To­tal war Saga: Thrones Of Br itan­nia

Smart new direc­tion for an old se­ries gets Offa on the right foot

Games Master - - Contents -

Back to a time when men were men and Vik­ings were ev­ery­where.

Be­ing a king is sim­ple, right? Shiny, pointy hat to wear, spe­cial im­por­tant chair to sit on, steady sup­ply of feck­less peas­ants to tor­ment. Sim­ple and fun. But no­body ever men­tions the be­trayal, or the de­mands, or the crush­ing and con­stant re­quests for eq­ui­table wealth dis­tri­bu­tion. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. It seems Cre­ative Assem­bly has em­ployed a spe­cialised coro­net­bol­ster­ing depart­ment to make that crown even heav­ier. And it’s a good thing. Thrones Of Bri­tan­nia does some­thing no To­tal War has done be­fore, which is make you feel like an ac­tual king, mis­er­able man-man­age­ment and all. In­stead of be­ing an om­nipo­tent and un­ques­tion­able monarch, you mud­dle through a febrile peace in one the most tu­mul­tuous pe­ri­ods in Bri­tish his­tory – 878 AD. The Vik­ings have been stopped but not de­feated; Bri­tain is still oc­cu­pied; and var­i­ous hun­gry pow­ers tear at the flesh of a king­dom too small to share. And, as the leader of one of the game’s ten playable fac­tions, it’s your job to carve your­self a healthy slice. Ev­ery suc­cess is shared. Ev­ery fail­ure is your fault.

That all sounds very To­tal War, and it looks fa­mil­iar, too. At first glance, noth­ing much seems to have changed. We’re back in the Bri­tish Isles, where we’ve been in so many pre­vi­ous games in the se­ries: Me­dieval, At­tila, King­doms, Rome. But it only takes five min­utes with the new campaign map to ap­pre­ci­ate the dif­fer­ences. This is the rich­est To­tal War map to date, densely packed with walled cities and satel­lite vil­lages, fea­tur­ing fo­cused, en­gag­ing points of con­flict. Places you never dreamed would make it into a videogame are here, and there’s a spe­cific thrill in see­ing your own naff town de­mas­tered for a by­gone age. Forget Stam­ford, hello Stean­ford!

Axe nicely

The den­sity is in­tim­i­dat­ing at first. There’s al­most too much in­for­ma­tion to parse, and spend­ing money up­grad­ing vul­ner­a­ble vil­lages seems friv­o­lous. Whereas your main cities are gar­risoned and can re­pel an in­vad­ing army, the smaller set­tle­ments are com­pletely help­less. Un­less your army is nearby, they can be sacked or oc­cu­pied with­out a fight. But this is one of the game’s many clever tweaks, and it forces you to play dif­fer­ently. In­stead of a net­work of neatly-de­fended towns, you’re en­cour­aged to range across your borders with an ag­ile, re­ac­tive force. Fight on too many fronts and it’s im­pos­si­ble to de­fend your lands. This forces you to con­sider ev­ery con­flict, ex­pand care­fully, and be con­stantly wary of your neigh­bours.

“makes you feel like an ac­tual king, mis­er­able man­man­age­ment and all”

It also leads to an­other first for a To­tal War game: be­ing locked in con­stant con­flict is a ter­ri­ble idea. There’s a war fer­vour me­ter, which will de­crease as you spend time locked in fruit­less cam­paigns. Your sub­jects will start to crave peace, and be­come dis­sat­is­fied. Un­like pre­vi­ous games in the se­ries, it’s not merely a case of bal­anc­ing your wealth against the size of your army. Be­ing at war is stress­ful. Food sup­plies will di­min­ish if man­aged badly. Far-rang­ing cam­paigns re­quire sup­plies, which can only be re­stocked in your own re­gions. These thought­ful, al­most puni­tive touches force you to con­sider ev­ery­thing be­fore com­mit­ting to a campaign. It also re­sem­bles the more nu­anced mods avail­able for clas­sic To­tal War games; hardly a sur­prise, since game di­rec­tor Jack Lusted started off as a mod­der him­self. ‘Oc­ca­sional War Saga’ might have been a more ac­cu­rate name.

