Total War Saga: Thrones Of Britannia – First Impressions Review

 

 

When May the 3rd came, with it arrived the release of the first instalment of a new Total War series in a long lineage of the franchises’ successes, well loved by me. I was proper looking forward to playing it, especially since it was focusing on a period of tumultuous history that I find so interesting. Set in 878 AD after the Viking invasions and surrounding the struggles amongst the many kingdoms of Britannia. The land where I live, albeit now a United Kingdom (not to forget Ireland too of course).

Alas some bad planning on my part had meant that I’d be in Scotland to see my folks for a well needed break, drat. Well after my trip, I’ve finally got to put some thoroughly anticipated hours in and experienced enough turn based fun to give you my first impressions. So I’ll get right on with that considering I’ve taken a while!

I guess life will always … uhhh … find a way to get in between us and gaming for reasons both good and bad.
LIFE UHHH FINDS A WAY

 

 

Developers Creative Assembly take great pride in delivering authentic story driven games, so let me join them in that tradition of theirs in my look at the fruits of their labour. Let me set the scene for you with my first experience of the game;

After arriving late back from Scotland on the 6th of May I decided to get it installed, however fate would have it that my PC would give up the ghost that very night which required no end of tinkering for my non-technical Neanderthal mind to fix it. So I returned from the homeland of my Gaelic ancestors to a battle of wit and grit (mostly dust) with my PC. I finally sat victorious on my throne with it before me, king once more and ready to enter the fray.

I was immediately at least 5 times more excited as I watched the cinematic opening scene, which does great at painting the picture of the historical landscape your saga will take place in. Stunningly beautiful and doing wonders in condensing history into an introduction that legitimately got me even more fired up to play it, which I didn’t think possible. Well they managed it, ringing true to Creative Assembly’s custom and making the game you’re about to play feel like a labour of love from the get go, combining historical facts and drama to great storytelling effect. I felt I knew it was going to be another success from that moment in my eyes.

I had a brief overlook of some of the faction choices and quickly chose who I knew in my heart of hearts I’d be choosing and had been most looking forward to playing. It was only fitting it should be the Gaels considering the lead up to this. Besides I am always eager to play the underdogs of history and half of my lineage. So I chose the ancestors of the Scots with the kingdom of Circenn.

 

 

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After loading in, which I must say feels faster and smoother for me than other recent games in the franchise, which was nice and consistent throughout. I was met with another cinematic setting of scenes specific to my faction choice which again was stunning and helped immerse me further. Immediately this game hit me like a cavalry charge to the rear with just how beautiful it looked. From the cut scenes to the map and units all the way down to details in the unit cards and UI in general. Very pleasing on the eye both graphically and stylistically.

 

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What I’ve felt playing so far is that the game mechanics are meant to make the game a slower pace, putting a higher focus on well considered strategic management and foresight. As compared with, say, the faster paced flightiness of the Warhammer series in the game. However despite this clear intent it doesn’t particularity nail it. My playstyle is always rapid expansion until I collapse from internal strife (I’m a sadomasochist I know) yet despite me clearly not playing this particular take on the game as intended I have found it to be very forgiving. I always scrape through by the skin of my teeth, even though I have essentially been playing it badly. I am playing it on normal, however a criticism from the wider Total War community so far is that it’s too easy and I would tend to agree from my experience. However I feel this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it does make it more accessible to those who may not be as good as other players or fanatics of the series but it has been announced it will be evened out with a few tweaks of balancing to enhance the difficulty with an update that is currently in Beta.  So we can see how the victory conditions and overabundance of resources will be changed to address the feedback given on these issues, has to be said it’s a nice rapid response time we’ve seen, with the update coming to Beta just under a fortnight since its release.

In my game I took alliances with my kinsman surrounding me (at least those that would have me) and doing so, was quickly dragged into a war against the Orkneyjar Vikings to the North and so decided to declare friendship with the Vikings of Northmbyre to the South. My plan to over-expand had worked and I had immediately made things harder for myself. Until eventually I was surrounded by enemies as the Vikings and I swallowed up my former Gaelic allies. I felt if I hadn’t manufactured my own difficulty I would have been finding the game a bit too easy as I wasn’t really struggling except through my own engineered stupidity and even then coping (I guess that’s how I’ve survived life so long in general to be honest.)

