Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia Review: Evolution, Not Revolution

War, war never changes.

Well, it does; that is a big fat lie. I think the Carthaginians on their elephants wouldn’t like to meet an unmanned drone. So, with Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia, a focus on one significant event might be exactly what the series needed to make a perfect war game.

The units

Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia is back to basics in many ways for the series, and a complete overhaul in others. The most noticeable difference is the lack of variety of factions; Thrones of Britannia gives us English, Welsh, Viking and Gaelic Kingdoms. That’s it. And they really aren’t all that different. While certain factions might have more aggressive infantry and others may have significantly better cavalry or archers, none of these are notably different from the rest. Not in the way we’ve seen in previous games, anyway.

While this is a significant downside to a Total War game, it’s down to the time period in which Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia is set. It’s an interesting time period that had a lot of instability, many kings and, most importantly, a lot of war! It would have been nice to see more aesthetic differences between the vikings and the rest of the factions. But there’s a fine line towards making the game too arcade-like by overemphasising the differences in troops and kingdoms.

County management

Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia’s singular and arguably more straightforward approach does have some significant upsides. Certainly many of the overly complex systems from earlier games have been streamlined and made much more enjoyable. Most evident is the overhauled recruitment system that allows you to recruit units nationwide instead of just from certain provinces. This works by having a factionwide food counter that affects the pool of recruitable units along with technologies and certain buildings. It means you simply must make sure you build enough farms and unit replenishment buildings in order to boost your recruitment possibilities.

This may seem like a dumbing down of the game, but it actually makes certain tactical decisions more important. You must be able to feed your troops and citizens in order for your building to work and the recruitable units to be replenished from the recruitment pool. This means a viking-inspired pillage tactic can ruin your enemy’s ecosystem and their ability to replenish their fighting force. Each British county has one major walled province and smaller undefended provinces. You’ll have to invest in troops to defend these from raiders and opportunists, especially if these hold many of your farms.

War and peace

Since Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia focuses on a single historical event, its grand campaign is a lot shorter. You can finish it in 10-15 hours if you’re only fighting the 50/50 fights and auto-resolving. It’s not to the game’s detriment though; it doesn’t drag along and the dynamic victory conditions – including the event-based ultimate victory –  become much more of a fun endgame than in traditional Total War games. Having you establish a kingdom that can stand up to foreign invaders is the be-all and end-all. And Thrones of Britannia truly tests your mettle in that regard.

Other overhauls include estates and war fervour which change the way the game plays – but in a much simpler fashion. War fervour is simply your people’s appetite for war. If you are constantly at war, especially if you are losing lots of men, your people will get more agitated. But if you are winning, or have been stagnant for a while, they’ll itch for a fight.

Loyalty and the ‘Saga’

Estates affect the notable characters in your factions and how powerful and influential they are. Certain buildings are listed as estates and are initially given to the leader of your faction. However, to ensure loyalty to your companions, you will want to share these out while still remaining the most influential member of your dynasty. This whole influence/loyalty scale gives Thrones of Britannia the edge it needs to be a ‘saga’. Characters will build influence, lose loyalty and rebel especially when your kingdom is in disrepair, perfectly mirroring the instability of Britain in this time period and the need for a strong king to emerge. The variety of events, character betrayals and vassals with ideas above their station all add much-needed flavour to the stale formula of previous games.

This seems to be what the new ‘saga’ series is about; a shorter, yet still significant, playthrough that focuses on making a fun, dynamic campaign. It requires you to pay attention to your provinces but doesn’t bog you down in ridiculous amounts of micromanagement.

Conclusion

In playing Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia, I was reminded a lot of the original Total War: Rome – a splendid example of the brilliant mix of intrigue, management and bloodthirsty battle that the series can provide. This surely is high praise, but Thrones of Britannia has neither the length of its predecessor, nor has the variety of units – and as such, it lacks something that its fuller counterparts have. But what it does have is a straightforward approach that has solved some of the chronic complications of recent titles while providing you with a engaging story that can build over time.

Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia is available on PC.