There was a moment last week where I thought I might be channeling Steve Martin’s famous SNL sketch with a lot of, “What the heck is that thing? What is that?” Thea 2: The Shattering is a 4X RPG and I nearly just ignored it because it’s such a weird description. It sounded to me like just another one of those really simple turn-based RPGs, which can sometimes be cool. Usually though, I find those games are just a rehash of old ideas in a rapidly-developed package that was just shoved out for a little revenue.
In passing, I noticed that the game had been inspired by Slavic mythology, and that caught my attention enough to look a little farther, though. As I looked at the game and read a few reviews, my interest grew and I decided to pick it up.
If I’m honest, this was really going to be one of those occasional last-minute articles I try to slip past the editor while he’s busy. I’ve been tied up and haven’t had time to play anything that I could write about lately, so I was looking for something cheap and unique to try out over the weekend. Through that search, I stumbled onto Thea 2 and decided to give it a go. I am so glad I did.
The Evil Light
I didn’t catch on until I started playing the game, but Thea 2 takes an interesting twist on the good and evil trope by putting a twist in the whole light verses dark thing. The good guys can easily be servants of dark forces and sometimes even demons can be… Well, benevolent may not be the right word. Let’s just say complicated and leave it at that.
In fact, complicated is the correct word for so much of the setting of this game. The world has been shattered through a mysterious event and survival is a struggle for even the hardiest of creatures. In a land that violent, terms like “righteousness” and “moral” tend to lose their normally absolute definitions. While the dark world in many ways makes it easier to break from the trope, I actually find this to be far more realistic.
It’s possible some of the experiences from my younger days are coloring my world view, but I’ve found that the world is far more often grey than it’s ever black and white. Good and evil tend to be entirely subjective, even when viewed through opposing lenses within the same culture. MuHa captured that complexity so well in this game and I’ve found it to be an absolutely delicious experience.
The Slavic Connection
As I said earlier, the Slavic inspiration for Thea 2: The Shattering grabbed my attention. Thanks to the Bosnian conflict, I’m relatively familiar with Slavic culture and some of the mythology to a small degree. Being a history nerd and generally being entertained by how myths in different cultures meld and blend together through history, as well as being fascinated at how obscure myths work themselves into popular modern culture, I’m also always interested in exploring some of the stranger aspects of the occult. Thea 2 appealed to that part of me in the same way that the Witcher stories have over the years.
This general concept for combat mechanics has popped up a lot lately, but I think is this one of the best iterations. There’s a lot more complexity to it, and not just because combat isn’t always physical.
I found Thea 2 to be absolutely fascinating because the cultural frame of reference is clearly not what you usually get from games produced in the US. I occasionally would tab out of the game when seeing the name of some demon or monster type that I’d never heard of and waste significant amounts of time reading up on said creatures. Of course, fans of the Witcher series will find plenty of old favorites mentioned in Thea 2, too. Just as I’d done while playing the Witcher series, I ran into the occasional new creature and enjoyed looking them up nearly as much as I enjoyed playing the game.
Thea 2 also captures the violence and depravity that’s been a historical hallmark of that part of the world. Situated between continents and in between numerous cultures that have found themselves in conflict over the centuries, the Slavs have endured more war and famine than just about any other population in history. The fact that they’ve retained an incredibly and deeply unique culture through all of that is a testament to the resilience, and perhaps stubbornness, of the people. That’s something that MuHa did a great job of capturing and expressing throughout the game, as well.
The Design Choices
There are also a lot of incredibly intelligent design choices in Thea 2: The Shattering. The game is well-scored with a dark sound that lends to the ambiance without taking over. The color palette and art style clearly tells the player a tale of loss and struggle against the inertia of fate.
The art style really works well with the game design as the story moves forward in these vignette-like pop-ups for events. Each contains a small picture lending some visualization to the scene, and the player can read the dialogue and make choices to impact the situation. You might have an option to make a physical attack or to attempt to sway the other party through persuasion, for instance.
Aspects of the character and the party impact what choices are offered and the chances of success, and the decisions you make lasting changes to your continued progress in the game. You could win a fight only to have a party member bleed to death afterwards or die from a shattered spirit. At one point, I realized that the deaths from spiritual damage are most likely suicides. The game never tells you that directly, and yet somehow that just made the realization just that much darker.
My hands-down favorite design choice is right at the core of the game, though. The 4X RPG description, which I now understand. The game plays a lot like a Sid Meier Civilizations game. Your party has a movement range and terrain has a movement cost, which is a system that Civ fans will immediately recognize. Each turn, you can choose to move or to camp. While camped, you have the option of several things like crafting, gathering, cooking, and even research. You slot party members into the various tasks and the UI informs you how many turns until completed.
Where you camp matters, too. You’ll need wood for fires and other things, and plenty of food for crafting meals. Camping and eating are good ways to recover from battles, and you’ll want to make sure you do it. Characters can and will die. Plus, you can build new weapons and armor while in camps, which will help extend the lives of your fragile traveling companions, as well.
Eventually, you can build settlements, research new types of buildings, craft all sorts of useful gear, and create multiple groups for adventuring around the world. So many aspects of that system will take you back to all those hours and hours playing Civ.
I think there are bound to be some people who don’t like Thea 2: The Shattering. I’m sure the system isn’t graphically cutting-edge enough to appeal to those who always look for the most visually advanced games out. I happen to like their art choices a lot and think the over all aesthetic adds tremendously to the game. I’m also deeply enamored with the Civ-like gameplay, which I know also doesn’t appeal to everyone.
If you like Civ games and you like RPGs with interesting and unique story ideas, I think this is likely to be a must-by for you. It’s not the most popular game on the market, but I do think it’s the most surprisingly good game for the cost. Check it out before you buy it to make sure it’s a style you like first, but if you find yourself liking many of the same games I do, then this is a definite buy in my mind. I’d be interested in your thoughts if you’ve played the game, though. Let me know down below.