Anyways enough of my story with the game so far let me look at the meat of the matter, so I can better explain my impressions of the game to you and tell you more of what I think.

 

 

 

History And Art Style

Both historically and stylistically in my eyes this game really gets it right on both counts simultaneously. The art style overall is very suited to the period and I think I’m right in thinking that inspiration has been taken from the art of the period. Such as the unit cards amongst other images, highly reflecting the Pictish stone engravings we have found in archaeological digs.

 

Pictish Stone men

 

It is both beautiful and for the most part historically stylised for the era, a really lovely aspect of the game.

I have to say Total War is one of the only games in which I do not turn the music off, usually I get distracted by it and it annoys me. However the music of this game is of such high quality and thematically fitting that it only serves to immerse me further, absolutely spot on and something I’ve come to expect from Creative Assembly who have won awards in the past for their games music.
There is your usual quotes and poetic verses from the era in loading pages. The factions are historically accurate and it all feels very on the mark historically speaking. You’ve got your nice cultural bonuses and faction relevant details as well as units, giving each a unique play style, although there is less variety owing to the focus in game. But still plenty to give you the urge for more playthroughs.

 

Map And Settlement Design

In my earlier article taking a look at the game pre-release, I mentioned that this one was billed to be the most detailed Total War map of Britain yet, 23 times bigger than the entire Attila campaign map, despite being focussed on one of the smallest regions dealt with in any Total War game.

It feels really vast, so well detailed and geographically pleasing with regards to terrain and it’s great to finally see Britain at a larger scale, personally speaking. I feel that there is a Total War for everyone and despite them all being for me, this one in particular is doubly so because of this.

 

The settlements are well designed and are varied and detailed, making a nice setup for both naval and land siege battles.

 

 

Game Mechanics

Overall as previously mentioned, this is a slower paced game with a larger need for strategic foresight than is necessary in other recent titles. With a return to a more in depth take on faction management as we have seen in past Total War games such as the medieval series. Let me tell you why this is the case, what has changed and how it plays.

 

–  Main Settlements And Smaller Holdings;

The fact that main settlements are now the only ones that have a garrison that isn’t a standing army, means that the smaller surrounding holdings in the province can easily change hand. This is something that lends towards the goal of making the game more strategic. I like this change as it means you have to be prepared and look more into the potential future, watching your enemy’s movements closely and preparing to counter with your armies. It also makes it easier to manage your economy, military tech and other such categories of settlement building keeping them separate and focused. As well as being a nice more historically accurate take on the game.

 

-Recruitment;

 

The recruitment area of the game is much more realistic in a sense. You now only recruit a certain number of a unit’s strength instantaneously and over turns more troops are trained to join the unit and make it up to full strength. This means you can’t just buy a full army over a turn or so to defend any settlements that are to be imminently besieged. Recruitment of unit types are limited and only become available again when they are replenished, giving you limited access to higher tech units. Which gives recruitment a nice balance, again adding to the strategy side of things, which I feel makes it a nice addition.

 

-Loyalty, Legitimacy And Food Surplus;

These three aspects are important and if you don’t get the balance right things can go wrong fast. The most important in my experience is food surplus, if you cannot feed your armies and populace things really go south fast. Legitimacy of your rule and the loyalty of your generals and governors, whilst seemingly supposed to be important, was never an issue with me. Bar one civil war which I quickly quashed. Lesser legitimacy and war fervour comes with penalties as well as bonuses at higher levels but loyalty felt a little moot. You can easily buy off your underlings with giving them estates as well as adding loyalty points through character progression selecting the right option.  The family tree and character progression to me felt a little 2D but perhaps this is something that will change with the rebalancing of the game that is due?

 

 


– Stances;

There are only two options for stances which are raiding and encamping, you can gain further movement ability through technological advances as well as character progression. Which seems to simplify it all, streamlining it nicely and taking away the perils that come with forced marching.

