It’s 878 AD and The Great Heathen Army has been defeated at the hands of the West Seaxet King Alfred the Great. An uneasy peace as settled across the land that will become Britain and Ireland a millenia later. While smaller in scope compared to other games in their portfolio, Creative Assembly have put together a game that doesn’t feel small in practice. Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia has one of the more interesting settings in a Total War game, and its this setting that gives the first of the Total War Saga games a lot of its flavor.
At a hands-on preview event at SEGA, we were able to sit down with the Grand Campaign of Thrones of Britannia. Taking control of the Irish faction of Mide, we were able to experience the major changes in the campaign, as well as take control of units on the battlefield during our 90-minute gameplay session. At first glance, it’s instantly visible that a lot of care and love has gone into making Thrones of Britannia its own unique entry into the Total War series.
It’s especially interesting, as this is the story of how the identities of the peoples who would come to form one of the greatest countries and empires the world has ever seen: England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and Creative Assembly is based in the United Kingdom.
“It’s a time period that’s very close to a lot of people’s hearts,” James Givens, Community Manager at Creative Assembly told MMORPG.com during the event. “It’s a time period we’re very aware of in the studio - it’s the story of Britain in a lot of ways. This time period is where England as an identity starts to be formed - same with the Irish, the Welsh and in Scotland.”
For those worried that Total War Saga’s laser focus on late 9th century England and Ireland would mean a lesser Total War experience, rest assured that Thrones of Britannia us certainly not that. In just my 90 minutes with the game I felt as though I was barely scratching the surface of what Thrones of Britannia was throwing at me. With major changes to provinces, armies and more, Thrones of Britannia is aiming to set itself apart from the rest of the series, while still retaining that laser focus on the time period.
“[The period] is big enough, but small enough as well. It’s focused, but there’s enough going on to give you enough factions to all have that unique playstyle and unique challenges,” Givens said when asked about how the time period fits into the Saga mindset. “We’re trying to make it less about a global event and more of a very focused [look] into a certain time period.”
Because of this, Sagas gives the Creative Assembly team some great opportunities to visit areas or periods of time they haven’t done before, either because they are simply too small or not varied enough to fit into a regular Total War game.
It’s instantly apparent that Thrones of Britannia isn’t a regular Total War game. The art style alone is one of the more unique presentations in the franchise. While other Total War games have used the art of the period or people to influence the look of the game, Thrones of Britannia takes that idea and turns it up a notch. Based on art and beadwork from the period, Thrones of Britannia looks like the windows of a great monastery, or an illuminated manuscript come to life.
Thrones of Britannia also brings with it changes to the fundamental Total War formula in how factions can be played. Coming directly from playing Total War: Warhammer 2’s Rise of the Tomb Kings DLC and being able to raise troops as I wanted, it was a shock to the system to see the new ways in which you muster - and muster is the word for it - troops in Thrones of Britannia. Troops now cost both gold and food to maintain, which makes armies more and more valuable and, in a way, less numerous. You can no longer just maintain a large store of gold and keep around idle armies. These armies need to be fed and supplied as well in Britannia.
Training troops has experienced the biggest change with new units being added to your army at only 25%. This is to give the idea of mustering your army, adding a layer of realism to the game the team was keen to get across.
“Jack [Lusted] wants to have a game that feels like you’re given the same kind of challenges that these commanders would have been given,”James tells us. [T]o be able to raise thousands of troops within one summer and all having been armored and trained in the best way - this not very realistic. We wanted that kind of sense that you’re in the period - that you are given those challenges and dilemmas and that idea of mustering very much falls into that.”
As you muster, troops will slowly replenish into your army, though you get a significant bonus when in the Fortified stance or when garrisoned in a settlement. This means also, the overall time it takes to create a stellar army is elongated - making that army all the more precious to you. It gives the player a challenge, but is also rewards you as the player for thinking ahead. Instead of being able to field an army of twenty elite troops which cannot be defeated, you might have an army of a handful of the core elite units and the rest being the weaker ones you can disband when done with them. Because of this, Thrones of Britannia really makes you think hard about commiting an army to battle, as well as any other action you might take during a turn on the campaign map. Givens mentions that there is the idea that you would be role-playing your kingdom in this sense, adding to the drama.
“It fits within that vision of role-playing your kingdom and building it out with the challenges that came with the kingdoms of the time.”
Consequently, because of the way troops are handled now, it also hurts a lot more to lose and army. There are real ramifications for spending lives on the battlefield that can be felt on the campaign map now, whereas in other games you could simply re-raise another unit to join the army - now it takes turns to get even the weakest of troops at full strength. Additionally, units are capped globally across your kingdom, making your army make-up a bit more of a challenge than in previous titles. You can unlock more units and raise this cap through technology unlocks, but even then, Thrones of Britannia throws returning players a curveball: technology is tied not to a tree you simply unlock in a few turns, but rather events and milestones you meet in the game.