Thea: The Awakening (2015, PC)

By Matthew Fletcher / November 30, 2017

King of Dragon Pass meets Dwarf Fortress meets survival games meets Civilization.
   With a deck of cards.

Strangers in a strange land

   The art caught my eye for this game, but the reviews were largely positive so I gave it a shot. I'm extremely glad I did.
   I had a rather unique experience with Thea that I thought I would share.
   Purchased this game a few months back and played for four hours. Thought it was neat, but I grew attached to the few people you start with and after they died a few times/I lost a few times it got put on the side for other games.
   I got bored four-five months later and decided to give it another shot, and maaaaan did I not realize what I'd been missing out on.
   Once you realize the vast amount of choices and just how much each action you take affects them it opened up a whole new world for me.
   You start with a few people in a dark unforgiving land. You manage them, collect resources, research, craft like crazy, build and equip and try to survive.
   You will lose people, this land loves to make you lose people. Whether it be giants who step on you, goblins you couldn't talk down, hags, bandits... they will die. If you can get past that and play as your village and understand your history will be dark at points it becomes an incredible, amazing story of survival.
   I had one group that suffered disaster after disaster (incredible difficulty modification allows for a truly realistic game), but they found a source of elven wood nearby. We slowly built our elven village, but really wanted the mythril that wasn't too far so we could make better equipment. Expedition after expedition failed and we were down to just a few people left, not even enough to safely try again, but elves kept seeing this elven city and appreciating it so much they would join me. In one last brave attempt to get the mythril, the last of the humans perished and I realized I had only elves left. They're a magical race with a high social ability, so my new expeditions of elves were able to banish undead/spirits and talk their way out of danger most times.
   Having this kind of story, while having to break out the pen & paper to manage how to craft their equipment, and a dangerous unforgiving world holding the materials I need for said equipment. O man, do yourself a favour. Play this game and give it time to unveil its magic.

   The mechanics are extremely well thought out. Managing both your village and expeditions is a lot of fun and the landscape remains hostile and varied enough to keep you interested. In fact, there never comes a point where you feel "safe" when you step outside your village walls. There's always something worse coming out of the distant mists.
   The crafting system is much deeper than it looks on the surface. Materials gathered from your expeditions are used to create items such as armor, tools, weapons, or structures, and the quality of said materials reflects in the items. The crafting reminds me slightly of Star Wars Galaxies played at a strategic level: find the best resource, send a team out to extract it, then come back to your base to build it. Only instead of the view of a single individual, you manage the entire village.
   The storyline... I haven't finished it yet. I'm intrigued by it, but it's not very invasive. I find myself putting off going to investigate some distant point on the map that my deity wants me to look into just so I can go gather a little more wheat to make some bread (sorry, obscure deity).
   The interface felt clunky at first but a lot of my problems with it were due to poor documentation. Once I found the appropriate hotkeys things moved along a lot better. The graphics on any setting look great.
   The card game that is used for combat is tough to figure out. At first I just auto-resolved all the battles to avoid it. Then later I found that I was getting into the card game in order to play extremely difficult battles. I don't know that I do better than the computer, but at least I know what went wrong.
   There's some warts in the game still. I haven't encountered any game-breaking bugs but there's some text errors. There's also some balance issues in that one thing you do will seem vastly overpowered compared to every alternative (goblins, I'm looking at you).
   I'm giving this a hearty recommend. Deep strategy players will feel like they missed out without this one in their library. I'm also intrigued by what such a small team did. This game grabs me as much as Civilization ever did, and I thought I'd become completely jaded by those sort of hex map genres. A lot of flops trying to recapture Master of Magic and Civilization burned me out. And then along comes a tiny, obscure studio who knocks it out of the park without making any of those outrageous claims or trying to follow tired old formulas. AND they're still working on it!
   It's like a craft ale produced by a really good microbrewery by experts who really like craft ale.