 

-Battles;

 

 

The battles in this game play so smoothly and the UI is very streamlined. For example having smaller banners that reveal greater detail when needed, making the action much easier to follow and allowing you to more easily micro manage the combat.

In sieges there is the option to place barricades to create fall back points as well as choke points, I like this. However it could be more varied as to where you can place them. You don’t get the choice and there are limited options as seen below.

 

 

 

Instead of capturing towers as an attacker, the towers fall and are completely destroyed. I feel that they should remain as they have in other Total War games and work in advantage of the attacker to make things a little easier on them. This, in my opinion tips the balance in favour of defenders even more so than is necessary.

 

I have yet to experience naval battles however had the misfortune to be attacked by a superior force of Vikings by sea. Something that was quite the sight to behold. And a reason why I look forward to playing them in the future!

 

 

The only criticism I can find of this aspect is that the AI has a bit of a one track mind, at least on normal difficulty, only really attacking head on and in so doing, are easily beaten with the right balance in numbers and unit type. As well as your prowess as a general of course. Though for the most part I feel this game has given me some of the best battle gameplay I’ve had, the smoothness combined with how slick it is when it comes to managing large armies on the field is great stuff.

 

 

Conclusion

To surmise, this game is another great Total War game which really sums it up. If you’re a fan I feel you’ll love it, if you’re not it’s not going to pique your interest unless you’re really into the historical focal point. I wasn’t blown away beyond the art style and the chance to play a game focusing on my homeland. Which just goes to show the level of quality I’ve come to expect from Creative Assembly, it has become par for the course in their long line of successes.

I only have four criticisms of it that really come to mind. The first being that the difficulty is way too easy at present, the balancing needs to happen to make it more challenging. This may be good for those who aren’t as adept at strategy games and would be a good entry level to the series in its current state. However seasoned veterans obviously find this a bit off putting.

The second is that some of the new and reintroduced features seem a tad fickle, for example the loyalty and family tree appear to hardly have much of an impact and is easily manageable even when playing like a lacklustre fool such as I.

Thirdly, I felt the story element of the game was slightly lacking, perhaps for example in game historical battles could have been added as missions to relive the periods actual happenings if you so choose to follow that path. Although overall it does a good job of capturing the cultures and era historically and the story telling is sufficient, it doesn’t hurt to ask for more.

The final is not an outright criticism as much as it is a selling point, obviously with the scope of the game being focused on a smaller historical and geographical period the depth of this game isn’t as wide and varying as say the Warhammer series of Total War. But if you’re looking to get stuck into the world of Britannia in this period of time, it’s a solid offering that you’ll have great fun playing.

A nice more strategically minded game that does require greater forward thinking tactical foresight in your play style, despite the easiness of victory and handling of adverse situations, something that I hope the tweaks to the balancing fixes. It’s beautifully made both visually and with regards to its smoothness of game mechanics and ease of use of the very functionally streamlined UI, I would definitely recommend this game. Especially to fans of the franchise, naturally.

 

It will be interesting to see what updates are in the pipeline. And of course I am eagerly anticipating the Three Kingdoms instalment and will be writing on how its development is doing and what we can expect from it in the coming weeks.

 

Finally, I give this game over 100 wolf hounds chasing 3 Vikings…

 

 

 

 

Warhammer Vermintide 2: Grim, Ghastly, Great

 

 

Straight off the bat it has to be said and is probably already well known by those of you it applies to, but fans of either of Valves’ Left 4 Dead franchise or the Warhammer fantasy world, especially fans of both, are going to absolutely love this corker of a sequel to Vermintide: End Times.

It’s a simple formula really, take the team based co-op and quirky escape style play of L4D add the world of Warhammer Fantasy table top games and you’ve got an instantly popular title. I reckon it can be easy to become lazy or complacent with such tried and tested gaming gold dust. However developers FatShark didn’t just lean on the popularity of the brand and style of game. In my opinion they have delivered a well-rounded playing experience that stands on its own merits and is just such a pleasure to play.

