Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia Review

Available on PC

So, why is this a Total War Saga and not Total War: Britannia? Having played, I'm still not sure. The title and spin-off status made me expect something similar to an independent expansion pack, maybe something episodic like Napoleon's old package for Empire: Total War. Instead, Thrones of Britannia looks a lot like a "own" Total War, it only focuses on a very specific area at a very specific time, a bit like the campaigns in the expansion of Realms for Medieval II. Of course, this means that it works on a smaller scale, but here's the thing: when you focus so sharply, you can see many more details.

And the detail is much of what Britannia's Thrones is about. Its subject is the British Isles near the turn of the 10th century AD. Alfred the Great has put an end to the Viking conquest of England and is on a mission of unification. Scotland and Ireland are in crisis, with rival tribes competing. The Welsh are caught between peace with Alfred and open rebellion, while the Norse still harass the English ports of the south and east.

Basically, Britannia is in an old mess. No wonder Alfred (apocryphal) burned those cakes. And if you're worried that it's about making Britain great by expelling all foreigners, do not do it. One thing that Thrones of Britannia does successfully is to make you understand how strange and culturally conflictive the 9th century British land was for all concerned.

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An expansion pack could have focused on a single faction, but while Alfred's drive to unify the kingdoms of England is central, it is far from being the only saga that is offered. You can play as any of the ten Anglo-Saxon factions, the Welsh kingdoms, the Gaelic and the Vikings, and concentrate on events in Wales or Ireland if you want.

In fact, the experiences are surprisingly different. The battle for the kingdoms of Ireland is a bloody war of territory waged in smaller territories, where close hands with a king in a minute, looking to stab him in the back to the next. For Alfred, it is more a case of constant expansion, expulsion or subjugation of Viking remains while the rebellion is observed in your lands and existing vassal states.

If you are new to Total War, this is probably not your best entry point. There are brief tips and tutorials to help you get your bearings, but for much of the game you are really alone. However, this is not a problem, since in many ways Thrones of Britannia plays as Warhammer Total Wars.

You still have a great campaign for which you will play step by step. You still raise and move armies, develop settlements and battles in battles, choose to praise your forces manually or make the game automatically resolve according to your combat style and troops. He still has to deal with events that arise as flood or famine, while defending his territory and making deals with his neighbors.

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However, there are differences. The units are now recruited from a core group, according to what is available and with the skills and training that their R & D team of the Dark Ages has discovered. The units also consume food and lose troops, often at an alarming rate, so they must maximize their food supplies and avoid long incursions into enemy territory if they do not want to lose half of their army to hunger or desertion.

This leads is easier to capture attention than anything else, especially if you're used to a more aggressive or exploratory game style.

The way you manage settlements has also changed. Instead of flexible and fully upgradeable cities and cities, settlements in the British Isles of the 9th and 10th centuries tend to specialize. This makes you think a lot about how to make the most of the unique capabilities of each town or province, maintain food production, technological development and continue to strengthen your armies.

Many of your settlements are also virtually defenseless, and this combined with the adjustment in resources makes you work to balance your offensive forces with the mobile forces you can move to defend your kingdom when and when you need it. Believe me: I ignored the warnings about Viking raids and watched helplessly as ports were sacked and resources stolen. I have seen burned villages and conquered provinces because I did not have a decent half army within reach.

Britannia's Thrones is not a game in which you can afford to take your eyes off the ball. Take everything out on the offensive, and it will be more than those cakes that burn.

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Actually, let's say balls instead of balls, because you'll do a lot of juggling in this game. Thrones of Britannia is not just about armies and settlements, or even about economics and diplomacy. There is an additional layer of complexity in the management of their nobles; keeping them sweet, arranging marriages, distributing property and titles and the rest.

The nobles who are not treated favorably become disloyal, rebelling against your government. A subordinate with much influence becomes a rival, giving other nobles a focus for their own bad ideas.

The game is not particularly clear in its explanations of how all this works, but once you master it all we'll see how this gives Thrones of Britannia its own rich personality. He will learn to observe certain characters and will use buildings and followers that foster loyalty to help them stay happy. You will discover how to reward and cajole without making anyone feel more important than it should be.

Thrones of Britannia may be a somewhat dry game, but it is fascinating in its depths, and it is not so heavy or tedious micromanagement, as it could appear for the first time.

Most importantly, between the settings of the game, the Saxon and Gaelic names and a certain effective use of stylized illustrations, the last total war does what all the best have done: the era is its own distinctive sensation.

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If the game suffers anywhere, it's in the war. You may come to Thrones of Britannia from the extravagant action-packed fantasy of Total War: Warhammer II, but the battles seem a bit pedestrian. Possibly, there is much you can do with swordsmen, spearmen, mounted cavalry and archers. Different factions will have advantages in terms of heavy units, weapons and armor, and, with the Scandinavians around them, some naval wars are on the menu.

Do not get us wrong: this is still Total War, and as spectacular and tactical as ever. However, it is also a more conservative Total War than its immediate predecessors. Perhaps this is the reason why there are no specific battle scenarios this time.

Verdict

Historical strategy is not everyone's cup of tea, and this is not the most accessible historical strategy game. Play for a niche of players who want more realism and deeper management, and who like to fight with politics, war and the complex challenges of a specific period and place. Even as someone who likes Total War, he was not sure if he was having a good time during the first hours.

However, Thrones of Britannia retains all the classic hooks of getting under the skin. One more turn becomes another hour. One more hour becomes, blimey, where did the first hours of the morning go?

I would not turn it into my first Total War – go for Atilla or Warhammer instead – but if you're looking for a more serious, less knockabout saga, Thrones of Britannia is a winner.