I honestly don’t really know how to start this introduction. I remember when Thea: the Awakening came out and I was intrigued by it all. A survival strategy-game, with resource-management and village-upgrading was something that caught my eye, especially due to how much I loved Actraiser. Of course, I am always up for a turn-based setup due to my love for traditional RPG, so I should have put hours into this game, right? However, 2015 was a busy year. The Witcher 3, Ori and the Blind Forest, Steamworld Heist, Undertale, Bloodborne, Her Story, Pillars of Eternity, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Monster Hunter 4, Cities Skyline and Hand of Fate to name a few, were a couple of reasons for why I, unfortunately, forgot I even had Thea in my library. Really, I have always wanted to give this game a fair shot, but as of now, I have only given it 14 minutes of play, though I remember being fond of it. Now with a free DLC and even multiplayer, I am intrigued by what I have been missing for the last couple of years. Let’s start the resurrection.
The importance of how rather than what
After the land known as Thea had fallen into the darkness, it has now awakened and it is up to you, as the deity of your choice, to raise the land to its glory. To do this, you must guide your settlers and explorers to find out what has happened to this land, and to make their home grow. Throughout their journey, they will encounter many events, be they directly connected to the goal of resurrecting the land, or minor events that can have positive benefits to your party or hinder. While this is rather a tale that is not centered as the main focus, with little twists or interesting setups to speak of, Thea the Awakening makes it clear that it is about creating an atmosphere, rather than conducting a compelling plot.
This is clear as soon as you will get the option to skip flavor-text if you so choose to, though they contain interesting reads for gaining some more insight into the lore of this world. You will encounter magical creatures from Slavic lore, meet trees that communicate with you on a formal level or even take on encounters in ways you might not have thought possible. With every step, there will be something to keep you entertained and I love how there is only one voice actor playing the entire cast. This is very similar to a storyteller or a DM, and the narrator provides diverse personality through his acting for all characters, providing a charming setup that is endearing and effective, which makes this very much in the tone of a traditional fairytale. The description for any event or emotions are well presented in the text and I am always intrigued by what will happen next, which can make you forget the main goal of this journey.
This is a great example of not how to make a good story, but how important it is to know how to tell a story. Thea: the Awakening provides a lovely setup for this and goes far enough to keep me engaged with every event, and provide a charming callback that can be related to on different levels. Like a walk in the forest, you might not care too much about passerbys or even who they are, but are rather enthralled by the atmosphere your surrounding gives and can easily get lost in just that. The logbook is also a handy element for reminding you of what your next step should be, and it is actually nice to reread some parts due to the intriguing events alone, kinda like looking through a photo album.
Story Score: 7/10
Decks and rebuilding the land
Before you can start saving the world, you must choose a card that represents what kind of deity you wish to be, which will come with benefits such as more XP for your humans, then difficulty, and whether you want to focus on warriors, gatherer or craftsmen for your party. There are even more options for what kind of difficulty you want to have, such as the number of encounters with foes or managing your resources, which is quite neat for a more direct input.
When you start the game, you will be presented with a hexagon-map and a party of explorers at your disposal, but before we get to that, let’s look at your hometown. Here is where you will meet your first type of people: gatherer who acquires resources more efficiently, craftsman who can use resources to make tools, equipment or meals quickly, and constructors who can upgrade your village with beneficial buildings such as wells, without taking to long. You can certainly apply one gatherer for example to create constructions, but that will take much more time.
Since you will have to manually select what each member of the society will do, it can be time-consuming. Luckily, you do not control over 30 inhabitants at first, but it will be annoying when your town starts to grow. This is even more apparent when all citizens can have equipment, and they range further than just armor and a weapon. They can have one tool in each hand, rings, facial-equipment and secondary item, for example, making it exhausting to prepare all for what might come. You will luckily not acquire items all the time to make this process not as stagnant as it could have been, but this amount of management is not providing any form of tactic due to simply improving stats. Instead, it is rather extra busy-work that is required to stay alive.
