First Impressions Review: This War of Mine
When Grzegorz Miechowski, the founder and managing director of 11 bit studios brought an article to the office entitled, "One Year in Hell" it sparked a creative storm within the dev team. The article, about a man surviving a military blitz in Bosnia during the '90s, served as the impetus to do further research into modern siege survival stories which fuel their game This War of Mine.
Unlike your typical AAA game that focuses on war, This War of Mine ignores the military combatants and instead focuses on the non-combatants, the civilians just trying to get by in battered war-zones. Since the closest I've been to a military siege was the last time I watched Red Dawn (the original) I went into the This War of Mine beta build with no idea what to expect.
The first thing that hit me as the game began were the stark graphics. In order to make the game feel as real as possible, all characters involved are based off of photo-real people and that bleak realness shines against the murky backdrop of the abandoned building your characters call home.
There is no tutorial for war
- and therefore there was no tutorial to explain the game to me after the first screen opened. Considering how tedious tutorial sections can be these days, I found the lack of direction to be a blessing. Without too much trouble I discovered how to loot, clear rubble, and use my workbench. All of this while counting down the hours until darkness, when my characters would be free to explore the outside world more safely.
Scavenging at night is one of the most important aspects of the game. Without wood, parts, or food the scope of your daytime activities is severely limited and your characters will die quickly. So at the beginning of each night, you can choose which character you want to scavenge, based on their special talents and item storage capabilities.
Though the game gives you a brief description of each location available to visit, you never quite know what kind of opposition you'll meet in the dark - or what you'll be willing to do to get the items you need.
Like most games where I'm able to control multiple characters and slowly build up a base, my goal was to win. To me winning meant that all of my characters survived, and that I was able to keep them warm and fed each day. I looted a house while a girl was being raped in another room, I stole all the food from an elderly couple, and once I obtained weapons no one was safe.
In its current state, the This War of Mine lacks a real connection to main characters
Despite the very realness of the characters (have I mentioned they're modeled off of real people? It's uncanny) I had a difficult time taking their plight seriously. I took their care very seriously -- murdering multiple NPCs for my characters' well-being -- but was unable to connect with them or their situation from my godly station.
With little narrative and not quite yet fleshed out bio's, I couldn't connect with Marko, Bruno, or Pavle. The mechanics of taking care of my characters were difficult, but only mattered to me insofar as I wanted to "win" the game. When I accidentally got Bruno killed while scavenging a dangerous location, I was only sad to lose him because he could carry the most items. In short, I never had one of those "OMG WHAT WOULD I DO IF THIS WERE ME???" moments.
However, my lack of emotional connection to the game wasn't an absolute deal-breaker. I was playing the beta version of This War of Mine which didn't come with a full cast of characters, locations, or descriptions. Plus, looting locations truly forces you to weigh all your options - in a fun way. Which would you need more, a bed or a way to make moonshine?
When it comes down to it, This War of Mine plays as an excellent survival game replete with resources management, exploration, and combat. Yet as a game which aspires to offer a serious glimpse into the lives of besieged people, it comes up short. Not all games can be all things, and I'm still incredibly thankful that this one was just fun.