Not a lot of people know about the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of Britain and the wars they fought against the Vikings, the Welsh, as well as amongst themselves. At least not as much as they remember Britain’s comparatively modern and unified years, or their conquest of much of Africa and parts of Asia. Some Anglo-Saxon period history is taught in UK but not where we live (Dubai), even though we follow a British curriculum.

I remember my first tutorship of British history in school started from William the conquerors conquest of the isle. The ethnic and cultural realities of Britain at the time were never explained and so we did not learn that the Danes were united behind Harald Hardrada, the Anglo-Saxon’s Harold Godwinson, and the Normans (themselves descendents of the Norse) under William. All three cultural groups shaped the history of Britain with their classical clash along with the Celts and Gaelic tribes.

Total War: Thrones of Britannia is a game that at least attempts to bring us Britain in its formative years. This games start date is set in the year 878 AD. During that time there were a group of Anglo-Saxon nations ruling chunks of the (not yet fully Anglicized) “English” heartlands. There were also Welsh, Irish and Gaelic Kingdoms (precursors to Scots) vying for control of the British isles. The language of English began forming since the Anglo-Saxon invasion at the end of Roman times.

What is most perceptible is that this Saga, of which this is the first, is much smaller in scale compared to the other Total War games. And this shows from the very start. You can control only ten factions while there are only five cultural groups. Mercia and Wessex for example are from the same cultural group so their unit rosters are almost completely alike. There is also no added game expansion that gives us new campaign maps, start dates and factions. This is a stark difference from some other Total War titles where there is regular new content that enhances the overall game in remarkable ways.

The art style chosen by the developers also is different from what we have ever had before in a Total War Game. There are British-isle inspired tapestries brought to life and some of them even resemble popular ones from the battle of Hastings. It certainly takes time to get used to though and I did not enjoy this art-style even after playing for a long period of time. But I acknowledge it fits into the Anglo-Saxon and Briton aesthetic.

What I like most about ToB from the very start is that it isn’t unfair as Attila is. I have never in my entire playthrough as Wessex been attacked by a double stack army or even an army much stronger than mine. Still this is no Attila where the Huns attack with more than three full stacks and getting rid of them is a painful struggle.

Playing as East Engle (East Anglia) was tougher than Wessex though and I was attacked by a “cousin’s” Viking (Wicing) army straight off the bat. This was a tough nail to crack when starting a game but I managed to use a bit of guile and intrigue to lure their army into attacking my vassal, hence weakening both. The Wicing army won against my vassal but was weakened sufficiently. I followed through with an attack from my own army and after a pitched battle, voila! The Wicing army was obliterated.

This is where the Total War games bloom. Having a mighty conventional force to back you up is great but at times you can also use diversionary tactics, agents (There are no agents at all in ToB though-what a disappointment) and intrigue to alter the outcome in your favor. And of course, your army management skills are put to the test here and you have to make decisions that affect an entire country. The options are limitless and the same situation doesn’t usually occur twice. This unending replayability is what makes the Total War series the best strategy series out there.

Certain things in ToB are a complete reduction of entertainment value. Just when I got used to the agents from Rome 2 and Atilla, ToB got rid of the agents completely. There is also no cool-looking skill tree to climb up or upgrade your generals similar to what we had in Rome 2 and Attila.

ToB mixes things from old Total War games with the new. There is no limit imposed on the number of armies you can host but to build an army at all, you will have to assign a general first in the traditional Rome and Attila format. There are no captains either. I also did not find a culture or religious management menu, something I felt was designed for the better in the previous two Total Wars.

ToB has certain flaws. The unit roster is uninventive and not varied enough and the Welsh, Viking and Scottish Kingdoms share a number of units with each other. Some units being shared would not be a problem but a majority of units (if not all) being the same made me reluctant to play Mercia right after Wessex. The Ceorl spearmen and some other units are also available to almost all factions.

Playing as Wessex the threats I faced were limited, with the rebels being the main ones. But even here precaution, strategy and craftiness work wonders. If you deal with rebels fast the world will be your oyster, or at least Britannia. In fact whenever an enemy or even an ally from my border lost his territory to rebels I, the perfect opportunist, took advantage, sent my forces, and conquered the town and even defeated the rebels (at least before they established 20 unit stacks). This is a perfect low-risk expansion strategy without declaring war on any major faction and I would counsel it to anyone playing this game for the first time.

The family politics has been dumbed down even though there is a family tree. You have far fewer options pertaining to how you deal with your characters as well as family members. This is something I actually liked in Total War Attila which is unavailable here. Sometimes it does feel ToB took the worst factors from Attila and implemented them even though Attila has its own faults. At least there are no major balancing issues like with the Huns in Attila.

ToB also works different from other Total War games. There are those irritating estates to manage loyalty (which are overly simplified) among nobles, but among the most visible changes, your villages and minor towns do not have a proper garrison. Yet these defenceless settlements will certainly be your money earning base because these minor settlements contain all the money making buildings. Even food is generated by these minor settlements. This change encourages players to fight more battles on the field rather than behind the protection of walls in your main settlement.

