by Robert Thomas
reviewed on PC
The strategy game genre is no stranger to complexities, often times to their own fault. Thea: The Awakening is not an exception. Initially a fun strategy game with RPG and management elements, it became frustratingly bogged down with rules and stats that - quite frankly - felt superfluous. There certainly are fun moments and the game feels like it's on the right track at times, but far too often I ended up confused over things were simply out of place. The experienced strategy game player will find something to like but the learning curve for Thea: The Awakening is steep and shuts out those new to the genre.
The opening scene tells you that the world of Thea has lost its sunlight, allowing monsters, demons, and other foul beasts to roam the land freely. Humans only barely survived without the warming sun, but now it has come back, though very fleetingly. The player can pick any of Thea's fallen God's as their own and guide the survival of their followers. The world of Thea, while making a comeback, is still rife with chaos though.
A tutorial, narrated by a funny little demon named Theodore, teaches you the basics of the game. Unfortunately Theodore explains really just that, the basics, and you'll be mostly on your own getting through the more complex issues of Thea.
Most of your work consists of controlling your followers and taking care of them involves a slew of different tasks. The first of these is managing your village. Villagers are skilled in being either a warrior, a gatherer, a crafter, or sometimes a less common skill such as healing. Gatherers can be sent on tasks in the town, such as farming and gathering lumber. Crafters will take raw materials and turn them into things like armor, tools, and special meals made from other food items. You'll manage the inventory of the people too, to make sure they have enough items to survive.
If you're ever low on supplies that your village can't provide, you send out a party. A number of villagers venture into the vast wilderness and to make sure they survive, they'll need enough food and fire materials so they can last enough turns. This is where warriors are the most useful, as the party will constantly run into monsters that need to be fought.
Throughout Thea: The Awakening, you'll encounter numerous random events. These events can range from a monster attack to a friendly trader. When you come across an event, you'll have options to attempt several different actions. Unfortunately, most of the actions that will yield a high reward are hidden behind obscure skills and unknowable circumstances like carrying a specific item with you for instance.
When an encounter starts, depending on how you respond to it you'll enter either violent or social encounter. Thea shifts from a tactical strategy game, to a card based RPG game. You and your opponent will take turns laying down cards in the order you'd like them to attack. There's a lot of stats you'll need to take into account, including Attack, Defense, Shielding, Poison, etc. In a social encounter, you'll be using completely different stats, such as Will, Speech, Attractiveness and others, but the game still plays out identically. Once all the cards are laid out, a fight phase begins in which the cards attack automatically. When two fight turns are up, the preparation phase begins again, with the cards who were defeated gone. It's as complicated as it sounds, but there is an auto-resolve feature, which skips the process for you but you'll most likely pay a higher price along the lines of characters receiving injuries.
If members of your party become hurt during a battle they may die if they stay on the move, far away from the village. To counter this, you can set up a camp where party members can heal over a few turns. Party's camps act very similar to the main village in that you send party members out to gather nearby resources. These supplies are more exotic than the ones back at the village, including uncommon materials and rare foods like seaweed and fish. Camps are more prone to attack though, so it's a risk versus reward situation.
On the surface Thea looks nice enough. There's a clear inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy mythos. However, there's been so much of this that despite how good it looks, it comes across as pretty generic. Visually, it's serviceable, but I wouldn't have minded to find a bit more flair in this fantastical world. Most of what I said about the art can be applied to the music too. It's fine, and does its job, I never once became irritated with it, but it went mostly ignored in my hours of play. Voice acting is sparse and noticeably poor.
Too Complex For Its Own Good
Thea: The Awakening’s main problem is that it is overly complex. Some might find that to be something they enjoy but, even as a fan of strategy games, it was just too much for me. Villagers have too many different skills and stats that I still haven't figured out what some of those fully do. And skills level up, but how, when, and why seems to be completely random; a tiny icon appears every couple turns saying that some villagers leveled up some skills. A small textbox to explain these things a bit more would have made a huge difference.
The combat system is off-putting and sometimes doesn’t seem to obey its own rules, but the game punishes you for auto-resolving. Trying to create a party that could handle both a violent encounter and a social encounter is nearly impossible without leaving your village exposed to one or the other. The combat itself drags on for too long, sometimes two rounds of multiple turns. I wouldn't have any problem with simple automated combat or an auto-resolve option that does not punish the player.
Strategy games sometimes run a fine line between being fun and frustrating; if it doesn't feel like a game is fair, it's just not much fun. In Thea: The Awakening, once you start losing it's nearly impossible to come back for a victory. Key aspects aren't explained and some are nearly impossible to figure out just by playing. The game is just too complex for its own good which is a shame as there is fun lurking just around the corner. Fix combat, explain things a little better and chip away some of the needless aspects and Thea: The Awakening would be a much better game.
Some fun mechanics
Unnecessarily comple, badly explained.