I haven’t played Vermintide: End Times, the first game in the series, but I had to try out the second as did many others it seems. This release has been bringing new fans to the desk as it outsold its predecessors’ lifetime sales in just two weeks!

In this article I will go over a few of my first impressions, looking at what aspects really struck a chord with me and what I thought made it an enjoyable experience, based on my first day of playing. I would also like to dedicate this article to a good friend Spawndex whom loves the Skaven and will probably be angry to know I still haven’t tried them in Total War: Warhammer 2 and that I much prefer dismembering them in Vermintide 2.

 

Character Progression, User Interface And Crafting

There are 5 heroes to choose from a Witch Hunter, Dwarf Ranger, Waywatcher, Bright Wizard and my personal favourite an Empire Soldier. Each have different abilities and can be levelled up with equipment and cosmetics gained, as well as skill choices to be made that are unlocked as higher levels are reached. There are 25 levels for each character with 3 perks unlocked every 5 levels, these can be mixed and matched as and when you please in the skill section of the inventory. There are also 3 unlockable career paths for each hero which give them different passive and special abilities. Each hero of course has their own play-style, strengths and weaknesses that you must get to grips with, some nice variation there but I won’t bore you with the intricacies and let you find out for yourself.

You can gain loot through completing missions or levelling up and can get better loot boxes through completing a variety of tasks and challenges in-game. I like this as there is no micro-transactions so the game is all about the rank up grind and not buying your way through the gameplay. Essentially robbing yourself of the experience.

Some of the items you get really add to your fighting style, mainly the weapons, which can have their own properties and add to your heroes overall power level known as hero power. As well as weapons you get necklaces, charms, cosmetics and trinkets to outfit your character with that also contain perks and give an addition to this level.  You can also unlock deeds with harder challenges from crates, which give you xp bonuses for completing them. This progressive customisation of characters is nice as it gives you something to aim for and doesn’t feel too unreachable nor too fast, it’s a nice balance.

However there has been some criticism levelled on the specifics of hero power which I have yet to experience with my limited time in the game. Essentially your power level effects the way weapons fundamentally work and some have said it makes for inconsistent gameplay, having to unlearn and relearn your weapons intricacies depending on difficulty and power level. If you’d like to know more have a watch of milkandcookiesTWs’ YouTube video on the subject;

 

 

Before missions start players join into an interactive lobby known as the Stronghold where you can open your loot crates and rewards, view your inventory, crafting options, choose skills you’ve earnt and customise your loadout. It’s a preparation room, as well as being a generally fun and nice place to dick around in before the match starts and all players are ready. However there is also a bit more functionality to it with potions and bombs to test out, as well as dummies you can hit to test your damage power to find your best set up. Another comment on this Stronghold is that it is that from clicking the play option on the main menu to being in the stronghold is pretty much instantaneous, no load screens.

 

DICK ABOUT 1

 

All the actions mentioned above are carried out through a user interface which is simple and easy to use,  feeling very natural in no time at all. The UI even has nice sound effects which is a nice touch. Below is a little video of me just showing a bit of it off.

 

 

The crafting system allows you to break down and salvage unwanted lesser and useless loot and combine the scraps to create new items, upgrade existing ones or re-roll the properties on them. Meaning the crappy rewards too have their uses and don’t just sit there idly. The crafting is easy to use also, which I like as I don’t enjoy fumbling around and am easily confused. But confuse me this did not.

Currently the cosmetics seem to be very limited but the developer has stated they will be adding more to the currently scant array. Which will do them well as there are even forum posts imploring for more unlockable and buyable (why they want to have to pay I don’t know) cosmetic loot. But it appears the developers are pretty adamant that they are to keep micro-transactions out of the game as can be seen by this blunt response to a question begging to throw money at them …

 

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This character progression is brilliant for players like me who like to feel they’re going somewhere, giving a feeling of achievement and decision making flare to the game. Adding more to the playing experience and replay value through giving you 5 different classes to hone and equip.

