With the current COVID-19 pandemic occurring at the time of this writing, it seemed appropriate to take a look at some games that prominently feature the end of the world as we know it, or at least the post-apocalyptic landscape of the time after. In this installment we’ll be looking at Thea: The Awakening published by MuHa Games in 2015.
The apocalypse here is something a bit different from the prevalent zombies that we’ve covered the past few weeks. In Thea: The Awakening (hereafter, Thea), a game heavily influenced by Slavic mythology, the sacred Cosmic Tree was burned plunging the world into a century of darkness. As the sun begins to once again rise upon the world of Thea, you take up the role of a reawakened deity, leading a small band of mortals in rebuilding their civilization while exploring the mystery behind the apocalypse.
Thea is a fantasy turn-based strategy role-playing game. The game is split into three parts: a world map portion with exploration and city management, a choice-driven story section, and a card game representing conflict, or combat, resolution. Let’s start with the story section.
This part of the game is a bit like a visual novel. As you encounter people and places in the game world, you may end up being presented with story text and getting the option to make a choice. The available choices can depend upon what deity you are playing, the stats of your followers, or if you’ve experienced other parts of the plot. The choices you make may have an immediate outcome, like resulting in combat, or may impact how the story for this particular playthrough of the game turns out.
The world map portion of the game is a lot more complex. You start with a village and two groups of villages: one in the town that is intended for resource production, and another group just outside the village that is intended for exploration. The most important resource would be food, as your people need to eat to keep healthy. However, a vast array of resources in the game can be used for crafting items or constructing buildings.
Wood is also a notable resource, as there is a day and night cycle in the game. Your people can burn wood to help keep the dark at bay, making the night-time safer. In your village, you can assign people to gather resources, depending upon what is nearby, craft items, or construct buildings. Resources can also be found by your exploration group, but need to actually be walked back to the village in this game, as there is no magical teleportation of items between groups.
Crafting is done via a modular system, where you can plug in various resources to construct a type of items. Different materials can make different variations of the same general item, just with different bonuses, making for a very complex crafting system. As an example, you can make clothes using string or leather as a primary material; then adding more string, leather, or amber as a secondary material; and then more leather or string as a tertiary material. Yes, this is confusing, and probably easier to understand with a screenshot.
There are also three research trees for gathering, construction, and crafting. As you play through the game you will gain Research points, and when you gain enough you may unlock a new item in one of these sections. This allows for new materials to be found, different item types to be built, or additional buildings to be built in your village.
If you are starting to get the idea that this is a complex game, then wait until you look at the villager stats! Each character has a vast array of attributes ranging from simple health to more esoteric abilities like Folklore or Traps. Not every character has every attribute, as some are specific to certain classes.
Equipment can add or increase these attributes, as can various events. As you explore the world, you will gain Experience points, as well as Research points. When you gain enough points, all of your villagers will have an attribute increase at the start of the next turn.
While I’ve made this sound quite complex, the game does a good job of introducing the basic gameplay mechanics through the tutorial. You don’t need to really understand the details of these systems to play the game. Simple concepts like equipping armor and weapons to increase combat capability will be enough to get into the game.
The last portion of the game I feel a need to touch on is the challenge system. This is essentially combat, but may not always be physical combat. It may represent you trying to convince someone of your point of view, using character’s intellect as their primary ability instead of strength of arm.
Basically, it still plays out as a card game. You get a set of cards for each of your villagers involved in the challenge, with their defense and offense scores being set from the attributes used in this challenge. Before the first round of the challenge begins, you are shown your starting set of cards and given the option to keep them, redraw, or surrender.
Each card has a defensive score, depicted by a shield, and an offensive score, depicted by a sword. Cards are played out onto the board and, once both sides have played all of their cards, combat occurs from left to right. Some cards also have special abilities, depending on villager attributes and the type of challenge. These special abilities will impact the challenge in various ways, such as forcing an opponent to discard a card of a specific type.
As cards are dealt damage, their defense score will drop, and when it reaches zero they are removed from combat. When one side runs out of cards, they lose. If this is physical combat, villagers losing defensive points indicates they are being wounded or killed. Villagers may recover from wounds over time, especially if in a group with a villager who has medical skills, or may grow worse and die.
That’s a brief overview of how Thea works, so let’s move on to discussing more about the qualities of the game itself. The art style is fairly simple, with a lot of black and white card images, but the art itself is well done. The encounter images get reused somewhat often, but I personally like the art itself.
The background music does a good job of providing an atmosphere for a game where the world is just recovering from a cataclysm. It does also occasionally lapse into near silence, with just the sound of waves or wind. The sound effects are also fairly simple, and are more subtle noises rather than the more distracting style used more commonly in mobile games.
What really stands out in Thea is the narration. All of the story text is performed by one voice actor, who does an excellent job. The story elements are well done themselves, but the added touch having everything voiced really makes them stand out.
The difficulty in the game can be quite high. It give you an indication of the how hard a challenge is by displaying a number of skulls next to it, but it is fairly easy to get in over your head early in the game. Thea is intended to be played multiple times and part of that is having your villagers sometimes come to a bad end.
The locked story options help make replaying the game interesting. Depending upon your villager’s skills and your chosen deity, the story can unfold differently or you may get a different view of events. Plus, there are multiple ways to approach the game. While you can try to solve most problems with force of arms, trying to build a group of chatty scholars is also a valid way to play through the game.
Overall, I strongly recommend Thea: The Awakening if you like story-rich fantasy games. The fact that it is from a studio small enough to be considered indie is also quite impressive. I’m also not alone in liking this title, as it won a few awards when it came out. I would give it an “A”, or a 9.5/10 stars.
Thea: The Awakening is available on Steam here. Being a slightly older title, it does tend to go on sale a few times a year and I would highly recommend picking it up. It also comes with Return of the Giants, a free set of additional content, and a multiplayer extension that lets two players run a co-op campaign. I have not tried the multiplayer, so I cannot comment on it, but I do enjoy the single player game.