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Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia

Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia

CA has taken us back to the 9th century for its most detailed and personable Total War yet.

  • Text: Mike Holmes
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Total War is fracturing. It wasn't so long ago that the series was a succession of titles set in different periods of history, crisscrossing the past in no particular order as the Creative Assembly tinkered with the formula according to the constraints dictated by the technology of each era. That formula, for all the changes we've seen over the years, remains largely intact; players move armies around a region, pausing only to settle real-time battles when two opposing forces meet. And so it was for many years, that is until a recent burst of expansion saw the franchise begin to explore the world of Warhammer, invade mobile devices, and even advance into the realm of free-to-play online multiplayer.

Despite the broadening of the overall brand, you could argue that in terms of historical warfare the series is actually zooming in more closely on key moments in history, and since Rome II we've been getting increasingly focused Total War games. Rome II is a vast strategy game with a huge campaign map, Attila brought players deeper into Europe as the Western Roman Empire started to flounder and populations migrated due to climate change, and now with Thrones of Britannia we're picking things up a few hundred years later in Britain, during one of the defining periods of the island's history: the unification of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

In terms of its place in the series, Thrones of Britannia is a "Saga". That's essentially a new label to describe more focused entries that closely examine a particular period of history. The Saga series will not, for example, include the likes of the upcoming Total War: Three Kingdoms, which is going to be another expansive game with a huge map that spans an extended period of time (more specifically, China circa 190 CE). Thrones of Britannia, on the other hand, has a very specific starting point - 878 AD - shortly after Alfred the Great had come back from the brink and fought the great Viking army out of south-west Britain. The game starts with Anglo-Saxon countries to the south, the Vikings to the north and east, with the showdown between the two framed by Welsh and Gaelic kingdoms to the north and west. And so begins a war that would eventually result in the formation of England, forging the identity of the English people.

Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia
Britain might be a small play space compared to past world maps, but there's lots of detail.

As with any Total War, your connection to the period will enhance your enjoyment and we should note now that we're fascinated by this part of the British story. While we concede that we're not experts, we know enough to recognise how some of the quirks of the period have been adapted into interesting mechanics. An obvious example from Alfred's faction is the Witan, a council that met to discuss matters of state. Using this feature the player can issue general edicts that then feed into your overall campaign effort, such as raising or lowering taxes. Another example is the recruitment of new generals and governors to your faction, as you'll often have to throw money at them to keep them sweet, something that can feel annoying at first. However, the Anglo-Saxon hierarchy of the era was dominated by a gift-giving culture, and the most powerful warlords and kings had to make with the presents or risk mutiny among their lieutenants. It was, after all, an age of mercenaries.

Thrones of Britannia's tight focus allows CA to delve deep into the era in a way that the studio hasn't been able to in quite the same way before now, and we think the greater level of detail works really well. The map, for example, is extremely detailed, and despite only including the British Isles it still feels huge (and we booted up Rome II to see the difference in scale and detail, the contrast between the two Britains is vast). Each major kingdom is included, with the bigger towns supported by smaller settlements, and it's actually quite fun trying to work out what the old English place names translate to in modern terms. Once again you earn money from the buildings in your towns, and once again you're leveling them up as you balance productivity with overall stability and building/maintaining an army. Apart from perhaps the removal of powerful agent units, this part of the game is relatively untouched, and it still works nicely.

Total War Saga: Thrones of BritanniaTotal War Saga: Thrones of Britannia
The battles remain just as epic as before, with thousands of soldiers crossing swords.
Total War Saga: Thrones of BritanniaTotal War Saga: Thrones of Britannia