 

Gameplay And Mechanics

It has to be said that it is primarily a hack and slash game with ranged weapons taking a secondary but important role, you just have to use your ammo wisely. Whilst hack and slash games can become boring and repetitive button clicking at times, the game mechanics are just so smooth and intuitive that you feel much more in control of your character. Therefore you’re more involved instead of button mashing as there is variation in moves. Even a fool like me picked it up easy enough, not to say the game is easy, far from it, I was just playing on recruit which is the easiest out of 4 difficulty settings and apparently equal to L4Ds’ hardest setting. This game has done a good job of making the fighting and movement feel more natural and the gameplay so intense that it’s gripping and involving, you always have to be on your toes with there being a lot of enemies!

Furthermore the chopping up the enemy lark is very visually and audibly rewarding, giving good and most often graphic feedback, if you love gore in games, this will get your bloodlust pumping. Sometimes you can even cut a Skaven rat clean in half at the waist and see its entrails, check out a pretty tame example of the audio visual feedback below…

 

And now an example of Skaven guts and legs teetering over …

 

The use of dodging, blocking, parrying and melee fighting are just a delight to play, it’s been built spot on. This can also be seen in the shooting of bows and guns, they’re not at all clunky as you’d have come to expect at least a little of from playing other similar games. It’s just not there, you feel like a well-oiled fighting machine all round.

You can tag items using the T key which helps show others where any spare gear is, simple I know, but  it makes things nice and easy. The mission loading pages are pretty brief and have nice tidy little cut scenes to introduce the story arc for the certain Acts you are working on, they’re speedy and keep the pace of the game moving nicely. The storylines and missions are varied and fun and do not feel repetitive and played out even when playing them through over again as there is enough difference in between to make it feel somewhat fresh again. Besides I reckon this one is just too fun to get stale quick, if at all. Although I do hope more and more will be added, what we’ve got does suffice though. But you always want more of a good thing …. right? Well we’re in luck as the developers have been quite clear with their roadmap and plans for the first 3 months since release, in which they state aims to achieve;

‘Regular DLCs and updates … Dedicated Servers … Mod Support.’

As well as listening to feedback from us the players and their fanbase, pretty nice approach if you ask me.

The enemy types are numerous and it is fun to engage with their different fighting styles and qualities. Some that will pick you off and drag you away, others who are shielded and better at combat, gunners and flamethrowers. As well as wizards that suck you into a green vortex spell they cast, just to name a few. It’s a joy to engage in combat with all of them. The bigger monsters and bosses  are great too, though sometimes repetitive but varied enough and always a fun challenge when they rear their ugly heads again. Especially that one whose weakness is a little Skaven rat baby thingy on its back …


The Bile Troll also has an apparent weakness … but isn’t that area a weakness for us all?

 

Aesthetics And Level Design

Now for some more words that I’ve already used regarding this game, intuitive and varied. That is exactly what the level design is. There are so many different settings in this vast fantasy world, Reichland towns, Skaven strongholds in the mountains, Dwarven holds and the fortresses of men that I’ve seen so far. They are well made, good looking, easy to follow but with enough room for searching and exploring. Allowing you to take slightly different routes for good replay value.

Also the gear around the map you need is randomised so you have to be explorative and I like the fact it encourages that. I could see myself enjoying these maps and missions over and over again combined with the gameplay it’s just so enjoyable.  They also have replay value added by the fact that loot boxes earned can be upgraded by hunting for the hidden Tomes and Grimoires scattered around the map. Giving you better gear, and cosmetics the better your box is upgraded. I like the way that carrying these books give you a health penalty as they are cursed and that they disallow you from carrying any healing potions or otherwise depending on the type of book. Making things more challenging when you run the risk in hope of better loot.

Here are some screenshots from various levels;

 

VERMINTIDE.jpg

MAP 1

Map 2.jpg

Map 3.jpg

It’s very atmospheric, especially in the areas of grim, morbid and foreboding. You’re fighting your way through the ruin and horrors that the inhabitants of this world have suffered through at the hands of the Chaos realms and the Vermintide of Skaven. The aftermath is truly a horrific and gripping experience to play through and I commend FatShark for capturing the terror of this fantasy world so well, they’ve spared no expense in the areas of bloody grimness. Lynched corpses littering trees, hanging from rafters, flesh tents … they’ve really pulled out all the stops, so much so that at points it actually had me shuddering. Really doing the source material the justice in capturing its essence.

