The Total War formula is one that has been successful for nearly twenty years; ever since the release of Shogun: Total War, Creative Assembly have taken the series from strength to strength while leaving the basic gameplay mechanics the same. Make a grand strategy-lite world map, where players plan who to attack and build their armies, and then get players to conquer the world in a series of enormous battles.
Creative Assembly have mixed up the series a bit, going from classic medieval and ancient warfare to the 19th century, eventually culminating in their only non-historical entry, Total War: Warhammer. Now, yes Total War: Warhammer is very shameless with its DLC, requiring the player to pay an exorbitant amount of money to unlock all the different factions and heroes (with the worst example being a DLC just to add gore effects into the game). However, to my mind Total War: Warhammer is Creative Assembly’s Magnum Opus; they take tons of completely different races and armies, with hugely varied units and playstyles, and manage to balance them all out. Now, with Total War: Thrones of Britannia, they are trying to return to their historical roots.
Total War: Thrones of Britannia is set during the large viking invasions of the British Isles in the late 9th century, an incredibly interesting period and absolutely formative for all the nations of Britain today. You can play as a number of different kingdoms, including the Scots, Welsh, Irish, Saxons and a number of different Vikings, and your ultimate aim is to subjugate all of Britannia under your rule. Along the way, each faction has specific goals they can accomplish, for example the Kings of Scotland strive to find the legendary Stone of Scone to increase their legitimacy and influence, which serve to provide the player with direction and help each faction to be fleshed out more.
The gameplay is functional, as always for the Total War series. The battles still look incredible, and all the units work and the battles feel nice and fluid. It has the standard infantry beats cavalry beats archers beats infantry system of strategy games, with some variation given through skirmishers and mounted ranged units. The main flaw to land battles is that nothing really feels new; if you have played Shogun 2 or Medieval 2, you won’t notice anything new here. Additionally, the early time period the game is set in limits it somewhat, as there aren’t really the enormous castles or fortresses offered in other entries to the series. Ship battles are also back, having been conspicuously absent for the Warhammer games. However, the ship combat is pretty dull.
In Total War: Thrones of Britannia, any units who march to the sea in the world map hop onto longships, and so the player no longer needs to construct fleets. This means that naval battles consist of longships (and only longships) attacking each other, with your units able to board enemy vessels, and so it all feels a bit unnecessary. Numerical superiority appears to be the real determining factor for victory, so I found myself just auto-resolving most of the naval engagements anyway. Gone are the days of Empire or Fall of the Samurai, where naval battles were exciting and spectacular, with you smashing galleons with broadsides from your enormous frigates. My sexless friends also assure me that the Warhammer fantasy universe also has a huge variety of ships from each faction, so it is rather strange that the Warhammer entry is missing naval combat, but a game like Total War: Thrones of Britannia set at a time when ship combat wasn’t really as interesting does have it.
Creative Assembly have also changed up how the grand strategy aspects work in some areas. You have to worry about food, as your armies will suffer some negative modifiers if you have a shortage, and influence. If you have a low influence, generals who possess a higher influence have a higher risk of defection or rebellion. This does help to add a thin veil of grand strategy into the game, but it really doesn’t feel fleshed out enough. For my first game, I had low influence and a massive food shortage but I never really felt the effects of either of these too badly, and there doesn’t really seem to be much of a way to utilize these traits. Low influence? Go and win battles. Food shortage? Conquer more land by winning battles. I understand that this is a Total War game, and not Total Farming, but it would be more interesting if these resources required a bit more strategy to manipulate. For fans of grand strategy games like Europa Universalis or Victoria, these elements all feel a bit lacking.
There are also some other annoying elements added into the game. Regions are now divided into a capital city and several smaller settlements, and while the capitals possess a standing garrison, the settlements do not. This means that the AI can and will sent a single unit round on a ship to wander your lands and eat up these little settlements while your armies are on some far off war fronts. Why don’t you just construct units to defend them? You will never be able to defend every settlement because of the upkeep cost of each units. This just feels annoying rather than engaging, and I’m sure the player can also exploit this feature, though only a wretch with no honour would ever sink so low as to fight a war in such a despicable way.
Total War: Thrones of Britannia still looks amazing, as is expected from a Total War game. The battles are vast, with tons of units battling it out on decent looking maps. I have heard some complaints about models repeating, but to be honest I feel that is pretty nitpicky. Sure, there could be more variety but it never really stood in the way of my enjoyment of the game.
Overall, I would say the game is decent, though it doesn’t really offer much that is actually new. It feels like a bit of a step back from the Warhammer entries, both in scope and gameplay feature. For a game that was touted by the developers as an experimental entry in the series, very little felt actually different. Warhammer was a bigger risk, which was likely to alienate a lot of the fanbase by leaving a historical setting, but Total War: Thrones of Britannia feels like a retread.
After all, those old enough to remember 9/11 also likely remember Medieval: Total War- Viking Invasion, which took the same setting and premise. Still, if you enjoy Total War and just feel like playing another game in the series, I would recommend it. It’s inoffensive, functional (largely) and not likely to make you turn away from the series in disgust.
Total War: Rome II already did that.
Total War: Thrones of Britannia is available to buy on Steam for £29.99.