In 878 CE the Danes were a true power in the lands that would eventually become England. In the years leading up to this date with destiny, Vikings had been raiding the British coast with increasing confidence, using their uniquely designed boats to penetrate further and further inland. These raids took place to such an extent that the Danes managed to grow very powerful, targeting weaker dynasties and expanding their influence on the island. Around the year 878 CE, however, the status quo was cracked wide open when a series of events unfolded that would eventually shape a number of smaller kingdoms into what we now call England. It's the time of Alfred the Great and the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok that forms the framework for Creative Assembly's latest Total War game.
Thrones of Britannia is a bit different than what we're used to seeing from the series, as it's not an extension of an existing game, but rather builds on the basic formula and engine of Total War: Attila. Creative Assembly took this decision as they had lots of different ideas that were based in and around the period of history encompassing the events of Attila, so there was no need to start from scratch, and thus the concept for Total War Saga was forged.
It's a concept whereby the focal point is narrowed from major conflicts down to regional wars, where key moments could lead to many different outcomes. This first Saga focuses on the conflicts around 878 CE, as it's a period where there were several key players, but it's also a time that's currently popular thanks to television and films giving us a fresh perspective on events. Creative Assembly, however, assures those who played Attila that Thrones of Britannia is not just an expansion at full price, but a game that extends the series' mechanics as well as offering a lot of new content.
Mide, for example, is a small Celtic clan in central Ireland, and they think that it's time for them to call themselves rulers of the Emerald Isle and appoint their own king. This small background story is presented in a charming little intro sequence; a little cartoon film presented in an artistic style inspired by the era. In spite of the charm, we found it a bit 'cartoony', a bit too cute for the bloodbath that subsequently plays out. The strategic map that all players of Total War are familiar with is similar to what we've seen before, however, even though the game only takes place in Britain, the map isn't small. Perhaps it's a bit smaller than the one in Attila, but at a glance, we think it's close thanks to the fact that there are lots of provinces to conquer. Of course the environment doesn't vary much in terms of climate, but instead CA has focused on building lots of varied battlefields. In particular, siege battles have been given special treatment; CA has been able to create unique fortresses for each city.
On the one hand, one might say that the general visual realisation of each faction and area is as it should be, but our experience was that it could be difficult to differentiate between locations, factions, and units. We're not dealing with cultures that are far apart and therefore, of course, they also look like each other, and sometimes it could be a little confusing, the same being true in the menus. However, these aspects aren't fully developed, so it's hard to say what's being replaced and what's going to be in the finished product. It can be a little annoying/confusing to find and then differentiate between noble characters too, as beyond their names they very much look alike on their portraits.
At the moment there isn't much new to be found in the combat itself. You have your usual units; cavalry, close combat fighters, ranged units and skirmishers, and those that sit somewhere in between. The AI seemed to be what we expected as well - competent, albeit sometimes confused. The most significant changes in Total War Saga are found on the strategic playing field, and the first thing that came to light was the changes to the recruitment system. You no longer have to be in a certain area to muster soldiers, as you can recruit all types of units at all times, if you have the resources. Soldiers need money and food, but if they've got that, they'll probably fight. In return, they're only recruited at 25% of their full strength, and you'll have to wait a few rounds before you have a full-strength unit ready for combat. This is a natural consequence of being able to call soldiers from local farms and villages, as they lack experience. War and conflict is a more prominent part of this particular scenario, and therefore you don't have the same time to train troops and develop new technology. This is also clearly seen in changes to the technology tree, as the various technologies aren't dependent on having different buildings, as has often been the case in past entries, but by the experience gained through one's actions. For example, ten units need to be recruited with swords before you can access technology that lets you recruit more advanced close combat units.