Creative Assembly excels at bringing history to life in interesting ways, and Total War Saga is no exception. Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia is focused on a more narrow point in time: specifically the British Isles post-Viking invasion in the 800s. The British Isles are fractured, there is no unity, little-to-no loyalty, and the Vikings have a foothold on the Isles. They have no plans to leave. There are loads of provinces and factions across the islands, but players pick from five of them. Each Faction and Culture have their own traits to make them stand out, from the English Kingdoms being able to pull part-time soldiers from their farms to serve to the Viking Sea Kings gaining Tribute from other kingdoms for bonuses and as a sign of their submission to your might. Like Warhammer and games before it, they also come with their own difficulties and Victory Conditions.
Total War Saga does not have what would be called an in-depth, detailed tutorial. After you’ve picked your faction, difficulty, looked at the victory conditions, and started the game, you’ll get a fantastic teaser that shows what your faction is fighting for. Your Advisor is essentially your tutorial, and you can set how frequently they show up to give you advice/tell you what to do. The whole of the tutorial is basically a battle against rebels, to get your feet wet in the combat system. Whatever starting troops you have will be enough, and honestly, you can auto-battle it down if you’re familiar with the gameplay and don’t have time for tutorials. While this is great and lets you just dig right into the game, there were things I simply could not figure out, even hours into the game; one of these is resupplying a unit. As I was waist-deep in the blood of my enemies, pillaging and destroying my foes to the north, I somewhere along the way ran out of food and people were deserting. Despite my faction producing plenty, I could not figure out “what” to do.
The Advisor said “click here” to deal with it, but that did little. I tried waiting in towns/castles that I had taken over, reasoning that since they were in my control, that would solve it. I never did figure it out and wound up fortifying those provinces and going back to my capital to relax. For the most part, you are on your own in this game. Total War veterans won’t have an issue with it, but I’m not so sure that it’s accessible to beginners. I do appreciate that each faction has their own rules/traits and their own narrative. Their main story missions/quests, however, are terribly aggressive. A fine example is the powerful West Seaxe, who are first tasked with eradicating East Engle (Guthrum of the Vikings). You are surrounded by vassals who may or may not decide to help you, so you have to keep everyone appeased. Or you can do what I did, amass a humongous army, sail north, land on their shores, and start kicking their asses immediately.
No matter which faction/culture you pick, the goal is the same: You want to be on the throne of the British Isles. You do not have to go on a spree of murder though. If you truly wanted, you could fortify a small part of the land and simply build up fame and win that way. It’s not quite as exciting but you definitely can if that’s what you care to do. But the order of operations is simple: pick a faction, figure out their ultimate goal, check out their win-cons, and decide which one is right for you. This is a game I feel planning and preparation are key. While solid planning is fine, I gained great joy simply building giant armies and marching into whatever landmass didn’t have my color on it already.
Recruiting armies and upgrading towns/cities is a bit different in this game too. Unlike in other games, where you can build basically anything you want somewhere, these towns tend to be a bit more specialized. You’ll have towns that focus on livestock, on grain, towns with more churches, etc. So instead of figuring out what to build where, you determine which of these towns deserves your immediate attention and which of them are your priority. You can recruit any unit type from any town, which is fantastic. You have to wait on them to be at full health though, so think ahead. Some of the better units require research, but the standard units can be drawn from any hole-in-the-wall town on the isles. This means that you can only pull so many people at a time, and then you have to wait for the number of people to replenish. Most of your towns are basically defenseless though, especially when you have multiple provinces. This will create the challenge of keeping whoever is in charge happy, and figuring out where your enemies are on the borders, so you can keep your kingdom intact. This is key because if a general/governor/officer reaches 0 loyalty they will without delay break off and cause a civil war. There is a lot to keep track of, but it’s all worth it.
Fans of the Total War franchise will recognize a lot of the game, from picking wives for their officers, setting up an heir (do this without delay. If your leader falls in battle, it could prove disastrous), poisoning people, and smashing through your opponents’ cities with protracted sieges. Sure, the quests will urge you into battle, but you can do that at your leisure in many cases. You don’t have to rush to that conflict right away. Hell, you don’t even have to conquer the islands if you don’t want. A definite positive is if you want to go for that Fame victory, you can. I was almost done with the Short Fame victory before I even realized it. It’s important to note that the game’s not over just because you achieve a fame victory. Creative Assembly did tease that long victory unlocks the events that lead up to the Ultimate victory condition.
This is a turn-based strategy game, so every turn will have you building structures, recruiting troops, making diplomatic choices, and researching technology. In Saga, you don’t have access to many research choices out of the gate. Every technology has a requirement, but they are not terribly costly. Most of the military ones require you to recruit a unit x times, attack enemies x times, and so on. The civic ones also vary, typically by having a building at its highest level, or conquering a territory that already has it. Combat feels a bit stripped down, but that’s probably because the last Total War I played was Warhammer, which had absolute tons of special units, magical abilities, and ridiculous characters. There are fewer units here, though each faction has their own cool units, this is not going to be a game where you juggle 45 unit types and strain under the weight of all of their stats.
But combat is what makes many of these games fun. It truthfully feels a bit simpler than some of the earlier Total War games, but the gorgeous landscapes and battlefields make up for that. You can still hide units in forests/behind terrain and sneak attack, crush your foes in pincers, and make use of buildings/pathways to funnel your foes into death traps; that has not changed. Something about it simply feels easier. Sieges were easy to set up and with a few siege weapons, I would ultimately wind up with an advantage. It probably helped that I was going in with overwhelming numbers. Nevertheless, you still have to have an idea of what you want tactically because simply clicking on your whole force and moving them forward is going to get them killed, even with superior numbers on your side. there is simply so much to do and see, despite it being stripped down. There is quite a bit of depth to this game though. Every faction has a different experience. My time with West Seaxe was all about politics and soothing peoples nerves. I didn’t want anyone to feel more important than someone else (me). When I played as Flann in Ireland, it was an absolute bloodbath. People were dying in piles, mostly from me. No matter what you want from a Total War game, you can find it here.
A Game of Thrones: 4/5
I’ve truly enjoyed my time with Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia. It feels more like a regular Total War game though than one of the spin-offs like Napoleon. Though the battles might not seem as thrilling or engaging as some of the other titles in the series, the tighter focus on this time period means there is a lot more in terms of depth, lore, and historical accuracy. Each one of the factions felt different and fun for me, each one having separate goals, and tactics required to succeed. With events, alliances, vassals and more, there’s simply so much to discuss. Though the game has plenty of challenge, I did feel like I was capable of bulldozing through most of the content, simply by overwhelming my foes with superior numbers and unit types. That was fun, but I cannot forget how great the intrigue/loyalty system is.
There is simply so damn much to do there, and it is key to keeping all those annoying nobles in line. If you don’t utilize the intrigue system to keep people happy, you’ll have a civil war on your hands. However, I solved civil wars the way I solved so many other problems: with my army. There is a solid amount of replayability to be found in playing all of the different factions and trying to win in different ways, and there is sure to be DLC factions. The game features an absolute wealth of factions covering all of those provinces, but many of them melt away within the first few years, being obliterated by their countrymen. I can’t wait to see which of them we get to play first! My issues with the game are few and far between, but I can definitely see newcomers to the series having a hard time here.
Note: A game code was provided for review purposes.