In Thea, you play the role of a god stripped of its divinity, a once powerful being now relegated to dominion over a dozen villagers. Your objective is to restore yourself to power and remove Thea from the somber period it is now in, just awoken from an era of darkness. Drawing elements from 4X, trading card games and roguelikes, the main question I asked myself when I first started playing was how these elements would come together. Twenty hours later, I have a verdict.
As you start the game you are immediately greeted with the choice of one out of eight different deities, of which only two are initially unlocked. The game has a progression system where you can level up and unlock new bonuses and traits for each god as you play with them, as well as other members from the pantheon. The tiers you unlock with each deity grant you lore-appropriate bonuses: Horos, Lord of the Night and Master of the Moon, grants boons to his followers that allow them to perform better during the night and in stealthy tasks; while Mokosh, Mother Earth, facilitates the gathering of resources and food for her followers.
Each new run features a unique landscape, with your village having access to random types and amounts of resources. The game is, essentially, divided into two distinct parts: managing your village and your expedition(s). While you can scavenge resources and treasure with your expeditions, by camping and gathering on the map or acquiring it via events and battles, your village will be responsible for the steady income of fuel and food.
It is a functional hub, where you can bring the resources and items your expeditions find for storage or use in crafting and construction.
The crafting system is elaborate and tied-in with another strategic element: research. As you complete events and battles you gain advancement points and experience points – while the latter will improve your villagers, advancement points allow you to unlock new buildings, different types of craftable items and “discover” new resources, which then show on your map and are subject to gathering by your expeditions. These advanced materials yield better crafted and constructed objects: a pasture that is built with simple components yields less meat than one constructed on materials that are further down the research tree.
Your expeditions will handle the exploratory part of the 4X (which is actually 3X, as you can’t grow your village) and are a compromise between the usual exploration in 4X strategy games and Thea’s survival and roguelike elements. You can only walk over a small amount of tiles in a single turn, and each turn consumes your party’s food – which when varied and plentiful also offers bonuses to their attributes. The fog of war is dictated by a day/night cycle, as is monster behavior – you can expect added aggression during the night, be it directed at your expedition or your settlement. Completing quests and battles grants you a global amount of experience, which then levels up your villagers – in the settlement or expedition – assigning them random attributes according to their designation (Warrior, Gatherer, Craftsman, etc.).
Combat is where the card aspect of the game comes into play. Before you draw any wrong conclusions, you don’t collect cards or build a deck – they are merely a representation of your villagers. Combat itself can take on many forms, some of them not necessarily lethal: your social interactions, such as trying to convince or intimidate someone, will be played in the same way as your fights, debates, physical tasks et. al., each time tapping into different attributes of your characters and setting them as the primary offensive and defensive attributes. While you can’t necessarily solve every conflict with a debate or in a sneaky manner, most quests have multiple solutions that you can choose according to how you’re role-playing or the strengths of your party: the Orc warrior that joined your group might make for poor conversation, but in turn the social interaction will allow your silver-tongued medic to shine.
The game’s setting immediately struck me as unique: inspired by both Slavic mythology and Tolkien-esque fantasy literature, you are as likely to meet an Orc chieftain as you traverse Thea as you are Baba Yaga or a Striga. The lore is well crafted and throughout the several pages of dialogue and interactions I had with the most varied creatures – benign (and malign) demons, dragons, witches and elves – the attention to detail from the Polish developers was evident.
Events are more or less independent from one another, though there are specific event chains – the main quest in particular – that can last throughout your entire playthrough. While some seem to appear with a certain frequency early on, for the most part the discovery of events and quests, much like the game’s geography and your party members, is procedurally generated. Your group’s attributes – of which there are dozens – and your previous actions will often unlock additional conversation/interaction options and allow you to solve quests in varied manners, allowing even repeated quests to have unexpected outcomes.
Now is where I apologize for the overly descriptive review and explain what I intended with it. If it hasn’t become clear from what you read, the different systems in Thea – the exploration, the village management, the crafting, the research system and the combat – do not only come together in a cohesive manner, with purpose and intent, but are introduced in the game in elaborate and developed ways. None of these mechanics feel unnecessary or shoehorned, and even less so do they look like side-thoughts or are they casually implemented.
That’s not to say Thea doesn’t have its share of flaws. The UI takes a while to get acquainted with; the difficulty isn’t forgiving, and I died several times before making decent progress into the main quest; the fact that your character can strike out at two different enemies – the closest to his left or to his right – adds an unwelcome element of surprise in a game that otherwise downplays RNG in favor of strategy; and it doesn’t cope too well with its earlier segments, which become boring after you’ve already played through the game – to your death or success – multiple times.
Thea isn’t a game for everyone. It takes the natural complexity of well-done strategy games and adds a layer of roguelike to it – something that might be appeased if you play with the save function on, a travesty I did not commit. If you’re willing to be challenged, if you want to venture into a world with unique lore and characters, if you don’t mind starting over and over and over again, Thea: The Awakening might be just the game you wanted: a strategy roguelike which values forethought and rewards caution, with plenty of progression systems to incentive your return to it, and something entirely different from what I’ve recently seen released.
Thea: The Awakening was played on retail code provided by the developers.