Thea: The Awakening Review

Once upon a time, someone had an idea to combine as many different types of games as possible and make it work- so now we have Thea. Videogame genres are usually pretty loose and hard to define but we usually have the vocabulary to describe, at the very least, surface concepts of a game. In that context, Thea is impossible to describe – part card game, part survival roguelike, part 4x, part resource management, part choose your own adventure, and part RPG.

You have one base, your home village, and you can’t expand to any further locations. This means that the majority of the game will be spent sending out search parties to do quests, kill monsters, and gather materials to bring back to your village where your craftsmen will turn them into food and equipment.

Thea has my favorite crafting system I have seen so far in a game. Where most game will have recipes where specific materials create specific things Thea makes it more interesting. For example, every recipe has 3 components – a primary, a secondary, and a catalyst (wood, coal, etc.) and there is only one recipe for each kind of equipment. To get different types of equipment, with different stats, you need to choose different primary and secondary materials. This fluid crafting system makes it so you almost always have something to make if you need it, even if it is not the best. Also, it makes the crafting system something to explore, finding out which materials create what kinds of equipment.

It is important to maintain good equipment, because the world of Thea is inhospitable. Spider, goblins, orcs, and worse roam the world. To fight these creatures, and to pass what would normally be skill checks in traditional role playing games, you need to win a card game. Each person in your village or scouting party’s equipment and stats determine what abilities their card will have. The card game takes some time getting used to as the presentation and rules are not immediately clear. Also, to really be effective at it, you either need to have the numbers (more villagers) or varied equipment to make sure you have enough abilities on the cards for each situation. Late game, especially in the Return of Giants section, you will need to focus on both to defeat the late game enemies.

There is a lot here that comes together well but makes it hard to really manage everything as you survive through the turns. Somehow you have to balance multiple things with a handful of villagers in a brutal world. The game is punishing and while there is always a chance to come back from a set back, it can be hard to find the motivation to do so sometimes. It can take a lot of turns to get back to where you were after your main party was wiped. This can happen from underestimating enemies, but also from the random events which pop up rather frequently.

These are all narrated by the same person, giving the impression that the story of Thea is being told to you as if someone was reading you a book. Sometimes, these events can force you into fights that you are completely unprepared for. The game doesn’t always give you enough information to assess the situation.

The one design decision I really did not understand was the god progression. The story of the game is that you are a god who has lost most of their powers and they have to guide the remaining worshipers (your village) to restore the world as it was before the great cataclysmic event that made you lose your powers. At the beginning of the game, you choose which god you want to be. Each god grants your villagers some starting benefits to stats and that is all well and good. However, some gods are locked at the beginning of the game and only get unlocked as you play. Each god also has 5 levels that are increased via experience that is accumulated based on your points at the end of the game.

The game rewards players for time spent playing but this does not fit well with the type of game Thea is. A game can take anywhere from 100-400 turns and the score progression is slow. Difficulty can be modified in detail which will add a multiplier to the final score but even fiddling with difficulty settings will not expedite the process. The bummer here is that while Thea’s world is interesting and challenging, it can only go so far. You will eventually start clicking through the random events because you have seen them before and auto resolving a lot of the challenges. This makes unlocking the other gods and their abilities a tedious exercise as the enjoyment of the game and its content doesn’t have enough volume to sink hundreds of hours into it just to get some extra bonuses.

It is a cheap way to get people to stay engaged with the game even though the game itself should be reason enough.  And it is. Thea is a truly unique experience that will push some people away. It will take some dedication to get into thanks to the multiple mechanics. The Slavic mythology inspired world that doesn’t take itself seriously and the vast number of surprises kept me going. Even after 110 hours played, I came across things I hasn’t seen before when a routine adventure gave me a choice that I had never seen before and I ended up recruiting a ghost.

Thea combines a lot of things we are familiar and mixes them together into a truly unique experience. It’s a patchwork quilt of games most will be familiar with but the patches bring the weaknesses with them. The inventory management will bog you down, like it does in many RPGs, the “just one more turn” will become mindless clicks as you just wait for the next big thing to just like in other 4x turn based strategy games. For a game with so much on offer, it gets predictable relatively quickly. I definitely felt like I got more than enough of my money’s worth, but Thea still wanted me to stay around longer than I felt I needed to.

But one day, I am sure I will return to this world and try to save it from darkness again.

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