Thea: The Awakening will have you slay monsters, forage for food, craft gear, and adventure through countless quests and events while surviving long enough to reshape the randomly-generated world the way you see fit.
I love the concept of 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) games so when Thea: The Awakening promised sweet 4X gameplay combined with card-based battles, I was excited! My brain jumped to a video game that combined the glorious old-school pre-MMO Warcraft games with Magic: The Gathering. Maybe that expectation was a bit too high...
Pretty much everything about Thea: The Awakening is overwhelming at first. When you start a new game, you choose between 2 gods (there are 8 total to unlock) then select which type of villagers you want to start with (warriors, gatherers, or craftsmen) and finally select your difficulty using 11 total options with 4 presets. After all that, you're given a lengthy voiced introduction to the story.
Basically, the world of Thea fell into darkness but now is your chance to shape it for yourself. Your powers are weakened and the forces of darkness want nothing more than your death but you have some people you can guide and a mission of upmost importance to complete. You can then choose to get a full tutorial of everything but it's far from comprehensive.
After that, you're given free rein of the generated world. You start with two groups of people: some are in your settlement and the rest are in an expedition group that can move around the map. You can create up to three of these groups and you'll want them to be a decent size with varying skills so they can handle everything that's thrown at them. Trust me; they'll go through a lot.
In addition to the various enemies that you can see wandering around the world and the quests scattered about, there are also random events which can happen while an expedition group is walking around or after you finish a turn. These can be good, bad, or often; they're somewhere in between such as situations that allow you to choose how the group will deal with them. Some options won't exist if the group doesn't have a certain amount of skill in a stat. For example, if a mysterious creature comes around and the group doesn't have anyone with folklore skills, you won't be shown the correct way to deal with them.
Confrontation is similar and enemies can approach any of your expedition groups or your settlement. In the latter case, your people can only stand and fight. If you move one of your expedition groups up to an enemy on the map or an event allows you to have initiative, your group can deal with them in all sorts of ways. Are your people stealthy? Sneak up on them! Maybe your clan is strategic and good with poisons so you can deal with them that way. These methods are much safer since your people have much less probability of getting wounded and even if they fail, they'll merely end up with a regular fight on their hands.
Wounds can be a huge deal in Thea: The Awakening. People can get a specific number of them depending on how their battle went and the more a character has, the more likely they are to die if they don't get to camp or have a medic with them. Death is an even bigger deal than wounds since getting new people is quite difficult. However, once I finally realised that I could save whenever, I started playing it just like XCOM by saving every time I was about to do anything then loading my last save if anyone died. The ability to save anywhere is so convenient that I would take on the more challenging difficulty settings if it meant I could save at every step.
Aside from healing wounds, you'll have your expedition groups set up camp often because it's the only reliable way to get the majority of materials. Quests and events often give great rewards but if you really need a specific type of metal or food, you'll need to gather it. Each material is situated in at least one spot in the world although you'll need to spend research points that are earned through event and crafting experience to unlock the ability to gather better materials.
Once you set up camp, you can gather materials in that space and within the immediate radius around it. At the very least, you'll need some food and fuel (like wood or coal) for survival but you'll also want gems, better types of wood, good metals, and even bones if you want to make good gear. You can craft several types of equipment including items that are used outside of confrontation such as ones that increase a character's crafting or foraging abilities. These are especially important later in the campaign when you're taking on increasingly difficult foes. While you can use all sorts of materials for each task, better materials result in better items.
I wanted to be a game developer for a long time and even went to community college to learn C++. One day, I asked a teacher why pointers were used and under what circumstances should people use them and they merely replied, "It's just what people do." That was my third attempt to get into C++ but only my first with a professional teacher and it put me off of coding as a career forever. I say this because it reminds me of an issue that I encountered in Thea: The Awakening. The tutorial showed me how to do things once then left me to my own devices without telling me why. In fact, if I wasn't reviewing Thea: The Awakening, I would've given up on it in about an hour and a half because I was furious after being completely lost by the objectives and how to accomplish them.
The flawed tutorials and interface are particularly evident later in the campaign. On my first attempt, I simply followed the main quest line while assuming that it would be long enough to weave through everything else and guide me toward becoming powerful. Instead, it jumped from super easy interactions to moderately difficult challenges to the highest level of confrontations. The main quest only has a dozen or so steps and could technically be completed in a few dozen turns. I finally completed it on my third attempt after more than 250 turns. It took a long time to realise that Thea: The Awakening isn't primarily about the main objective; it's about working towards it while experiencing random events and quests as well as collecting a massive amount of materials.
Battles were the same as at first, I assumed it was best to have lots of warriors and battle things out but a video I watched taught me the importance of stealth. I learned that gatherers were the way to go and that every battle should be dealt with by stealth or hunting whenever possible. It became almost comical when I played after that as I could take on every enemy with ease as long as I initiated the interaction and chose to use one of those two skills. Heck, there were turns where it took less than a minute to walk between 3 groups of enemies, taking them all out with stealth and letting the AI automatically handle the confrontation. This is a good thing because I never fully understood the combat and honestly, I don't care to learn it even though I usually love card battles.
To make matters worse, there really only seems to be one objective in the whole campaign. I beat it once with the easiest settings then went in again with the same god and assuming I'd see a different story but it was the exact same. I then started a game with one of the newly unlocked gods while thinking there would be a different story but sadly, it was still focused on the same thing. This is a real shame as I was actually enjoying the work at your own pace gameplay and getting into it a bit but considering the only difference between playthroughs is the options you set and the randomness factor; I immediately burned out on it.
In the end, a lot of things in Thea: The Awakening are too complex at first and aren't handled well even once you understand them. For example, managing equipment when you have lots of items to choose from takes forever. There were a few times when I tried to give my expedition group more food from my settlement before heading off when I had thousands of vegetables. As I went to give them some, the game wanted to give them half my stock. This would have been ridiculously heavy for them and they sure didn't need it. Dropping it to a few hundred while holding the button down took forever. Some of these things would be much easier on PC where you could drag and drop yet Thea: The Awakening unfortunately doesn't allow players to use the Switch's touchscreen.
There's a lot of good in Thea: The Awakening. Nearly every bit of text is voiced, it's cool being able to grow your group of people, handling combat head-on or simply selecting to auto-resolve is implemented well, and there's a great deal of customization. However, it's rather short with only a single primary objective and there's no substantial reason to replay it.
- + Randomly generated worlds require varying strategies
- + Incredible amount of customization
- + Nearly every line of text is voiced
- - It's a complex game yet it features incredibly weak tutorials and interface
- - Too much early game preparation time
- - Almost no replay incentives