 

Missing 3

 

MEAT TENT

 

There’s a level where you have to help relieve a besieged fortress under attack from the Skaven and break out through the gates. It’s a very atmospheric battle as you fight your way to the castle, you can see cannon burst, rockets and the green Skaven energy bursts firing to and fro in the sky. Makes you feel you’re part of something larger and so making it very immersive and … what’s a cooler word for epic? Lets just say, extremely satisfying.

 

Vermintide map 1.jpg

You get to a cannon and must destroy the enemy catapults, aiming it, firing it and finding more ammunition for it before finally destroying them all and sallying forth.

 

Vermintide fortress map 2.jpg

 

Another level starts out looking like an epic Dwarven hold but soon turns out to be a nest of filthy vermin, it has clearly been taken over and turned into a Skaven enclave in the mined out depths below. This map stands out to me as it just looks astounding and breath-taking in size, scale and attention to detail.

 

dwarve hold 1.jpg

dwarve hold 2.jpg

Vermintide dwarve hold.jpg

Vermintide dwarve hold 2.jpg

Finally I’d just like to comment on how well they have implemented good lighting, there are dark parts in missions (notably when you are following a mine cart by torchlight,) which are done really well. My friend I was playing with even exclaimed mid-game ‘This is how you do darkness!’ He was not wrong the lighting in this game is exceptional.

 

Dialogue

The dialogue is often hilarious and not monotonous at all, except maybe when it comes to using your special powers which can become repetitive. Although take this with a pinch of salt as this was my first time playing of course. The characters react to each other and have a bond and are constantly in friendly rivalry and competitive banter whilst the fighting is going on. The dialogue and accents suits the characters well and of course it features the Dwarven and Elven rivalry we all have come to expect. Even though I’m not a super fan of Warhammer I think they capture the lore well in this and the game as a whole. Those who know the lore more in-depth than I can be a better judge of that but i generally feel those folk will be satisfied. As a whole the dialogue does a good job of adding to the immersive experience coupled with the level design, character progression and gameplay it’s another big old thumbs up from me. And it  has been getting chuckles out of me so far so I’m loving it … see this example below….

 

As well as being immersive it makes the characters more 3D and equips them with some nice personalities. Even if I hate that slimy sounding smug Witch Hunter bastard, at least he makes me feel something, instead of just being a throwaway flat nothing. Each character is their own person and it comes across.

 

TWEET.jpg

 

Kerillians fine by me … sort that other geezer out first!

 

Slight Bugs Or Glitches

Just a couple minor things to mention here which really don’t detract from the game at all. I had a dual monitor phantom mouse clicking off the screen issue with windowed or bordered full screen. But was easily fixed when I set it to full screen with no borders.

Of course there are some minor AI model bugging issues but they’re few and far between.

Sometimes the bosses’ health meter doesn’t show up for a while if at all in the time it takes you to dispatch the foul creature. Which can be a bit jarring when you have no feedback for how the fight is going, but usually it’s only for some of your party and rarely all of you. So no biggy there really.

 

Concluding Remarks

All round it’s a fantastic game in my eyes,  even if you’re not a fan of either aforementioned franchises but just like team based escape games and hack and slash with tactical team gameplay. This one is still for you as I think this is just an objectively enjoyable game for the most part.

One slight remark that isn’t really a criticism just a suggestion, even though there is already enough in the game to make it worth the money. I just got to thinking perhaps there could be a different game mode in the form of Stronghold defense and through this you could upgrade your Stronghold cosmetically and functionally. More of a suggestion and wish on my part more than anything, as I would like to do what it says in its name and hold it strong. Geddit? Har-Har.

A solid effort with very little criticism to be levelled, if any, thus far from my 15 hours or so of experience. Which is good, so I’d say I’d give it 10 somethings out of 10 somethings on my first playing. Going to be playing this one thoroughly, we’ll see if my first impressions hold true.