Though this is minor, as actually assigning work and figure out what new members of society should gain knowledge in is entertaining, and despite managing so many elements for plenty of characters is far from quick, it is satisfying to see your town grow. Although you can gather wood, food and other resources, in order to make a more specific difference in this world, you have to explore. This is where your party and the overworld map comes in. In each turn, you can make your party go a specific amount of steps, showcased in the upper right corner. Through each turn, they also need wood for fuel (aka, making a camp to sleep) and food for sustaining their health and if either is empty, the party will suffer, such as losing health.
This is where the turn-based aspect comes in, which also reflects the amount of time it takes for your villagers’ work to be finished. It is a nice idea, as it will also effect monsters moving on the overworld or timed events that can occur on your journey. Events can either be triggered by simply walking to a panel or at random, such as encounters with monsters, your city being blessed with a child, or people requesting your aid. All have different ways to interact with and provide many ways to upgrade your party and settlement. This also includes leveling up and you can raise the stats of your party with normal XP, and with research-points from finishing events, you can gather more information for the three skills needed in the villages, such as being able to make new constructions.
These events are quite fun as you can tackle them in different ways, such as going stealthy, win through rhetoric, or simply attack them straight on, with all providing different outcomes. Your party will have different strengths in all these aspects, so it is advised to have a diverse cast of explorers, and you can always make a second party if you want to cover more land. Should an event call for it, you will be taken to a battle screen where your party is represented through cards. Here, you will shuffle them all in two hands, with the left side consisting of fighters, while the right will contain supportive units, and all cards can have both uses. You can also reshuffle ones, should you not be happy with your hand, which is a nice way to think strategically with a form of randomization. Fighter-cards will be the ones to attack the opponents, and the info contains their amount of health, strength, and possibly a side-effect like causing poison to an opponent. The supportive cards can be used for any of their supportive skills, such as providing more defenses to a fighter or confuse an enemy. They can join in as fighting-card, though they will be confused the first time they enter the fighting-segment.
You start of the game by playing a specific amount of cards at turns, and when one of either side has used up all their cards, fighting phase will start after each turn. Each opponent will attack each other, starting with the left-most character. Should one lose all their health, that card is gone for the remainder of the game. After all cards are played out and you have entered one more fight-phase, you both must reshuffle your cards and start the battle again with the remainders. The one with no card left loses the match. It is quite straightforward, but has many minor elements that can affect fights, such as who will attack first thanks to traits, and clever details like how normal animals won’t have any social strength.
After playing through the entire game though, I was still uncertain on how attacks really worked, as some opponents could attack multiple of mine without killing others, however, this could be through a perk the game did not highlight. It would also be more interesting to actually choose who attacks who for a more interesting setup, rather than being random who gets to start the upper hand by being able to go first. Despite this, I never felt a battle was lost or won unfairly due to the number of strategies needed. You can choose to have these card-battles done automatically, but that is far from entertaining and won’t necessarily provide good strategies.
Although just like with your citizens, your adventurers will need to be thoroughly equipped with the same amount of strong gear, if not more important due to them also being able to come across helpful items for crafting, like thread. They have to also stop in your town for conducting trades, but while there might be time, you will have to backtrack, it is never a way to halt your progression. There will be plenty of events and other areas to visit to gain beneficial support like food, providing exciting elements throughout the entire journey, while also reminding you that this is a dangerous land to traverse through. The difficulty is never unfair and only the reckless will have death become a certainty.
