Starting off as a Welshman in Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia was an interesting way to begin my first campaign. Normally with Total War titles I go for the mid-tier, normal difficulty factions (unless it’s Shogun, then it’s always the Oda), however, something about a position in the west of the Isles, nearby allies but also the Kingdom of Mierce got me going. A real challenge – one that I could savor in my first playthrough. That playthrough lasted six turns before I was beset on all sides by enemies. So I started a new one, determined to manage my allies and enemies better.
Eleven turns before I was at war with seven different factions – all vying to overwhelm my tiny province. Gwined is an interesting starting point for anyone looking for a challenge in Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia. But there are so many other areas to explore and ways to play that while Britannia might only focus on the British Isles, I’m eager to see more of what Creative Assembly’s Saga series brings to the table.
Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia is an offshoot of the long-running Total War series. Set in the British Isles in the late 870s AD, you take the role of one of ten major players after the defeat of the Great Heathen Army by Alfred the Great. The smaller Saga series is meant to hone in on a more focused time and historical setting. As a result, Thrones of Britannia feels a lot more focused than the last two games in the Total War series (Warhammer and Warhammer 2).
The team at Creative Assembly give you access to ten playable factions across five cultural groups: the English, Welsh, Gaelic, the Great Viking Army and the Viking Sea Kings. Each one of these cultural groups have special mechanics that make them unique to play versus the others. For instance, playing as Gwined, I have the ability to earn Heroism. Wales, being a land of heroes, I earn this by winning battles, owning Welsh land and having my generals rank up. Heroism can be spent to gain bonuses when the game dictates – such as a cultural bonus and so on. Meanwhile, the English, such as the West Seaxe, gain bonuses to their Commander’s Aura and defensive bonuses, as well as the ability to recruit levy units based on the number of owned settlements.
Thrones of Britannia brings with it many new elements to the table, and shakes up some of the older mechanics to try new things as well. Instantly returning players to the series will notice that unit upgrades are no longer dictated by the buildings you own, but rather the technology you research. And that technology isn’t readily available either – you have to complete some sort of objective in order to have access to the knowledge that technology can provide. It makes for some interesting moments in the game, and really forces you to plan out how you want your kingdom to flourish. Do you want to be militaristic and drive home the need for military techs, or would you rather see home and hearth grow, while maintaining influence over your nobles through leadership traits? The choice is yours.
Once I disposed of my brother who was looking to usurp the throne, I noticed that the neighbouring Welsh kingdoms had members of my leader’s family in them. Powis, Seisilwig and Dewet all were nearby, though I only had an alliance with Powis, my immediate neighbor. Early on in Thrones of Britannia, the game is a wild ride. No matter how much I tried I was in a full on war by turn three in every game I played as the Welsh. My alliance to Powis saw to that. And while I could easily have broken the alliance, I didn’t want to incur their wrath as well less than ten turns in. Good thing too, because while Powis had plunged Wales into all out war, declaring it on Dewet and Seisilwig, Mierce decided it was time to expunge Powis from the world and wend headlong into war with my ally. This gave me an opportunity to easily sweep Dewet and Seisilwig while Powis dealt with Mierce.
Armies in Thrones of Britannia are much different than the game’s predecessors. Normally you’d recruit a unit and wait for it to finish being recruited before being able to use it. However, as Creative Assembly told us earlier in the year, the idea of “mustering” your army was important for them to convey. So when you recruit a new army, you can actually use it right away – however it won’t be a full strength. Additionally, you need to ensure you have not only the gold to support your troops, but the food stores and supplies to keep your army going on long campaigns. Failing to do so will result in food shortages, which cause attrition to your army. It takes a few turns to get your armies to full strength, but if needed to you can use the army right away to block an invading army, or cut off a smaller settlement to starve the main provincial town of resources. Keep in mind though, a well supplied army at full strength is still the goal here – and as such you’re likely to not see too many armies sporting a full roster of units early on.
I’m only about 60 turns into my first playthrough with Gwined (though technically I’ve restarted three other times to get here), so it’s hard to say how Thrones of Britannia holds up in the later parts of the game. Suffice to say though, early on, the Isles are wild with activity. The AI is aggressive, and borders are shifting all over the place. Thankfully, because of my position on the map, my home territory was never in question – especially since I stationed a large force outside of Ceaster (modern-day Chester) to stave off any attacking armies from Mierce. But the provinces and towns I took over changed hands multiple times before I found any stability. Additionally, people don’t take kindly to being taken over, so rebellions erupted in much of my newly acquired territories, meaning I was fighting rebels and the English. Never a dull moment in Thrones of Britannia.
We’ll check back in with a full review towards the end of the week/beginning of next week, as we’re just getting started with our campaigns. However, Thrones of Britannia does a lot to make me keep coming back for more. It’ll be interesting to see if that holds throughout the later stages of the campaign as the map state stabilizes and there aren’t more Kings than there are settlements.