Thea: The Awakening is a roguelike strategy survival game by MuHa Games with a procedurally-generated dark fantasy world teeming with life. In a world that has suffered perpetual darkness for over a century, players embody one of the fallen gods from the previous era. Though substantially weakened, this god awakens to find themselves embodying the villagers from one devout town in Thea that is struggling to survive. It is through the lives and strength of these followers that the god can regain its strength, and help cleanse Thea of its darkness completely.
The game begins with players selecting from a small pantheon of divine gods from Slavic mythology, though only two are available when the game begins: Zorya and Svarog. Each represents a different realm, and thus have different strengths and benefits for their people, though they need to earn experience through the lives and successes of their subjects before they can gain access to such powers. The bulk of the gameplay is done on the world map, where a village and an expedition stand next to each other on some part of Thea, surrounded by a thick fog that hides many resources and creatures within it. The villagers move around in turns that pass the days and nights slowly, making progress on their individual tasks each time the turn ends.
There are many dangers to the villagers that players may face, ranging from roaming monsters to a series of random story events that can suddenly do harm to everyone within a group. They could also just as easily starve without the proper amount of food. Villagers also require fuel to keep them warm and able to work efficiently on their tasks, whether gathering nearby resources, crafting useful items, or constructing buildings for the village. Expeditions can also gather resources, though they are better-suited to moving further to look for exotic items, which may prove useful in creating powerful items. Such resources can also be used to provide variety in food, as the more different types of food a group of villagers has available to them, the more bonuses they receive to stats, movement, health, healing, and more. It is an interesting feature to keep in mind at all times, as making food is easily the most important task to have a villager work on constantly.
Combat, or, perhaps more generally, encounters and skill challenges with other creatures in the world, is played out using a card battle system developed especially for the game. It is an initially complex system that requires patience to understand, as well as to begin designing strategies and tactical moves to implement. Each card played is a character within the village or the expedition, depending on who is experiencing the encounter. They frequently face off against monsters, though they also go up against certain concepts such as poisoning and tactical strategy.
Combat against monsters is the most direct means of dealing with them, and also leads to the greatest rewards, since it requires the most risk to accomplish. Anyone who suffers just a bit of damage will be wounded, and too many wounds can cause damage over time that will kill them. Skill challenges are much safer, as they don’t put the villagers in the same kind of danger as a direct conflict. This system is especially interesting as it essentially changes with every playthrough, allowing the player to test different confrontation techniques each game with a unique set of villagers, containing different stats, strengths, and weaknesses.
Thea: The Awakening uses relatively simple graphics to provide small animated avatars, representing the monsters and expeditions that roam the surface of Thea. Otherwise, the world map is simple to look at, using hexagonal grids to separate the different spaces. There is enough detail to show what kind of land the player is standing on, at least. The in-story events are all played out in written form; player input is often requested, with multiple options given depending on the makeup of the party. These events also sometimes utilize beautiful hand drawn images, immersing players a bit more into the story of the event. Important events, such as the tutorial, are even voice acted, providing the feeling of reading or listening to a fairytale.
Thea: The Awakening offers a good time for a tactical player, but is also remarkably frustrating due to the challenges it offers as a survival game. Thankfully, death does not come without its rewards, as the god that had been looking over the village will receive experience based on the success of the villagers. Success is measured, in part, in how far they went while exploring and taking part in certain story events. The card system remains the most frustrating element, though is also the most innovative feature of the game. Though this system and setting up a strategy are difficult to comprehend, they are worth the effort in order to learn to utilize more than just the mediocre stats of starting villagers. It is possible to often auto-resolve encounters without using cards, but the results will always have more failures, injuries, and deaths if they are not used.
Thea: The Awakening is currently available for PC on Steam for $19.99 USD (on sale for $15.99 until November 27). Though perhaps not a must-buy, it is certainly an original title worth playing through multiple times, in order to save Thea from another century of perpetual darkness. The retail price feels high, but the amount of gameplay and challenges offered are worth it, as the game immerses players into a world with dangers around every corner.