There are times in our lives when someone or something makes us think: “Where have you been all my life?” It’s not love at first sight, it’s not something that hits us like a ton of bricks mas instead something that we grow more appreciative with time and suddenly the penny drops. This production by Muha Games is one of those things. It gradually increases how much we like it until we understand it’s perfect.
Obviously nothing is perfect for everyone, but Thea: The Awakening is an excellent game for anyone who likes the following styles: 4x, RPG, Survival, Card Battle, Turn-Based strategy, and maybe one or two more that I can’t think of right now… and although I am a believer that it is preferable to do one thing right than many in a reasonable fashion (after all a Jack of all trades is master on none) this is not the case, all the different aspects of the game are done in a very good way. On its own the 4x is coherent and original. The RPG is classic and creative at the same time. The cards for the battles I would buy to play table top with some friends. The 4 parts of the day turn-based allows a wider strategic amplitude because different events happen during the day and night, and the survival part… ah… doesn’t hold on its own but fits in with the others and like a good sauce in a dish is the element that balances and combines all the other ingredients.
Muha Games is a small 4 person studio, with experience, passion and good gaming taste. In spite having worked in big projects such as The Witcher 2 and 3, this is their first “big” game. And what a game it is. Available on Steam since late November (I had a review copy by the developers on early release) one of the things I loved the most when I started it up was a message that said “This is in final stage, it’s not finished, it will have bugs” which I value even if it’s for all of those who complain about every and anything. They knew they still had work ahead of them and admitted it, I like that in business people, it’s called professionalism and respect for your client.
Thea: The Awakening is a hard game. It’s not for half-assing around, it will make you sweat. Metaphorically speaking.
Allow me to explain:
The world was taken by darkness, call it the Apocalipse or whatever you want, and now light is returning. The few survivors turn to the Gods of old in search of aid and it is us that will “incarnate” one of those Gods based in Slavic mythology. I always picked the same one: Horos, Lord of the night and moon. Each God as its own domain, Zora the morning and evening stars, Svarog the sun and fire, Mokosh has life, Morena the seasons, Veles the underworld and each of them gives benefits and deficits to their people. So, straight away we have the age old question of playing style and which adapts better to us, conquest, building, subterfuge, etc. After choosing our God and style, we are launched into chaos. Yes, there is an extensive and well organized tutorial, but as the setting is randomly generated the game does not care if you ever played the game, if you are just starting it or not, your village happened to be placed in middle of 5 or 6 hordes of creatures? Tough luck, find a way out, that’s why it’s called survival and not holidays at a 5 star resort.
As in most 4x games, one of the objectives is to gather resources and guarantee the survival and expansion of our people, but in Thea, survival and expansion are not easy to come by. This makes the game even more challenging. We control a village, and that’s all, there is no chance to settle new towns in other lands, and within the village we are limited to the resources that are within its reach. To collect other resources we need to send out expeditions that explore the land, set up a camp for a few days, gather what they can carry and return to the village.
Managing the expeditions is complex, more than it would look like at a first glance. The village starts with 9 or 10 inhabitants, each with different statistics and jobs, sometimes it has 1 or 2 children also that will grow up in time. So we have a real village where there are warriors, healers, sages, farmers, builders, and we have to send part of them to explore the lands, the conundrum lies in which ones… Balancing is hard because everything we leave behind can be necessary having into account we don’t know what we will find. Do we leave one warrior to protect the village and take 4 on the expedition with 1 farmer? How are we going to collect resources if the warriors take 10 days to do so, while a farmer takes 1? Do we just use the farmer? What if the village is attacked while most warriors are out? Do we take the only healer or leave him? And the wise old man who is useless in battle but if we find unknown creatures he may be the only one that can communicate with them and prevent a fight or open a new quest. How much food do they take? Sounds complicated now, doesn’t it? Above all this, for me there is an additional problem which is that they all have names and images of their own, and I tend to bond with characters like that, I hate it when named characters die in my games. If I am playing Civ 5 and my battalion of whatevers is eliminated, ok, fine. But if Jack, or Lucy, or some named character dies, I feel it…
This variety of choice will influence the entire game, every decision will create different paths, and I love to encounter situations where I see a note saying something like “2 of 5 options available” as it makes me think that if I had reached that point in some other time, with other characters I would have something different to play. Thinking of this allied with the different Gods and procedural generated maps, Thea as an immense replay value.
Even things that may not seem relevant can be important. In one of my playthroughs, a stork was spotted at the village, I could have sent someone to kill it and gather meat but I chose not to. The next morning there was a baby in the cabbage patch that grew up, became a healer, and saved others from injuries and sickness. Decisions and consequences, action and reaction, Thea is all about that.
In case you haven’t noticed, I really like Thea, although my favourite part is the card battling system. It’s a complex and simple game at the same time, that if it was sold in stores would be at the level of Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh. Sometimes I even divert my expeditions a bit just to encounter enemies and do a bit more fighting.
Hmmm… On second thought maybe it is better that they are not sold as I don’t think my wallet could keep up with it.
This is already a long read, and I could actually write a whole seried of articles focusing on each part I love about this game. I will say that in a year where games such as Witcher 3, Fallout 4, Halo something came out, this one will pass under most people’s radars. Unfortunately as it is my GOTY 2015, I advise everyone to get it, try it and I am sure you’ll like it.
I give it my: