My first interactions with the Total War series were shaky at best, especially back in the days when I believed Command and Conquer was the be all, end all of RTS gaming. The idea of not being able to build a base and produce units in the field was bothersome to me but let’s be honest, in the real world you don’t magically produce units from a barrack, and tanks don’t just pop out of nowhere. Total War has always tried to give us the realism that we crave and this has been enhanced considerably with Total War: Thrones of Britannia. With the amount of time that Total War has been around, it should be no surprise to anyone that the Game Director for ToB is a diehard fan from the early days:
I myself first got into Total War back in the days of Medieval: Total War. I’ve been a fan of the series for a long, long time, ploughing in more hours over the years than I care to think about. I have now had the privilege of leading a fantastic team in setting a vision and making a Total War game. For me, it’s been a dream come true and I really hope you like what we’ve created. – Jack Lustead
So, if you’ve played Total War you probably have a few questions, namely; what sets ToB apart from titles like Rome and Medieval. To break that down even further you’re probably saying “Why do I really need to buy another one of these?” If you’re looking for a deep, highly realistic experience, this is exactly where you want to be.
Starting out in Thrones of Britannia
Like the other games in the Total War series, Thrones of Britannia invites you to partake in a particular historical period, and this time you’re going to be spending some time in Britain. Set in 878 AD, the game takes place right after the Battle of Edington where Alfred the Great has warded off the Viking invasion. The game has quite a few city building elements which you will find right off the bat, for example, you start the game with a certain number of settlements, each one producing goods for your empire. From here, on the world map you will be able to build military structures, farms, and other economic buildings, and you can increase their output by working your way down the tech tree as the game progresses.
Building up Your Empire
You start the game with a certain number of settlements, and each one is a producer of goods. You can build farms, military structures, or other economic buildings between turns, and you can upgrade as you work your way down the tech tree. You can work to build up your economy between every turn, but as should be expected, lost towns and damaged buildings will result in a lowered economy and could even impact citizen morale. Fortunately, if any of your buildings are damaged you do have the option to repair them between turns.
On the map you will notice that there are a series of provinces, each one consisting of minor settlements attached to a capital. In the capital, there are six building slots, and then you have the minor settlements which are satellites. They only have 1-2 building slots but surprise: they're capturable. Okay, so that doesn't seem like a big deal, but think about this: if you have a capital dedicated to military production or other economic items, and then you have several settlements dedicated to food production, then you have an obvious Achilles heel. So, what we're saying here, is that if you've ever wanted to starve your enemies and watch them slowly die, you can.
Marching into Battle
You came to Total War for the battle and the game delivers. You initiate battles by finding enemies on the World Map and simply engaging them, but before any battle starts, you should survey the weather conditions. As you start you will either see clear skies or a downpour and it's up to you to decide whether or not you want to proceed. If you do choose to fight in bad weather conditions it will affect your combat, your visibility, and much more. On the upside, you can wait for better weather, on the downside, you can only wait a certain number of times before you will be forced to fight, and the potential for weather changes is really a roll of the dice.
The cool thing about this game, honestly, is that while there is an RTS aspect and you can fight the battles manually if you want, you don't have to. When you engage an enemy on the world map you can auto-resolve the battle and the system will determine the outcome based on the stats of your forces and the enemy forces. Just keep in mind that if your stats are lower there is a good chance that you will not have a favorable outcome. If you look at the odds and decide that you can do it better than the computer, then give it a shot! Sometimes, things work better on the ground than they do in theory. Ultimately, if you want this to be the coolest RTS of the decade, it can be. If you want it to be a solid empire building game, all of the components are there for that as well.
Building your Army
To say that building your army in this game is complicated would be an understatement. This isn't Command and Conquer, so they're not just going to come out of nowhere and while the realism is great, it opens the door for some complications. If you want to recruit infantry, cavalry, or any other type of unit, you have to rely on the local population. So, at the end of each turn, you can go to each army and recruit from the global pool. In other words, you will have to rely on the assumption that there are citizens willing to join you and go to war. At the end of the turn, there is a percentage chance of the pool replenishing, and this actually depends heavily upon your war fervor. You might be ready for bloodshed, but if your citizens are not, their war fervor will drop a certain percentage which affects the recruitment. Keeping your citizens both happy and bloodthirsty is crucial if you want to finish the game.
A More Meaningful Campaign
As you play through the Grand Campaign, regardless of the faction that you fight for, you will have several different routes to victory. You can expand your territory, gain renown through construction, advance your technology, or use the unique requirements established by your faction. In other words, it doesn't have to be all blood and gore. The game features a unique, fun campaign and it plays differently for everyone. The one thing that does not change, however, is the impact that you will feel when you lose units.
In other RTS style games you can replenish your troops almost immediately, but if you lose units in ToB, you're going to have to pray that the unit pool is replenished enough to replace them. In other words, you don't want to rush into battle for the heck of it – that could have dire consequences. Additionally, throughout the course of the game you will train lords for various offices which includes increasing their skills and even marrying them off to increase certain stats. If you lose one, then they will not be easily replaced and you will feel the impact of that loss for the remainder of the campaign. While there are a ton of other changes, you can clearly see that this Total War installment is going to be more difficult and it is definitely going to be more rewarding. As I scoured forums I did notice that people complained about the lack of agents and the lack of naval warfare, but both of these can be easily explained. Agent abilities are still present, they're just elsewhere in the system, and as far as naval warfare is concerned, there wasn't that much of it going on in the time period. The game stays true to history and is definitely something that any Total War enthusiast should be checking out.
The gameplay is as intense as Total War ever has been whether you want to play the RTS element into the ground or simply treat it as an empire building game. Either one is going to work and they're both packed with tons of fun.
Yeah, it's another Total War game but it's packed with meaningful choices that make it all worth the time investment. Losing units and especially lords can change the course of the campaign and after that, your determination to finish might not be enough. Keep them alive if you want to see victory.
Learning Curve: 7/10
If you're used to playing the other Total War games in the series then you have a good starting point, but it's a much more difficult game where every single choice matters. You're going to need to play a few games before you start to scratch the surface and if you're totally new to the franchise, you're going to get steamrolled. On the upshot, it has a pretty nice tutorial.
Graphics / Sound: 9/10
Yep, the game is pretty, there's no way around that one. It sounds great, and you'll definitely get immersed every single time you play.
This is a new game but it's priced at $39.99 rather than the usual price tag that we've seen on most new titles. I think it's worth full price based on the features and the new play style.
-Steep Learning Curve