Let’s get one thing out of the way: Thrones of Britannia is not Warhammer. It is not Attila, nor Rome II, or even Shogun, for that matter – it’s a whole unique product that feels as alien as a new Total War could feel.
I’m February, SEGA and Creative Assembly took select members of press to a medieval castle in England to show us the last build before the full release of A Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia.
Deep in the bowels of Hedingham Castle, several computers were loaded with Thrones of Britannia. Out in April 19th, Total War’s first Saga spin-off focuses on the civil wars of England of 878 AD, when King Alfred the Great held back invading Vikings.
After spending a whole afternoon with the game, I was left quite flabbergasted. I sat down expecting another familiar Total War title, but spent my first 15 minutes with no clue of what to do because everything was different.
The map is extremely dense, packing more detail from the British Isles than Shogun ever did with Japan. Every province is bursting to the seams with graphic features, from settlements and cities to terrain particularities. For some reason, the amount of detail and style of art design actually made the terrain quite hard to read, leading to a very confused journalist often trying to understand where a province ended and another began.
Speaking of art style, I wasn’t a fan of the design used for unit cards, and particularly disliked the decision to use those same cards on the diplomacy screen. Instead of a moving 3D character who speaks to the player, engaging in diplomacy pops dialogue out of a stationary and lifeless artsy unit card, immediately lowering the game’s standard from a triple-A title to an indie without model budgets. It is disappointing, especially given how the leaders of each particular faction had such an important role during this time period.
Another divisive change was in the way one muster units. Recruitment and replenishment – a staple of Total War since times immemorial – has been significantly revamped, and gathering men is no longer a certainty. When recruiting a unit or replenishing losses, each turn now has a percentage chance to bring soldiers to your army instead of a fixed rate. This means a battered unit may take a few more turns than expected to get back to full health, or a newly recruited unit will have to make do with a skeleton force until their ranks are filled.
Interestingly, the number of unit types you have recruited now affect which technology you can research, creating an interesting vibe of proficiency to the technology tree. As you recruit a dozen spearmen or archers, you get access to unit type upgrades or bonuses that affect your troops faction-wide, bringing that Skyrim feeling of becoming better at something just by doing it. It’s a nice idea, and I’m glad to see it implemented outside the RPG genre.
Similarly, the old convoluted skill trees for named characters has been changed, consisting now of a linear scale that you can sink points to, like RPG stats. Zeal, Cunning, and Authority make a return from previous historical titles, and as you invest in those, you will be able to wage battles at night without reinforcing armies or increase the size of your general’s bodyguard contingent, for example. Tooltips tell you exactly what you’ll get at each level, and it seems like an efficient and straightforward enough change to the old system.
Province unique buildings have returned, with historical constructions often appearing as options in specific places. However, building chains are now determined by location, meaning not every province can have the same buildings – it is a bit confusing and limiting at first, but I’ll need more time with it to pass a proper judgement.
So far, Thrones of Britannia is a marked departure from previous Total War games, feeling almost alien to more recent developments. Of course, with such a historied franchise and clear improvements over the years, it is inevitable to draw some comparisons with more recent titles, but rest assured – Thrones of Britannia is not Historical Warhammer.