Created by some of the same minds that worked on The Witcher series, Thea: The Awakening is an entirely unique take on a god simulation game. With survival horror, 4X turn-based strategy, a card-based conflict resolution system, and a story-driven campaign that reacts to your actions, there’s nothing quite like Thea on the Nintendo Switch.
The PC version of Thea debuted in 2015 so the interface feels dated, but there’s an absolutely amazing strategy game here for die-hard strategy fans.
Thea: The Awakening is all over the place when it comes to different elements of gameplay. There’s a lot of systems from different game genres at play here, but they all come together to form a great, cohesive experience. With elements of 4X strategy, survival, role-playing, and card-based conflict resolution, there’s a lot to learn.
The tutorial does a good job of introducing you to what you should be doing, but some critical elements aren’t well explained. There’s a lot of trial and error in learning the game and sometimes RNG can be very fickle and create unwinnable situations.
Village Management & Crafting
Your village people are as much of a resource as the items you can gather on the map. Players manage a tiny village and its production chains by sending expedition groups out to gather from resource tiles littered around the map. A research mechanic makes it so new resources can periodically be unlocked to upgrade the village.
Crafting and gathering tools help villagers be more efficient. Buildings can be added to the village to perform specific tasks and upgrade build times. This aspect of the game works much like a 4X city management game.
You’ll need to stockpile resources to keep your villagers happy and well-fed. A variety of food sources keeps villagers happy and gives them bonuses. Exploration is encouraged to keep the village growing.
Each person in the village has their own inventory, skills, personality traits, and more. This leads to getting attached to villagers and caring about their well-being, which is rather uncommon in 4X games where units feel more like pawns.
Exploration is the main goal of Thea: The Awakening. Players take on the role of a god who helps worshippers make their way in a post apocalyptic world. Gathering at resource nodes requires camping on a tile with a villager that has decent gathering skill.
During these camping trips, you’ll often encounter special events and monster attacks. These events are handled through a card-based mini-game that offers a lot of complexity. Even non-combat challenges are handled with the mini-game, encouraging players to include villagers who may not be the best at combat in their exploration parties.
The conflict mini-game is played left to right with cards placed first able to attack first. Certain modifiers and support conditions can help you shuffle the cards to a more favorable position in both combat and non-combat challenges.
Combat should be avoided in Thea unless you’re absolutely sure it’s a shoe-in. Wounds suffered by your villagers can have lasting effects and they may succumb to their wounds even after the battle ends.
Weapon types have different attack patterns and shielding can help protect non-combat villagers who wind up in the line of fire with an unlucky shuffle. The game feels fair to play, but it’s difficult to master.
Story Driven Events
The best part of playing Thea: The Awakening is the story-driven gameplay, complete with narration. The game is designed to feel like a single-player Dungeons & Dragons session piled on top of a city management game. It achieves that very well.
The narrator is talented and the stories you can encounter while playing are interesting and can be solved in multiple ways. This lends well to the game’s replayability with different gods, since not every path is available when you first start the game.
The artwork that accompanies each little storylet is very good. Some of the demons and creatures you encounter in the game taken from Polish mythology are truly frightening.
The controls for Thea: The Awakening aren’t the most intuitive to use thanks to some unfortunate design choices. It’s not always clear what your cursor is highlighting, since the mouse-based interface hasn’t been translated well to controller. There’s also no confirm end turn button, so sometimes you’ll end a turn without meaning to do so.
The controls are adequate enough for getting around the world, but I found myself frustrated with them on more than one occasion.
While I’ve done quite a bit of praising of Thea: The Awakening for its successful mish-mash of genre-spanning gameplay, there are some downsides. The game is not the best to look at when compared to modern strategy games.
The highlight of the game is the illustrated panels that appear as events occur around Thea. These panels are lovingly illustrated and often showcase a mythical creature from Slavic mythology. Aside from the narrator’s soothing voice, these panels were my favorite part of traveling around Thea.
Thea’s interface is best described as dated. It feels like an early 2000s game, despite it debuting on PC in 2015. Thea 2 addresses a lot of my complaints about the UI, so the developers are obviously aware of this minor issue. The only question is whether we will seeThea 2: The Shattering on Nintendo Switch.
I enjoyed the music in Thea: The Awakening. The orchestral feel suits the slavic high-fantasy setting of the game. However, the default setting is extremely loud, especially if you’d like to enjoy having the narrator read events to you rather than rushing through them.
After setting the music audio down to about 20%, I was finally able to enjoy it as it was intended. The music feels somber and haunting when it’s not blasting at you full volume and drowning out the narrator. There are also around 30 tracks in the game, which is varied enough for the game.
The Not So Good
Publisher provided the key for our review.
Verdict – Buy & Enjoy
There’s nothing quite like Thea: The Awakening available on Nintendo Switch. It’s a successful mish-mash of genres that provides an engaging experience to enjoy with enough replayability to make this indie game worth its asking price.
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