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  • Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia (PC)

    May 15th, 2018GamespotUncategorized

    Sega's Total War is a series I've been playing since I was a kid. I remember enjoying Medieval: Total War on a computer that was so under-powered that the entire map was white (you could only see the units) and you couldn’t play any personal battles. Despite that, I still loved its strategic depth. Of the main 12 games to have come out so far, I have played 8 of them, and that number is higher still when considering expansions and stand-alone campaigns.

    The basic concept of the series is to use your economy to fuel your empire's ability to conquer other nations and spread your dominance across the entire map. You'll build structures and units on the strategic map, deploy troops, and promote leaders. Fights are conducted on land and at sea, and you have the choice of fighting them personally (as in a traditional RTS game) or automatically. You can lay siege to a city until it surrenders, or team up with allied nations to fight a common enemy. The entire drive of this game and all of its predecessors is on one thing, however, and that is total war; conquering, sacking, and pillaging everything in sight so that you can continue to build up the best army possible (which includes upgrading units through various financial and technological initiatives). 

    Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia is the latest entry and it moves away from the commercially and critically successful fantasy ventures of Total War: Warhammer and Total War: Warhammer II, returning the series to its historic roots. The franchise has of course made a lot of changes over the years, some for the worse and some for the better. One of the things that's been emphasised in more recent entries is features that are specific to the universe or historical era it's based in. To this end assassins and spies, priests and religious leaders, types of government, and story-driven missions have all become more important. But what of Thrones of Britannia: Total War? What's been added this time around?

    For starters, it's incredibly important how you handle your family and generals (and there are expanded features to go with this new emphasis). Gone are the days of just being able to appoint a different heir. Now, in addition to that, you have three special titles that you can pass to specific members of your dynasty, there are estates to hand out to various generals (to increase their loyalty) or to keep for your king (an act that will increase his influence, but decrease loyalty), and there are regions that you need to appoint governors to - and that’s just the political side of things.

    Total War has increasingly tried to blend concepts from the Civilization series and that trend continues here. Food is incredibly important now, for example, but so are supplies that allow you to advance a few turns despite a bad food situation (in the past, lack of food meant immediate population decreases). Technology trees are highly individualized and you have to unlock specific ones based on accomplishments before you can begin training that technology. This can sometimes create frustration as there isn’t a whole lot of choice of what to research early on (in fact, it's not all that uncommon to achieve a short term victory condition by the time you've unlocked a decent selection of technologies). The diplomatic system has also added the “declaration of friendship” option and now an “arrange marriage” one as well. In the past, a marriage meant an alliance, but now it simply strengthens the relationship so that you are more likely to have a defensive pact or military alliance further down the road.

    Missions are sadly few and far between, and don’t really connect to a larger story (unlike, say, in Warhammer: Total War, which was an amazing step forward in that respect). Instead, Thrones of Britannia adopts a more open sandbox approach. Also missing are truly separate feels to the different nations and culture types. In Warhammer: Total War the Dwarfs, Chaos, Humans, and Vampires all felt distinct and had drastically different playstyles and functions. Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia returns to the "just occupy, sack, or subjugate everything in sight" mentality and the different cultures all feel incredibly similar (Celts, English, Welsh, Vikings). You do tend to get along more with countries of the same culture type, but other than that (and some faction unique troops, which aren’t particularly unique in practice), there really isn’t much to separate the various nations.

    Multiplayer is of course included, but with no real new features to talk about compared to past entries. You can take part in custom battles online or play a campaign with someone. Sadly, historic battles have not returned (where you could refight real historical battles), nor has the Avatar feature from Shogun II: Total War (where you could kind of create your own personal general for online glory). One of the most profoundly disappointing limitations of the series - that of restricting the online campaign to two players - is continued here. So while the single player campaign increasingly adopts Cvilization-inspired features, the multiplayer unfortunately does not and there's a lot of catching up to be done on that front.

    Battle mode on the other hand has been tweaked more, and usually for the better. You can have really unique combinations of different soldier types and your commander unit has skills that you can use (and which are upgraded on the strategic map when they rank up). The one thing I don’t care for is the change to what the E and Q buttons do on the battle map; having to retrain your brain to adapt to a wholly unnecessary change to the series isn't ideal.

    Given the series' pedigree, Total War Saga : Thrones of Britannia is a merely decent installment. This would have been a step forward… had it launched a decade ago, but compared to more modern Total War games it's a cool moonwalk backwards; stylish, but not particularly original.

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