• Thea: The Awakening review by Rick Moscatello

    So many parts, so little whole…

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    The turn based 4x genre is in a rut, no doubt about it. A 4x game today is little different in overall structure from the classics of the genre: Civilization and Master of Orion 2. You start with one city (or star system), explore the world (or universe), build your army (or space armada, and bet you get the idea by now), develop your technology, and conquer/expand until you control everything.

    Thea: The Awakening bills itself as a 4x game with many new ideas, but all those new ideas lead to an ultimate design that just doesn’t go anywhere.

    The highlight of the game by far is the setting, which is vaguely Eastern Europe with a Russian motif thrown in. There’s a grimness to this fantasy world, and outside the walls of your tiny village (whose population can’t seem to break 20) is a dangerous world of monsters and misfortune more than capable killing your precious villagers one by one. While most fantasy settings go with “pseudo-medieval Europe” or the occasional “far East,” the game does a good job of being just close enough to something familiar to keep you playing in the hope of seeing something new…it even occasionally delivers, such as when my village got a zombie/dead villager to climb out of the grave and help you.

    Unfortunately, all the other new ideas just don’t work, or don’t work well enough to make the game stand out.

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    A child grows into a medic. All hail less death!

    You don’t build armies in this game, you build war parties, with lots of soldiers, a medic, and then a couple guys with the diplomacy or other skills that might pay off. While interesting, there’s some micromanaging here, as you have to outfit them with individual pieces of equipment, as well as supply them with food and other supplies as they leave the village. It’s not terrible, and there are plenty of RPGs that do the same (your typical war party will probably only have half a dozen or so villagers, little different than a band of adventurers).

    The combat system is unique…and disappointing. It’s basically a card game, but it’s fairly meaningless. Each card is just someone in the war party, and you’ll always play all your cards in the first round, played in a series of draws. The only thing that makes it a card game is you can get a bad initial draw—no soldiers to do the fighting, just all your “tech” guys. You get a chance to reshuffle, so once you know to load up on soldiers, this isn’t a big deal—worst case scenario is your soldiers are a little slow to attack in the first round.

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    Behold, every building in the game...

    The technology tree is extensive…and disappointing. I have to admit, my peeve about Civilization is the ancient times go too fast—500 years to build a catapult and a swordsman, 300 years to slog across the map to the nearest enemy city…you’re in gunpowder times before you know it, and I wish Civ would take those early years more slowly.

    I must learn to be more careful with my wishes. Thea’s technology is an incremental slog. Twenty turns to invent flip flops. Another 25 turns to invent sandals. Another 30 turns to invent shirts. I’m pretty sure laser guns aren’t on the tech tree, but if they are, it’d be quicker to just invent them in the real world. Granted, I’ve spent hundreds of turns playing the game, so I guess the game entertained me…I just wish there was light at the end of the tunnel.

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    I have lots of wood. Heh heh.

    The crafting system is likewise disappointing. Hey, I don’t mind making things, but I want to craft a Sword of Awesome Power…not a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich of Irrelevance. What you can craft is tied to your tech tree, you see, so you’re not going to make much that’s interesting.

    There are few buildings you can construct (after you research them, cutting into your latest breakthrough in flip-flop technology), but, again…bleh. Noticeably absent is a library or something to speed up research. Hey, you can get a cabbage patch (more babies), or a tower, or other simple things.

    Bottom line, the game is crafted in such detail that I kept playing and playing, hoping that at some point it would open up to me, that something would happen that would make it a better game.

    There are plenty of clever ideas here, but I can’t really recommend this game even as I acknowledge individually interesting design elements. It’s a good way to kill about 8 hours, but after that you’ve seen all there is to see…and disappointed that the promise of so much attention to detail leads nowhere.

    Total rating: 65%
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Thea: The Awakening review by Rick Moscatello started by Doom View original post