Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia Review – War Never Changes

Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia Review

Total War sequels can go in two directions. They can go bigger, or they can go smaller. In any other franchise, the promise of a smaller sequel would be a deal breaker, but this is not so with Total War. I’m sure Empire Total War has its defenders, but it is not better than Shogun 2, that’s just a fact. Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia is a smaller sequel, bringing the focus to two tiny islands on planet Earth. It’s a refined Total War experience, but this may be the first time that focusing in has worked against a Total War game.

Old Albion

After all, the last new game in the series was Total Warhammer. That game was freaking nuts. Griffins and goblins and dwarves and dark elves created a unique strategic experience. The distinction between the kingdoms of West Seaxe and Gwined is a little bit less distinct. After the zany insanity of full-on fantasy battles, the literal down-to-Earth setting of Thrones of Britannia makes the game feel positively subdued.

On the other hand, it’s nice to return to a familiar map. I’m something of an Anglophile, and marching an army through the hills of Wales is an exciting experience. Thrones of Britannia really leans into the aesthetic of Great Britain. The valleys are green and lush, and the user interface is made of wood and stained glass. The commitment to a focused setting makes for the most well-realized Total War map since Shogun 2.

I’ve been with this franchise for a long long time. I started with the first Medieval: Total War (though I’ve gone back and played the original Shogun) and I’ve seen the formula evolve. I remember when Total War games were board games, each province making up an entire space on the map. A lot of the fat has been cut out of the game since then, and although the real-time tactical fights are better than they’ve ever been, I find Thrones of Britannia to be lacking in the turn-based department.

Tight, But Straightforward Combat

If you’ve played a Total War game, you know what to expect with commanding armies. You command units of dozens or hundreds of troops, and managing morale is more important than health. A broken unit will not fight. There’s a complex rock-paper-scissors system to keep track of. A line of spearmen will decimate charging cavalry, but the speedier horsemen can flank an army and charge from behind, discouraging a unit and causing it to flee from the battlefield. Armies in Britannia are fairly straightforward. They don’t get much more colorful than war dogs. But the combat is tighter than it has ever been. It’s not as thrilling as besieging an enemy castle with ninjas or dragons, but it’s reliable.

The larger map game did not work for me at all. Despite Britain being a much smaller setting than say, Rome, armies take far too long to maneuver. Generals and governors are drawn in a beautiful abstract style, but lack a lot of the personality they had in the earlier games. This is a post-Crusader Kings II world. A polished Total War game should have a more compelling diplomacy system than what Thrones of Britannia offers.

The objective system works really well. I always had multiple ways to progress forward. It just took so freaking long to rally my troops, especially when vikings would suddenly show up raiding my coastlines. I know Total War games are mostly about the, you know, war, but I miss the days of old when I had to manage a colorful court and build up my infrastructure.

If you come to Thrones of Britannia with a bloodlust you won’t be disappointed. Never has commanding mustachioed men to bludgeon each other to death been such an intellectual exercise. But if you were hoping for a major evolution of the Total War formula, you will be left colder than a Pict at the winter solstice. This is truly a Total War Saga– a smaller entry in a venerable series that’s not interesting in rocking the boat.

**PC Key provided by the publisher**

The Good

  • Refined Total War strategy
  • The real-time combat has been nearly perfected
  • Sharp focus goes deep, not broad

The Bad

  • Not much new in terms of gameplay
  • Feels sort of basic after the last few crazy games
  • The turn-based strategy layer is light