This article was originally published in 2018 for Old Grizzled Gamers. However, that website no longer exists so I’m putting it here instead. I also received a free review copy from the publisher.
Over the years, there have been so many Total War games but few have managed to sink their hooks into me long term. They often suffer from similar issues to Civilization and other 4X games, in that once you reach a certain strength the tension and struggle fades away. This an issue faced by games on large, sweeping maps and is one of the reasons why Total War: Shogun 2 is one of the most decorated games in the franchise. On the surface Thrones of Britannia tries to replicate that scale by setting itself on a very different but equally wartorn cluster of islands, Britain.
It’s time to acknowledge that this review is late. This has meant I’ve had the chance to not only play a lot of Thrones of Britannia, but also soak up other reviews and the general opinion about this game. That being said, this is a completely separate review that has the benefit of being able to comment on other peoples’ thoughts since launch.
For those of you who haven’t played a Total War game (what have you been doing all these years?), this is a game that takes place on two levels. The first is an overview map that shows all the regions across Britain. Here you can recruit units, construct buildings, move armies, conduct diplomacy and a whole host of other things. The second level is an RTS where you send your troops in battles. The two compliment each other wonderfully, as they have in all previous games.
So far so Total War. Most of the changes made to Thrones of Britannia can be found on the map level. As well as managing which buildings to build and making sure you have enough axemen to make a forest run in fear, you also need to manage the loyalty of your nobels and conduct internal diplomacy. In a leaf taken almost from Crusader Kings, you can complete various intrigue missions including shaming and assassinating any nobel that presents a threat to your kingdom. Conversely, you can also adopt your favourite generals or find them a wife. While features similar to this are present in previous titles, this is the first time they have felt fleshed out to this extent giving you more reason to pay attention between battles.
At the end of the day, Total War games are about conquest. This means that adding some flavour that isn’t about battles and armies makes the historical characters come to life. There has always been an inkling of this in previous games, but this is the first time you will consider these elements as anything more than stat buffs. It helps to draw the world together. Instead of getting your prized general a wife because it provides a handy stat boost to his zeal, you also want to make sure the man who fought so hard for his King leads a happy life.
Thrones of Britannia, more than any other Total War game before, wants you to experience a narrative. Calling it a story is much too generous, but Creative Assembly has you experiencing the journey of your nation as more than merely spreading your colour across the map. The reduced scale and attempt give character to historical figures goes a long way in making this effort a success.
This same effort is also present in how players unlock new units and research tiers. Unlike previous games, units are now tied to research and that same research is far harder to acquire. Recruiting elite units is now a challenge because you must fulfill campaign requirements to unlock their research tier. This might be winning fights, capturing territory or using a certain unit. Hiring a unit also requires more thought as they do not come at full capacity. Gone are the days of spamming recruit and seeing your army go from nonexistent to legendary overnight. In Thrones of Britannia, it forces you to think about whether recruiting is useful if it takes 5 turns for them to be at their best. This causes the game feel more realistic and like you are commanding a real place filled with real people.
All of this builds into one of the major themes of this game (yes, a Total War game can have themes), war weariness. It is bizarre that a game about going to war and giving your enemies a good thrashing includes something like war weariness. If you spend too much time fighting, your subjects start to get sick of it and this can lead to a revolt. Having to stake a moment to consider whether, as a King, you should start a conflict is something completely unexpected from this franchise.
Each addition and change, mixes up the Total War formula to create something that feels fresh and exciting. The step from Rome 2 to Attila felt minimal and the Warhammer games are something else entirely. This feels like the next logical progression for historical Total War games. Rather than being a game with a singular tone, you are given choices that impact your kingdom.
Throughout my research for this review, one of the major criticisms aimed at this game is that it simplifies the Total War experience. And, for the most part, this is true. Many elements have been streamlined including construction and army management. However, these rounded edges are not necessarily a bad thing. Those who want a complex Total War game have the likes of Rome 2 or the Warhammer games. However, for a newcomer to the franchise or genre, there is now one obvious choice – Thrones of Britannia.
This streamlining does not make Thrones of Britannia a simple game. Instead, it increases the likelihood that Total War newbies will have an enjoyable experience. There is still plenty of complexity and strategy to be found here. Battles are just as intense and clever tactics will win the day. The same is true for making shrewd use of the intrigue and overworld map options. These softening of the experience means it can be enjoyed by veterans and newcomers alike.
Now, I could describe the mechanical elements and what they are like. However, I hope me saying that they are the same high quality we have come to expect from a Total War game suffices. You will have some problems, but nothing game breaking. Instead, we desperately need to discuss the greatest asset of this, and any Total War game, the setting.
Being British, perhaps I’m overly fond of playing a game set in my home country. However, the detail put into making the map feel British is astounding. Little things like including the world famous Stonehenge to lesser-known landmarks such as a White Horse and geographically accurate mountains such as Snowdon in Wales. These additions make the map come to life in a way that was missing in previous titles.
Like Shogun 2 before it, you are able to learn the best way to move around this limited space. The scale might be smaller, but that isn’t to say it feels less impressive. Moving an army through Britain feels epic, you get a sense for how far your men have marched each turn. It goes from being a nebulous distance to moving from Oxford to Cardiff. The names might be different, but the distance and geography are the same.
Thrones of Britannia is easily the most accessible game in the series, but at the same time, it is the freshest for a long time. Instead, of retreading old ground, it experiments and tries something different. It comes with all the trappings of modern Total War games with things like multiplayer, lots of diverse factions, lengthy campaign modes and historical battles. If you haven’t played a Total War game for a while or want to scratch that historical itch, then you could do a lot worse than Total War: Thrones of Britannia.
Thanks for reading. If you would like some more recent video game reviews why not check out my article on Space Hulk: Tactics. Alternatively, for a physical card game read my review of Machi Koro and it’s various expansions.
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