Thea: The Awakening for Nintendo Switch
Thea: The Awakening, from developer MuHa Games, is a difficult title to categorize. What you have is an experience that incorporates RPG mechanics, strategy elements, survival tendencies, and rogue-likes, to a surprisingly effective and fun degree. While the developers may not known exactly what genre they want Thea to be classified as, this is still a tabletop experience that is welcome on the Nintendo Switch.
Thea features a Slavic mythology setting and the story goes that the world of Thea was engulfed by a mysterious force called The Darkness. It is then up to you to find a way to rebuild Thea, banish the Darkness, and strengthen mankind. There are three basic modes of gameplay: the world map, choose-your-own-adventure styled events, and card challenges.
The world map is a familiar hex grid, and from here you can manage your village and also your expeditions. Expeditions are mobile groups of people sent out to explore the world. Although Thea may be a strategy title, it is definitely light in that department. There aren’t any expansion options, you can’t build new settlements, or even grow the size and tiles of your village.
Even though all these strategy elements are missing, it is still for a good reason. Different tiles have different resources in them and your units can only gather resources from the tiles in and adjacent to the village, or camp in the case of an expedition. As the village is fixed in size and can’t move, expeditions are the primary means of gathering resources. This is good because it rewards you for venturing beyond the settlement walls.
The downside is that there just isn’t much to do each turn. Gathering, crafting, and building can all be automated, so I sometimes found myself burning away the turns waiting for something to do. It is possible to create multiple expeditions and have them do different things, but that requires manpower, which is somewhat rare in the early game. I guess it is an apocalyptic world after all.
Both the expeditions and village require food and fuel to survive, and these can be attacked by enemies. This means there is a bit of a balancing act between keeping people in the village and sending them out on expeditions. The random attacks also mean it is safer to create one big expedition rather than many small ones. Although this does lead to a situation where the reward is proportional to the risk involved, it doesn’t really.
High level crafting materials are more important than low level ones, and sources for these are often near high difficulty mobs which require more people to handle. For example, dragon bones will probably be near dragons obviously. Sending people out to gather lots of low level materials isn’t very beneficial, and there is no looming threat that requires you to grow as fast as possible. Enemy civilizations don’t seem to exist, so you can take your time to grow. That being said, I don’t think Thea is too easy. Even on Normal mode I had to deal with some character death, and there are many difficulty options available beyond that.
Although Thea: The Awakening lacks some aspects typically seen in strategy titles, it replaces them with new features. For example, choose-your-own style events are commonplace in this game. These range in complexity with some events leading to ongoing quests, and others being simple attacks by enemies. There seems to be a good variety of events and you often have multiple ways to deal with the problems you face.
Since your party only contains a few main characters it is important to preserve them. There is no chance of injury when trying to choose an alternative to fighting and the rewards may vary depending on the chosen option. Sometimes it may seem obvious what decision to take, but oftentimes it’s more grey than black or white. What may seem like a good choice to you could actually be detrimental and I appreciated this take as it seemed to take a page from The Witcher series in regards to questing.
Most of these events are resolved through card challenges and the same card game is used for all challenge types, but different stats are used for each one. For example, weapon damage is what affects a characters offense in fighting challenges, but speech skill is what affects a characters offense in social challenges.
During the setup phase, the card mini game splits your character’s cards into two hands: offense and tactical. The offense cards can be placed directly onto the board and can attack the enemy. The tactical hand uses a variety of abilities to provide support with maybe a character versed in curing spells being able to provide a defensive boost to an ally on the board. You can use the tactical hand to cause the opponent to discard cards from their hand, give your units first strike, increase their offense and defense values, confuse the enemies, and even place the tactical card itself on the board.
However, just after two sets of the setup phase, two rounds of belligerence play out. Cards brought onto the board from the tactical hand are confused for the first round and can’t attack until the second. After the second round is complete, the setup phase begins again and this goes on until either team loses. In the end, Thea’s card game is an interesting way of making different skills as enjoyable and involved as actual combat, but maybe not as compelling as a complex gameplay system.
I’m never a fan of crafting components in games, but in Thea I found it to actually be enjoyable. Each recipe gives you the option of using different materials as substitutes, so if you don’t have thread for example, you can still make a shirt with leather. The higher the quality of the materials you use, the better the bonuses you get. Shields of regular wood may work just fine, but shields made of elven wood could give a dexterity bonus. You unlock recipes through research and you gain research points the same way your earn experience; by exploring the world and defeating enemies.
Graphically, while I did like the fantasy setting and the artwork was beautifully created, the world felt somewhat generic. Although Thea claims to be based on Slavic mythology, it’s more like they just took the pantheon and some demons and threw them into a typical medieval fantasy setting. The soundtrack also has a calming Elder Scrolls vibe to it, but ends up feeling generic as well.
Overall, Thea: The Awakening is very enjoyable, and it really pulled me in for turn after turn of solid gameplay. Although the strategic layer is less involved than many other strategy titles, Thea makes up for this by adding some decision making in the choose-your-own-adventure styled events. It provides many good ideas, but lacks the staying power due to trying to be the jack-of-all trades instead of honing in on what makes it great.
Reviewed by Josh Brant on the Nintendo Switch. Game provided by MuHa Games.