your helpless people and try to help them survive against numerous different creatures drawn from Slavic mythology via an interesting card based system.
If this sounds like a lot of stuff thrown into one big pot, you would be correct – it is. However, the systems have an excellent balance to them. When you are managing your city or having different story events occurring, none of the elements really overtakes the others. This allows Thea to be a slow burn that reveals new facets throughout the gameplay experience. You start off exploring and settling, eventually sending out villagers to try and gather resources and expand your influence. This is of course a potentially perilous endeavor. As the non-linear quests come up, you have decisions to make that can promote newfound rewards or some unexpected ruin as the story advances. These moments are key, and provide most of the RPG flavor to the proceedings, but they are also in many ways the most important for gameplay success and failure too.
Combat plays out with a card-based system that, akin to the random story elements, can be a bit too luck-based for its own good. I do not necessarily mind – you still make decisions that can influence the outcome. Fans of card battlers or tabletop games will no doubt appreciate that luck has a large role in the outcomes, but I admit that I wish strategy and forethought could play a slightly larger role in the results. Still, as someone who has for years enjoyed collectible and other tabletop card games, this system was actually a pretty enjoyable one.
Just about everything you do yields experience, which then gets spent out on a variety of branching options that remind me of the technology trees found in Civilization games. Just about every option is worth having, but you will want to tailor your selections based on your preferred style of play and current circumstances. You won’t have enough experience to choose them all, so the key is in finding complimentary unlocks that allow you to survive and even prosper in the right circumstances.
Most strategy games go very light on story, allowing you to focus on upgrades and city management but really not doing much to create a narrative. While Thea: The Awakening is not a perfect story by any means, the way it weaves the random events into the experience kept me very interested in how things would play out. There is also a ton of replay value here due to the different unlockable options, the procedurally generated maps and the random nature of the story events. A single winning playthrough can take nearly two dozen hours, but there is ample reason to pick it up and play again, even if you have beaten the game before, because it is unlikely you can see everything that the game has to offer in even two or three playthroughs.
It can be a dicey proposition blending together a handful of different genres, but to its credit Thea: The Awakening manages to balance them with considerable skill. This is a slowly paced game that does show its age just a little visually, and plays a bit more easily on a PC using a mouse and keyboard, but works just fine with a controller as well. It might be a little bit imprecise at times, but the intelligent game design carries over pretty well for the most part and provides a unique, interesting experience.Score: 8 / 10