Thea: the Awakening is varied, engaging, and fun. It is a great combination of city-management, exploration with choose-your-own-adventure style events, and provides an intriguing card-game. It just can be overwhelming with the unnecessary micro-management, and there are some card-rules I do question. Cutting down on equipment and focusing more on how to further the aspect of card-battles could make this a stellar title, but everything is done with a clear mind by making items not a common treasure, and the card game is still easy to grasp and provides many possible strategies to take on. Its problems are rather design-choices than anything else, but the game knows how to be balanced and outweighs its problems to make it entertaining. Combine this with the fact it always provides something intriguing around every corner and you will easily be glued to the screen.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
What I do love about this game visually are the portraits accompanying the events or general flavor-text. Each depictures a creature, a meeting, or an event, reflecting what it is told with strong lines for highlighting details, and lovely colors that draw attention to the lighting. It really reflects the artstyle of a traditional pen & paper-roleplaying book, and it is recreated brilliantly here with lovely colors added for better effect. The cards used for representing monsters and humanoid creatures are in simple black and white, though are nicely made with simple objects to make up the card map, such as pebbles for highlighting borders. It is definitely a creative take and the designers were clear fans of old-school tabletop gaming.
Sadly, while all of these are nice details for making this feel like an authentic pen-and-paper roleplaying game, the actual world itself is quite dull. The board map for exploration is dry with only the occasional and similar environmental objects like trees and mountains breaking up the repetition. It is not awful and all, including the party and monsters are well animated, and the added weather-effects and diverse layers do help make the layout memorable. However, the 3D models are poor and it is even worse when you compare them to the beautiful hand-drawn portraits, and the texture of the layouts are average in quality, making the map-screen, at best, serviceable. Wastelands can definitely be more artistically interesting than this.
What does help the immersion in this wasteland, is the voice actor. With a dark voice providing solid and charming acting for all the cast he plays out, you get a lovely narrator that is a mix of a competent DM with one of the nicest bedtime storytellers there is. It is really admirable to go with this minimalist approach and showcase why it works. Similar praise Goes to the music, with a lot of Slavic instruments being used for creating this score. Harps are being highlighted when traveling on the map in daylight, strong drums are played in battles, and more for this fitting setup is provided. It is simply wonderful to let an instrument get the forefront for creating an atmosphere, with others complementing in the background, and all contain great attention to varied notes and tensity whenever it is needed.
Presentation Score: 7.5/10
Becoming an ambitious DM
After you are done with the main game, you are presented with a summary of what happened throughout your game and how much you got to witness. It is a shame though that there is no real reason to continue playing your file, as there is little to do due to no post-game content. You will have to play the game again to see the different events, and it is thankfully engaging as the outcomes can vary greatly. The strategies for how you will play can also change slightly mechanically by choosing to play as a different deity, what type of people to focus on, and tinker with the difficulty. Even if it could have used broader results in ways to play and make deities more abstract, it still provides important differences in how you will take on the next playthrough. The events are the highlight though, as they are always fun to witness and interesting for how outcomes can differ significantly.
Besides this, however, the game has a dedicated modding-tool for creative scenarios, a DLC showcasing how this can work, and a neat ability to play this game in co-op by supporting each other throughout the game. It is still turn-based, so it can be a bit of a waiting game, but it is serviceable, even if playing together on the same screen one-player mode is still a valid option.
Extra Score: 6/10
This is an interesting combination of many genres. A turn-based card-game mixed with resource-management and exploration with choose-your-own-adventure style game, all come together to create a well-made strategy-survival game. The replay value comes mainly from what you did not see the first time, and while the portraits are lovely, the board-map is unintriguing. Still, with solid voice work and music, and a charming world to explore, Thea is definitely a land worth awakening. Hopefully, the sequel can blossom even more.
- Atmospheric setup with Slavic lore
- Events are diverse and interesting
- Great use of flavor-text
- Lovely DM/storyteller
- Nice hand-drawn portraits and paintings
- Managing party of explorers and hometown is fun
- Turn-based setup gives it all a peaceful pace
- Events are fun and can be tackled in multiple ways depending on your choice
- Social choices are just as valid as combat-oriented
- Card-game is engaging and fun
- Nice visual details
- Appropriate use of instruments for a wonderful soundtrack
- Good reasons to come back with new unlockables
- Item-management can be a hassle due to the amount of equipment
- Some card-rules are poorly explained
- 3D-board map and models are poor
- No reason to play on in the same game after the ending