This changes the difficulty dynamic, particularly on the tougher difficulties. People who have played other Total War games would know the easiest of battles are where you are defending a town from an enemy. If you have a town defended by walls the battle is even easier for the defending player to win. All you have to do is place your troops at the gates and walls and guard the towers. The towers kill the bulk of enemy soldiers. This is possibly true for ToB too but I didn’t have the chance to test it as much because the battles usually took place in the field rather than behind walls.

Since your minor settlements are unguarded and do not have a built-in garrison within them, it means more surprises and much more unpredictable gameplay. In fact having all your armies at the frontlines is not always a most advantageous option. There can be vicious Wicing raids (or rather armies) from say, the southern coastline as you play as Wessex, somewhere you wouldn’t normally want to post units or an army.

The characters are divided between generals and governors. You can have a maximum of ten governors at any one time, even if you have more provinces than that. Now when you level your commander or governor up (which is already too easy-Alfred was rank 10 in around 25 turns while I was playing as Wessex) his skill points aren’t added to improving said base-skill. Instead the skill point gets assigned to a companion or retinue-person who provides a bonus to your character. A priest adds loyalty, a champion adds command, a bard adds zeal, a forager gives food, a scribe gives governance and so on.

Whether the points get added to improving your general or his retinue, the end result is the same as in other Total war games-you get an increase in certain skills for that general or governor as he levels up. That said, and even though this sounds petty, I did not like this too much and preferred the way Shogun 2 did things. Shogun 2 added retinue-members and gave you access to a skill tree at the same time as your character leveled up.

And your settlement buildings affect your governors traits, something I have been craving for in Total War games. Having governors for your provinces is slick, as is the truth that they will become farmers if you build lots of farm buildings in the settlement, become educated if you build libraries, businessmen if you concentrate on industry and they can become any conceivable type of person depending on how you handle things.

There are a number of traits your general or governor will have that he is born with sure, but you direct his destiny because he will acquire certain traits according to your play-style. If you have heard me give commentary on Total War games this is what I enjoy most deeply in them and was something missing in Rome 2 and Attila. These traits that a character earns in conjunction with your play-style really make you feel that you own that character as well as gives you something to aspire too. This is exactly what was missing in Total War Attila. The dread and chivalry are still not back from Medieval 2 but at least the developers meet you half way here.

Dead factions can return from the dead and Britannia is brimming with factions-both emerging and dismantling. In fact a divided Britain of that time is the perfect setting for over fifty factions, most minor but some major. We wish African history was preserved so well. ToB gives you long and short victory conditions. I found achieving the Fame victory to be pretty easy. I reached the short one within forty turns when playing as West Saexe, signaling to me that ToB was shorter than other Total War titles.

The estates being the main way to ensure loyalty amongst your subjects also did not hit its mark. There should be other considerations rather than just doling out heaps of land to our powerful nobles to keep them in line.

War weariness is a new mechanic and even though my West Saexe (Wessex) Kingdom started with a negative one, I had no problems increasing it. It basically takes the place of army integrity. Your population dislikes the problems brought with endless war and react to it in certain ways.

ToB could have covered the tumultuous times of religious discord as well as the gradual conversion of the Norse Pagans to Christianity. We know that in those times Pagan bands raided undefended monasteries and villages with reckless abandon. Instead there are no Norse pagan’s at all. True, Paganism was gradually declining during this time but it had not completely vanished and the Danes brought a lot of their religion and culture along when settling lands they once raided. The real near-end of Viking Norse religion came in the tenth century and even then the populations hadn’t converted as had the Norse Kings.

Thrones of Britannia’s major blemish is the fact that it is just a dumbed-down version of Total War Atilla, which itself had flaws. While Britannia isn’t as hard on lower difficulties (at least the current version) it also does not allow you to host too many armies at one time. It’s art style isn’t as evocative as its predecessors. The estates fall flat on their face as an oversimplified system of managing loyalties. It is one of the weakest entries of the Total War series and sits in the same space as Total War Empire. A good Total War general may be willing to surmount all these issues in the quest to conquer Britannia though.

Review Platform: PC

Rating: 6.25

Pros

  • Your governors can have many traits, some from birth, others earned by the specific buildings you build under them (or any other behavior). Governors and generals traits are developed accordingly with the actions they take.
  • Game rewards strategy, cunning and out-of-the-box thinking. Brute force is not always enough to win battles.
  • Isn’t unfair in terms of battle. You are likely not to be attacked by over-whelming might (2 stack armies or more).
  • Battles are great.
  • Brain is needed more than brawn. Being a good commander is also about picking the right battles.
  • Lots of replayability. Though not as much as other TW games.

Cons

  • Units are uninventive and identical for a lot of factions. Certain factions with the same culture have the same units.
  • No agents.
  • Concepts like army integrity are replaced by war weariness.
  • Art Style definitely needs getting used to.
  • Politics, family actions and family intrigue options in the family tree are absolutely limited.
  • Estates are a weak replacement for the loyalty system.
  • Does not acknowledge that there was still Norse Pagan religion in Britain at that time and you can’t play as a pagan lord at all.
  • No religion or cultures to be managed at all. This was a good idea implemented in Rome 2 and Attila.
  • Too easy to level up general or governor.

 

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