An­other layer of re­al­ism comes from the way units are re­cruited and up­graded. Mil­i­tary build­ings are com­pletely gone. In­stead, you up­grade your troops via tech trees. It’s a sharp de­par­ture from the way things have pre­vi­ously worked in To­tal War, but an in­trigu­ing one. Your set­tle­ments be­come hubs of com­merce or re­li­gion, rather than spawn­ing pools for fighty men. And when you do re­cruit troops, that works dif­fer­ently, too. You can’t just con­jure a gi­ant army be­cause you’ve got the coin to pay for all those sol­diers. In­stead, re­cruited units start in a de­pleted state and grad­u­ally grow to full strength. It’s a sen­si­ble, evoca­tive tweak, which makes you feel like you’re slowly mus­ter­ing a force rather than fill­ing in slots on an army card. It’s also more en­joy­able to play, with less chance of a pre­vi­ously de­feated army rock­ing up on your borders with a slaver­ing 20-stack horde they mag­icked from nowhere.

Branch­ing out

Tech trees, too, have changed. You now earn the right to re­search new tech­nol­ogy by up­grad­ing the right build­ings or re­cruit­ing the cor­rect num­ber of units. It sounds like a back­wards way of do­ing things, but it works – and it also crys­tallises the dif­fer­ences be­tween fac­tions. You won’t find the same dis­par­ity be­tween forces as in To­tal War: Warham­mer, but they are all dif­fer­ent. Some fac­tions have to ex­pand into new ter­ri­to­ries be­fore they can un­lock tech trees. Ir­ish fac­tions, for ex­am­ple, don’t have ac­cess to the same trad­ing build­ings as English ones (ig­nor­ing for the mo­ment the fact that nei­ther Ire­land nor Eng­land tech­ni­cally ex­isted dur­ing this pe­riod). Else­where, sea-based Vik­ing fac­tions can earn ex­tra money by trad­ing slaves, and don’t suf­fer the same at­tri­tion penal­ties as other fac­tions while at sea. It makes for a rich and var­ied game that never feels lim­ited by the re­al­is­tic set­ting.

It’s not all new, how­ever. Bat­tles still feel very sim­i­lar. Sieges have been up­scaled af­ter the re­duc­tive city en­gage­ments in To­tal War: Warham­mer, and cap­tur­ing a gar­risoned set­tle­ment feels like more of an achieve­ment. But if you didn’t love the com­bat in pre­vi­ous To­tal War games, this won’t con­vert you. And Thrones lacks the wild va­ri­ety of units seen in the Warham­mer spin off. But truth­fully, it barely mat­ters. The sig­nif­i­cant changes here hap­pen on the campaign map, and they’re al­most all wel­come. The main con­quest is no longer just set dressing, but a real, re­ac­tive, ex­hil­a­rat­ing story that lives up to the ‘saga’ el­e­ment in the ti­tle. It’s not al­ways easy, and the con­stant ap­pease­ment of needy no­bles might frus­trate those who just want a clean path be­tween bat­tles, but if you’ve ever craved a To­tal War game that does in­trigue as well as it does ex­cite­ment, this is a wel­come new direc­tion for Sega’s ven­er­a­ble strat­egy se­ries. Wear­ing the crown might be uneasy, but it’s worth ev­ery sleep­less night.

You can have a hat in any shape and colour you like, as long as it’s gold and spiky. King­ship is hard.

Noth­ing lifts the spir­its like see­ing an en­emy king flee­ing in terror. Ex­cept maybe see­ing him in pieces.

Cre­ative Assem­bly ETA Out now Play­ers 1-4

For­mat PC Pub­lisher Sega De­vel­oper

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.