How many kings does a cou­ple of small is­lands need?


WITH THE WARHAM­MER GAMES, Cre­ative Assem­bly has been mak­ing some of the best ti­tles in the To­talWar se­ries, but has also found it­self on a pun­ish­ing re­lease sched­ule. This year sees two re­leases, with To­tal War: Three King­doms sched­uled for the fall, so we wouldn’t blame the stu­dio for tak­ing its foot off the gas a bit.

As the first To­tal War Saga, Thrones of Bri­tan­nia is a stripped-back ti­tle fo­cused on a small his­tor­i­cal land­mass—the Bri­tish Isles of 878 AD—run­ning on the his­tor­i­cal en­gine that pow­ered 2014’s Atilla. It’s had some pol­ish ap­plied, but is clearly not the par­ti­cle-fest that’s be­hind the Warham­mer games. Ul­tra set­tings should not be out of reach for most, es­pe­cially at 1080p, as the rel­a­tively mild rec­om­mended specs show.

Stripped-back it may be, but there’s still a lot of con­tent. Ten playable fac­tions vie for con­trol of small but dense ar­eas, rich with towns to be­siege and var­ied ter­rain to take ad­van­tage of. Thrones looks like ev­ery other To­talWar game, in that its in­ter­face in­sists on do­ing its own thing, and it’s your job to keep up, but the carved, glass­work-in­fused style gives it a unique look, au­then­tic to the pe­riod. Af­ter two years of wizards and Lizard­men, it’s al­most nice to see the devs get­ting to grips with his­tory again.

If there’s a draw­back to the fo­cused set­ting, it’s that ev­ery­one on the bat­tle­fields of dark age Bri­tain tended to be bearded, wear brown, and carry a shield along with some­thing sharp. Care­ful use of the army man­age­ment tools is re­quired to avoid leav­ing a unit of archers stand­ing around do­ing noth­ing be­cause you thought they were on the other side. A ma­jor change is in the way armies are mus­tered, with units join­ing your forces at low strength, then grad­u­ally be­com­ing stronger un­til they’re ready to be de­ployed. It adds an ex­tra layer of plan­ning to the strate­gic map game, as go­ing into the real-time bat­tles with an un­der-strength force is a path to de­feat.

Vic­tory can come in sev­eral ways: by achiev­ing ob­jec­tives, such as con­quer­ing a num­ber of prov­inces, or by not achiev­ing any­thing much but be­com­ing fa­mous. You can be handed a vic­tory if the pow­er­ful king of an­other fac­tion dies af­ter nam­ing you as his heir, with­out hav­ing to face him in bat­tle, or you can play the long game for an “ul­ti­mate” vic­tory that sees you face off against ev­ery­thing the game has to of­fer.

The pared-down nature of this Saga has given To­talWar a new lease of life. The small map al­lows the devs to re­ally drill into the de­tail of the pe­riod, while the cut­ting of skill trees and agents/heroes has taken some of the baf­fling com­plex­ity out of the huge num­ber of win­dows it’s pos­si­ble to open. In a genre where more is most def­i­nitely more, some­times a lit­tle less can go a long way. Thrones of Bri­tan­nia: A To­tal War Saga

BRI­TISH Honed, fo­cused cam­paign; changes are im­prove­ments.

SKIT­TISH Troops a lit­tle samey; some vic­to­ries rel­a­tively easy.

REC­OM­MENDED SPECS 3.2GHz i5-4570; 8GB; GTX 770 4GB or Radeon R9 290X 4GB.

$40,­, ESRB: Teen

habit of fill­ing the screen with win­dowsstill hasn't been tamed.

...but also shows how drab and sim­i­lar thetroops look.

Zoom­ing right into a bat­tle re­veals pleas­ingan­i­ma­tions…

Naval bat­tles are en­livened by mighty Vik­ing long­boats.

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