If you haven’t heard of Thea: The Awakening, you wouldn’t be alone. It’s a game that’s flown under many a radar, certainly when it originally came out back in 2015. It recently released a console port and it’s… still fairly under the radar. Which is a shame, because Thea has a lot of really, really intriguing ideas and even more really, really important warnings.
First things first, what is Thea: The Awakening? The game is a roguelike, 4X, turn-based, survival, adventure game with crafting, random story events, and card based combat. If that feels like a long and eclectic list, well, it is. We’ll get to that later.
The game takes place on Thea, the titular planet, which is slowly coming out of an apocalyptic darkness caused by an unknown force. You take the role of a god, a weakened deity able only to watch over a small village of worshippers in order to guide them to survival. This requires you to manage a village full of people while also being in charge of the expedition you have running around exploring the world.
Both your village and your expedition function in tandem. Your village acts as a hub to gain basic resources, as well as, to craft new structures and gear. The structures improve the function of the village while the gear is handed out and equipped to the members of your expedition.
That expedition, meanwhile, is running around the map clearing the fog of war and finding rarer resources for you to use, as well as completing quests and interacting with events. Each of the members of your party will have a class and level, as well as, a set of equipment they’ve found or been given by the craftsmen of your village. They’re able to make temporary camps in order to gather resources either for self-sustenance or to collect rare resources.
Quests appear as a burst of exposition followed by a simple dialogue option for you to choose from. Sometimes you gain extra options based on the composition of your expedition, such as a being able to cure the sickness ailing someone you meet if you have a medic in your party.
Whenever your party does get involved in a conflict, be it social or combat or something in between, the game triggers a card based resolution system. Each of your expedition members is represented by a card with stats and abilities modified by their class, level, and gear. You then “play” them with their position in the order of the challenge determining what they do and how effectively.
Also, and I’m sorry, but I can’t think of a clever segue for this. Doing most anything gains you experience towards earning advancement points that you spend on a radial web of technology to unlock new resources, as well as, to learn how to craft new items and structures.
Whew. We have now summed up Thea’s mechanics as succinctly as possible. You still with me? Good. The game tries to do a lot of different things all at once, blending genres in new and interesting ways. Which is genuinely cool. I love it when games try new things like this. The problem is that it doesn’t even come close to working.
It’s not that any given part of Thea is bad. If you look at the components individually, each one seems perfectly serviceable, and, in fact, they are. The problem is that none of them alone makes up an entire game, and all of them together somehow add up to less than the sum of its parts.
Your village is where this is first made clear. You need to have enough food to feed your people and fuel to keep the fires going. You assign people to their gathering tasks and then… that’s pretty much it. I mean sure, you can task them with crafting new items for your expedition or structrues to grant your village modifiers, but that doesn’t take very much time. Your village is pretty much self-sustaining from the world, so unless you’re crafting something it basically doesn’t require your attention.
The only exceptions are the periodic random events that occur, causing temporary story beats within the village. These are interesting but exceedingly random. There’s real indication of when they’ll happen, and there’s no way of preparing for them anyway. You rarely have a choice in what happens during these, and they’re usually bad for you. All of which adds up to a clever idea that is poorly implemented.
Speaking of poorly implemented, the card-based resolution system simply didn’t need to exist. As an idea, it isn’t the worst thing in the world, and the mechanics involved are actually rather novel. The problem is twofold. First, the game isn’t deep at all, with rarely any chance to make a meaningful choice. Second, even at its best, the card game simply isn’t fun.
There’s actually an option at the beginning of every fight that allows you to auto-resolve it without having to actually go through the card game. I feel this should have been a red flag. Developers, if you add an option skip a gameplay element because you think players might not want to do it, maybe just change it.
It’s not that Thea is hard to play, exactly. There’s always something more to do, and it leaves you constantly finding one more quick objective to complete before you call it a night. Sadly, it very rarely is able to draw you back after that. There’s very little incentive to actually play the game, as it constantly feels like it’s “about to get good” without every actually getting there.
It doesn’t help that the game is bewilderingly complicated. It’s hard to go two minutes without getting bogged down in labyrinthine nested menus that are less than clear, to say the least. Utilizing all the synergistic gameplay rapidly becomes necessary to keep with the games relentless upward difficulty spike, except half of the different gameplay elements are things you want no part of. It is a problem when you aren’t strong enough to handle the other parts. The gravest offender of this is, of course, the tech tree: a mechanic whose presence isn’t bewildering only because I spent all my bewilderment on the card game.
I mentioned a clever idea that was poorly implemented earlier in this review, and honestly, that feels like a good description for the entire game. Thea: The Awakening could have been something truly amazing. It was the beginnings of a 4X game that bucks the tropes and standards, an adventure game with genuinely intriguing randomized events and quests. It was a moderately interesting premise.
The problem is that, in the end, none of these things become fully realized. Instead, we’re left with a Frankenstein of a game that handles about as well as you’d imagine. It’s tempting, and you come to look because it promises something truly exciting. But it doesn’t deliver, and you’re left wishing you’d spent the time playing a game that knew what it was trying to do.
- Cool flavor
- Novel implementation of mechanics
- Blending of seperate genres
- Boring and slow
- Genres don't blend well
- Card combat is awful
- Game is needlessly complex