Back in September, eXplorminate did a preview article outlining all the upcoming 4X and strategy games for our next “fiscal” year. One that we mentioned as “quickly becoming one of our most anticipated indie titles” was Thea: The Awakening. Well, the developers at Muha Games have not disappointed.
Thea is something of a hybrid game. It’s best described as a mash-up of 4X, Roguelike, and Survival genres. That may sound like quite a claim, but in this case, it’s true. The developers at Muha Games have taken some of the quintessential elements from each genre and combined them into a surprisingly good mix. Thea has the eXploration, eXploitation, and eXtermination mechanics from 4X genres, it has the perma-death and ironman no-save elements from Roguelikes, and it is immersed in the ambiance and resource management mechanics that define the survival genre. I consider it a “4X-Lite” with Roguelike and Survival heritage.
Thea is currently in Early Access on Steam. I’ve gotten about 16 hours into the game at this point, and I’m still hardly scratching the surface. The unique Slavic folklore in which Thea is immersed in, is very well done. It is refreshing to play a fantasy game that’s not textbook Tolkien (even though I do enjoy Tolkienesque games greatly). Thea’s dark mood and unfamiliar mythos bring something unique to the table that I think many players will appreciate.
In Thea you portray a deity who has come back from oblivion to try to rebuild the world. Each time you play a game in Thea you earn XP, win or lose. This XP accumulates and your avatars level up and gain new abilities that improve your villagers. The first few times you try Thea, you’re going to lose. I promise. However, you’ll gain that XP and each subsequent play will get a little easier. Once you get the hang of it, Thea becomes an extraordinarily pleasurable game. It never really gets “easy” in my estimation. Play is always challenging and fun. Muha has done a great job balancing the game already and is making further progress each week.
Gameplay is incredibly deep. Players can research all sorts of materials, weapons, armor, buildings, and recipes. I’ve barely unlocked a third so far. Each item on the research trees opens new possibilities that incentivize further eXploration and eXploitation of the world. A lot of 4X game developers should take a good look at Thea for ideas on how to improve the eXploit aspect of their game.
Combat in Thea is handled via a card mini-game. I have to admit, when I first read about that in our Thea Q&A, I was dubious. I didn’t think a tactical card game could ever give players the depth and engagement that 3D tactical combat a la Age of Wonders III does. I was wrong. The card game is fantastic and very well designed. I must tip my hat to the developers at Muha Games that invented this game-within-a-game. No doubt many who read this preview will also have doubts about the cards. Just watch any of my Let’s Play videos for Thea and see if you still feel that way.
As far as the game’s completeness goes at this point, I’m hard pressed to think of any features that are missing outside of maybe keyboard inputs, additional tooltips and User Interface upgrades.
When the game launched on Early Access, it was clear that the User Interface needed a good amount of work. It was difficult to assign villagers to tasks (an essential part of play) and navigating through the various city management panels was an annoying grind. Thankfully, last week the development team began implementing a revised UI. Now, it is much easier to assign tasks and to navigate among the three main screens: gathering, crafting, and construction.
Thea still requires WAY too many clicks to do simple things. You can’t left click to select and right click to move your units. Trading gear among characters is clunky and requires a ton of patience. The game is not the most user friendly at this point, but that’s what the Early Access program is all about. The developers are eagerly implementing user feedback and have come up with some innovative solutions to these problems. I hope they continue to do that.
Otherwise all the major mechanics seem implemented. Research trees look as if they are complete, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the devs added a few more buildings and recipes in the future. Thea could probably use a few more monsters, but as it is, there are plenty to keep you busy. The game isn’t just about combat anyway. It’s all about protecting and utilizing your villagers while eXploring the world-at-large.
If you’ve been hunting for a dark fantasy game, with lots of unique and interesting mechanics, Thea might be what you’re looking for. I would advise that you watch a few Let’s Play videos and check out their forums before making any purchase. You also might want to peruse Nate’s Q&A with the developers. They explained a lot of what went into making Thea. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is a mash-up of several genres and this conglomeration won’t appeal to everyone.
This is just a preview, so I can’t make any kind of recommendation. I will tell you this, though. I am very much enjoying myself. Frustrating as it is at times, I do feel like I’m always making progress, and even when I lose, I am having so much fun, I jump right back in and start a new game. If you do decide to take the plunge and get Thea now (on sale for $19.99 on Steam), I wish you good hunting and good luck. You’re gonna need it!