In the nearly twenty years the Total War series has existed, it’s impossible to calculate the immeasurable amount of time gamers have sunk into it. Ask any fan of the series their playtime on any one specific game and it’s rare to hear a number less than 500. While that’s a lot of time to devote to anything, there’s a reason why this series specifically has such dedicated players and that’s because there’s been a consistent level of quality that makes it easy to lose oneself in a game of military conquest. While there’s been a new game in the series every year or two, Creative Assembly and Sega are looking to expand the scope of the franchise further and have introduced the “Total War Saga” banner. Instead of focusing on a larger movement, Saga will focus on a distinct event beginning with the fascinating Viking Invasion of the British Isles.
Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia takes place just after the defeat of the Heathen Army which was an epic attempt by the Vikings to not only beat the Saxons, but also to settle and take over the British Isles. The story begins in 865 AD where led by the Danish Viking, King Guthrum, the Great Heathen Army invades East Anglia, forming a base at the town of Thetford. The army marches north and defeats Northumbria and conquers York. They then march south and conquer Ireland. Mercia and Wessex combine to counterattack, but are defeated. The army then returns to York and then Thetford. The East Engles attack but are also defeated. Based on the strength of their conquests thus far, the army gets reinforcements from Scandinavia and set their sights on Wessex, however, Prince Alfred defeats them at the Battle of Ashdown and shortly after Alfred’s father dies and he becomes king. The Vikings then retreat to London before forming a base in Repton and strike successfully into Mercia, taking the second most important Saxon kingdom. The Vikings then split up their army and start to settle in Northumbria. The main force then attacks Wessex again and the Vikings chase away Alfred after multiple successful engagements, who then reorganizes and ends up defeating the Vikings in 878 AD, bringing the isle into an uneasy state of peace with kings of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales looking to claim their place in history, which is when the events of the game begin.
In the world’s first hands-on gameplay session that Hardcore Gamer was invited to by Sega at their offices in Irvine, we were able to play as one of the ten playable factions, Mide, which is one of the Gaelic Kingdoms. While Ireland might not seem like the most likely place in this story, the Viking Invasions left a massive impact on Ireland, with Dublin even being founded by the Vikings. Mide is in the heart of Ireland and has been the birthplace of many High Kings. There’s cultural bonuses to church income, character loyalty and bonuses for owning cultural land. There’s big diplomatic bonuses with other Gaelics and great mid-high tier sword and javelin infantry. Every third summer a Faction trait called The Fair of Tailtiu means you’ll get a fair which can benefit the faction, but if under siege or with insufficient funds, the fair will not be held and the population will be unhappy.
One of the biggest changes in Thrones of Britannia is recruitment. New units have been decoupled from buildings and they can be recruited from a global pool in any settlement or fortification, which replenishes over time. The amount of each unit type that can be recruited and fielded are capped, but those caps can be raised through technology and buildings. Units start at 25% strength to represent the concept of mustering. Troop upkeep will be vital as not only is money needed, but also enough food.
Events and dilemmas inject cultural flavor into all the factions, which will be unique to each culture. Some factions have extensive branching dilemmas that help flesh out the story as players start off as smaller kingdoms than in previous Total War titles. Events also chart the march of events around the British Isles, letting players hear news of betrayals and more based on what is happening in the time period. Much like in Total War: Attila (which much of the game is modeled after), family, politics and internal governance are managed through the Family Tree panel. Faction politics maintain the level of your faction leader, which can be affected by things like campaign actions, martial status and War Fervour.
Creative Assembly focused on character development when crafting Thrones of Britannia and it shows. Characters are defined by attributes, stats and followers. Zeal boosts morale improvements, Command raise their bodyguard size and battlefield abilities, while Governance reduces construction costs and corruption, raising the market income. Traits are gained over time and affect a multitude of abilities. When a character rises in rank, points are earned to spend on acquiring and leveling-up followers. Finally, there are no Agents in Thrones of Britannia. Their functions have been folded into generals and governors through follower updates.
Characters have Command and Governances stats which can be improved via followers. Assigning Governors to provinces brings bonuses and improves them over time. As new territories are gained, estates are acquired which can be granted to characters to improve loyalty. When they’re taken away, however, they’ll be upset about it, which creates a balancing act of wanting to retain people on your side. As your empire gets bigger, the dilemma of trying to parcel out all the land to subordinates becomes more difficult, leading to conflict.
Another big change to Thrones of Britannia are provinces. Players had a handful of provinces in previous games, but in Thrones of Britannia players will have a provincial capital and multiple minor settlements, which will focus on a single thing such as mining, farms, churches, ports and more but nothing else. Capitals boast more building slots and have walls and garrisons for defense and boast larger structures for things like the military, production, infrastructure and more. This system allows players to starve enemies of resources one at a time to bring ruin to them without having to attack main areas.
In previous Total War games it was difficult to get trade agreements, but that will no longer be the case in Thrones of Britannia because you’ll trade with them automatically. More focus has been put into ensuring characters follow the traits they have, so if a character is aggressive but dependable in a fight, he’ll start off attacking you. There’s also a range of different British, Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Scandinavian voices for faction leaders which lends more realism to the proceedings.
War Fervour is back and measures your people’s appetite for war. If a war hasn’t been fought for a while, warriors might get anxious to head back to combat, but if a war is being fought on two fronts and a crushing defeat has been suffered, the population will be unhappy and not want to fight, creating a needed balance of when to wage war.
There’s many ways to win in Thrones of Britannia that support a wide variety of play styles. Players have the choice of following narrative faction events, increasing fame, conquering rivals or all of the above. Conquest Victories allow players to conquer settlements and expand their faction’s borders, Fame Victory increases faction fame through technological breakthroughs, wars, economic development and more, Kingdom Victories will allow players to change a faction name like Mide to Ireland if a certain aspect of a campaign is fulfilled, which is a neat addition, and then the Ultimate Victory will of course be quite the challenge to meet.
Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia doesn’t seem like a mere stopgap between mainline entries, but more like a full-fledged Total War title that stands shoulder to shoulder with every game in the series thus far. Focusing more on a specific conflict is a novel idea that will allow players to truly hone in on an important part of history. Thrones of Britannia is rich with content and boasts positive gameplay additions and tweaks. It’s visually impressive to boot and features a unique new art style that beautifully fits in with the tone. It might be hard to free up enough time to play a major Total War game before the upcoming release of Three Kingdoms, but it will be absolutely worth it in the end as Creative Assembly looks to be delivering quite the history lesson indeed.
For more on Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia, be sure to read our interview with Creative Assembly’s James Given.