Thrones of Britannia is one of the best expansions I’ve played. The problem is, it’s not an expansion. Thrones is the first title in the new Total War Saga series and must be judged as such. Built upon the existing Total War: Attila engine, Thrones needed to do more to provide a unique experience.
Whilst Thrones may offer a very different campaign experience to Attila – as I explained in my Fist Impressions post – the battles aren’t a significant overhaul. Thrones has been compared by design to Fall of the Samurai, but FOTS provided not only a new campaign experience, but a new land and sea battle experience too.
Fall of the Samurai was fantastic, but it was still an expansion to Shogun 2, and if Thrones was being marketed and sold as an Attila expansion I’d have no problem recommending it to those who enjoyed Attila and are interested in this period.
But Thrones isn’t an expansion. It’s intended to stand as it’s own game and as a result, it’s rather lacking. Thrones would have been a great way of introducing new players – and Total War: Warhammer players – to the historical side of the series. But the game has no tutorials beyond the in-game advisor. If it was an expansion, this wouldn’t be an issue – but it’s not.
I don’t have a problem with them building a new game upon an existing engine, but Thrones seems to expect players to be familiar with the campaign and battle mechanics of Attila rather than provide adequate tutorials. New game, new series, remember? You can’t have it both ways.
Thrones also recycles various assets and animations from Attila. Once again, if it was an expansion, it wouldn’t be an issue – but it’s not. I don’t expect them to redo perfectly fine animations or models, but smaller and more noticeable things – such as the ‘kill’ animation when defeating an enemy army – should have been changed. The engine performance may have improved – though not by a significant degree – but the battle engine in terms of collisions, impacts, animations and AI is nearly identical to Attila.
In a way, Thrones doesn’t offer much more of an overhaul of the campaign or battles than the Age of Charlemagne DLC. That’s the real problem here. I think Thrones offers a decent campaign and I’m enjoying playing it, but it doesn’t do enough to stand at its own game, and that’s how I have to judge it because that’s how they’re choosing to sell and market it.
I actually really like the idea of the ‘Saga’ series. I’ve said before that I think Creative Assembly do their best work on the smaller scale or focus. And Thrones, like Shogun 2, has a wonderfully immersive campaign thanks to its excellent art and audio. But Thrones feels like it has one foot in Attila and one foot out.
Thrones – and the Saga series – needs to do more to provide a unique experience, both mechanically and commercially. A 24.99 RRP would have been a more suitable price point. I think Saga games should also be sold as ‘feature complete’. No DLC. Blood could have been in be default. I understand the ratings argument, but once again, this new series needs to do more to define itself and separate itself from the mainline titles.
Thrones has some of the best siege maps in the series, but it doesn’t have a unique map for every major settlement. Why not? If you’re working on this smaller scale and focus, then you need to go deep, not wide. A unique map for every settlement would have been another way to have increased the value of Thrones as its own game.
I know this review isn’t really covering specific mechanics, but I already spoke at length about those in my First Impressions post, so I won’t repeat myself here. I like the new campaign mechanics, and I like how the campaign plays across those two distinct phases. As I’ve said before – doing things different doesn’t mean doing things wrong. It doesn’t mean doing things right, either, but I’ve always respected this series for being willing to experiment with its feature set.
The problem is, even with its new and tweaked features, Thrones doesn’t offer as much as Attila – it actually offers less. Attila felt like a good step forward for the series, but Thrones feels like two steps back. It strips down or simply removes far too many mechanics.
Overall, Thrones is a solid and fairly enjoyable Total War experience, but it is limited not only by its engine, but by the setting and period. Although I’ve enjoyed my time with the title and will likely play it some more, it really just makes me want to go back to Attila where I can enjoy a far more complex, compelling and diverse campaign.
If CA want to continue the Saga series of titles they need to do better at defining what they are and what they represent, mechanically and commercially. If this was sold purely as an Attila expansion, I’d say it’s a pretty decent one. But if I’m going to judge it as CA want – as a new game in a new series – then Thrones falls far short of what it should be aiming for.