Thea: The Awakening – What We Think:
Thea: The Awakeningg from indie developer MuHa Games sets out to meld the concepts behind RPGs, Roguelikes and 4X gameplay into an entirely new kind of game whilst remaining comfortably familiar to anyone who has sat behind the controls of a turn-based strategy. It’s always exciting when developers step outside the usual conventions of established genres and give us something new to explore. Treading new ground can be risky, but it’s fair to say Thea does so with grace.
Up and At ’em
Beginning your first game of Thea: The Awakening means working through a lengthy but well-delivered tutorial that guides you through the game’s mishmash of mechanics. You’ll also get to choose between two gods, with several others becoming available after you reach certain milestones in your play-through. Each god provides differing bonuses that will contribute to your success as you struggle to keep a village of followers alive.
The gameplay of Thea is most immediately reminiscent of 4X games such as Civilization, but you’ll soon find there are some significant differences. Thea primarily tasks the player with the prosperity of a single village of followers.
You can, however, send out expeditions to explore and adventure beyond your home territories. These expeditions are made up of named characters whom you will come to care for as they grow stronger. You can equip each of your followers with any items you find or craft. They also gain experience and abilities that define their roles, enabling you to develop specialists for different tasks.
As you explore, you’ll encounter challenges. These vary from engaging in combat with hostile monsters to non-linear narrative adventures where you can choose both the moral direction your followers take and the methods by which they deal with obstacles. Whether fighting, negotiating or sneaking your way through a challenge, you’ll do so by way of a card-based mini-game.
Each follower in your village and in your expeditions is represented by a card. These cards feature their abilities and their combat skills. When a challenge begins, three of your followers will be randomly chosen as active participants (effectively fighters in a combat engagement), whilst three others will be designated as support cards.
The active cards will directly contribute to overcoming the challenge or defeating the enemies through their skill stats (combat for fighting, social for negotiations, etc.).
The support cards, meanwhile, can offer various advantages depending on the tactical options available to each follower. They might, for example, shield an active character or remove an enemy card.
The card game can become repetitive, but it is always satisfying to watch your followers whittle down opposition or win out during a negotiation. Each type of challenge has charmingly unique sound effects, such as mumbled arguing during negotiations, to replace the standard clashing sounds of combat in fighting challenges. Naturally, as your followers get stronger, their varying abilities improve, making them better qualified for each kind of task you might hurl at them.
Thea doesn’t rely on its visuals but it’s certainly not lacking. Each of the many randomly encountered story events comes with impressive artwork detailing the threats and creatures that your followers have to deal with. The overworld, whilst being represented as a hex-based grid, is appealing enough to remain interesting as you explore. A rustic, wood-themed aesthetic extends through the many menus of Thea, and this is mirrored in the challenge mini-game where cards appear as rugged, battered material.
Thea: The Awakening is an excellent experiment in combining genres that pays off in its unique, if often meandering, gameplay. Fans of roguelikes, RPGs and 4X games are likely to find something to enjoy here, and even if one of these genres is not normally your cup of tea you’ll likely find enough of the others to keep you entertained. Thea manages to be both familiar and innovative at the same time whilst providing a dynamic, nonlinear and engrossing adventure.
Thea: The Awakening is available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for Thea: The Awakening below: