This War of Mine

This War of Mine is the war game we didn’t know we wanted, but that we definitely needed

By JohnnRckr, Posted 14 Nov 2014

Fuck the war. That’s what the graffiti outside “our home” reads in 11 Bits Studio’s This War of Mine, and, after long deliberation on how to start this review, I reached the conclusion that the phrase translates the message of the game better than I could. We are constantly bombarded with dozens of war games. Every year, we get a handful of video games depicting armed conflict, in any possible way imaginable, but this is probably the first true War Game ever made.

The idea of heading to combat can be romanticized ad absurdum in this industry. In an instant, we are transformed from mere players to super soldiers facing planetary annihilation, a band of brothers in arms heading towards the liberation of a country, or, even, in a quest for survival. “War is hell,” as the Fallout series constantly reminds us, but a man or woman geared up and ready for battle faces no hell like the one encountered by the civilians. These ever-present actors, serving only as background noise in most cases, live a completely different story from the soldiers who are, in fact, fighting their war. This is exactly what This War of Mine is about.

This War of Mine,Review,11 Bits Studio,Survival,Strategy,Screenshot

The premise is elegantly simple, and yet, deeply complex: you control a group of civilians who, somehow, managed to survive a separatist war in an unnamed country in what, most likely, is a fictional Eastern Europe. These survivors, who found each other by fate, serendipity, or mere odds, have to look after each other, build a home for themselves, scavenge for goods, and, ultimately, keep their own peace of mind through the adversities upon them.

The mechanics are quite simple too. With the use of the different icons scattered across the screen, the player can order any of the survivors to complete different tasks, such as building furniture, gear, equipment, or even electronics; cooking raw food; patching themselves after they’ve been injured or simply lay down to bed – if one has been built – or have a glass of moonshine in order to face the brutal reality surrounding them.

There are several aspects of gameplay to celebrate in This War of Mine; one of them being the intuitive and smooth control of the characters. There are no tutorials, no hints, no further explanations in This War of Mine. The only thing you know as you start the game is war broke in your homeland and you need to stay alive. At first, you feel  bound to fix the immediate problems in front of you, like treating a minor illness on one of the members of the party or scavenging the inside of the house they’re living in, so you can find useful items and have a more hospitable environment. Once settled, it’s easier to tackle less obvious problems in the house, like lock picking cabinets and barricading the holes from which raiders may enter at night. For each survivor, there are several afflictions to treat: hunger, sleep deprivation, sadness, drunkenness, illness and injuries. Each affliction has different levels of severity and, if neglected, will affect the efficiency of the characters and, ultimately, end up killing them. That’s why one can feel the desperation of having an ill character and no medications to be found.

This War of Mine,Review,11 Bits Studio,Survival,Strategy,Screenshot

As one can expect, scavenging is a key element in This War of Mine. The game is divided in two segments: day and night. During the day, characters will eat, build, heal, repair, and do their everyday tasks. With some luck, you can end up having a routine and, trust me when I say you’ll be grateful to have a routine to follow. The second part of the game is the night. When the clock strokes 8:00 pm, it is time for scavenging to begin. Only one character will scavenge the city, while the others will either sleep or keep guard, depending on the player’s choice. The scavenger has a limited space in his backpack and will have to take with him tools the group has built or found so he can have an easier run. The shovel, for example, is one of the most important items in the game, not only because it helps you clear rubble much faster than bare hands, but because it can also be used as a weapon. This War of Mine deals with the atrocities of a war-torn country, so not everyone is friendly or willing to share the scarce goods. Then again, there are still good people out there who will be willing to trade.

Scavenging is where the real game takes place. For one, it’s the one moment characters are more vulnerable. There’s a lot of exploration and dangers, like rebel soldiers or dirty military men looking for a quick buck. Due to the limitations of transportation, scavenging is where the toughest choices occur. In any given moment, you can face the decision whether to carry medicine for an ill survivor or food for the rest of the group. Furthermore, not every scavenging run entails danger; sometimes, you’re the threat and you’re the one looting a pair of senior citizens that are, literally, begging you not to harm them. But that doesn’t matter, because your new family needs the goods they have and, as long as they don’t pose a threat to you, you will not harm them, but are definitively robbing them.

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What goes around comes around and, because your group is not the only one in the city, other groups of looters and raiders will attack your home while you’re away. This may represent a really dangerous situation, unless you’re prepared and you crafted enough weapons so everyone can defend themselves and the others. If you’re lucky, all the survivors will go unharmed and no goods will be stolen, but don’t stop barricading the walls and windows, because each day that passes the violence in the streets intensifies and looters become better armed and more aggressive.

Another crucial element in This War of Mine is crafting. In order to build furniture, electronics, craft weapons or cook food, your characters must collect the appropriate amount of the required materials. This opens a whole new tier of decisions to make in order to survive. What’s more important: to have a knife to defend yourself or a rat trap so you can have bits of raw meat every now and then? The crafting system is quite sophisticated and logical. Furthermore, equipment such as the stove, furnace or workshop can be upgraded so your group can have access to more and better pieces of equipment.

But scavenging and crafting aren’t the only means to ensure your survival. Several NPCs will visit your home to ask for a favor or simply to trade. At first, given the game’s ambiance and natural paranoia one develops, you won’t trust these random encounters. But after a few of them, you’ll learn to appreciate whenever someone knocks at your door.

This game is truly emotional, especially when it comes to moments like robbing others, when people ask you deliberately for a favour that will incapacitate one of your survivors for as much as a day, when your people are starving and you fail in a scavenging mission, or, obviously, when a character dies, victim to one of the multiple afflictions or to the bullets someone who just wanted to protect that was his or hers. It is such an emotional journey that, the first time one of my characters – my main scavenger – died in a mission that went terribly wrong, I didn’t want to continue playing. That was night 16 of my first run and it felt awful. But the sentiment wasn’t just mine: all the members of the party had the legend “depressed” under other afflictions, such as hunger or tiresome. It’s a feeling few other games have been able to give me.

This War of Mine,Review,11 Bits Studio,Survival,Strategy,Screenshot

Technically speaking, This War of Mine looks great. Although it is presented in a transversal two-dimensional environment, it is very detailed and really lets you see the consequences of war in the city. The art tries to resemble pencil work in some points, which give This War of Mine a nice noir style.

Music is excellent and really sets a mood, although it can become repetitive at times, but, aside from that, works great in the entanglement of the other components of the game. There is, however, the option to build a radio, from which you will get news and weather forecast, amongst other things, and, even more, a station dedicated solely to the broadcasting of classical music. The mood the music sets to the decay of the edification your characters are living in give a sense of paradoxical comfort within the stressful times of war.

This War of Mine is the war game we didn’t know we wanted, but that we definitely needed. In an industry where war has been so dehumanized and violence is everywhere like it was nothing, This War of Mine creates a new panorama and provides us of a whole new scope from which we can see the true face of horror, the darkest side of humankind and the bravest color of human spirit. This will, definitively, be in my list for game of the year.

Jonathan Coutiño, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Mobile
Publisher(s): 11 Bit Studios
Developer(s): 11 Bit Studios
Genres: Action, Adventure
Themes: Survival, War
Release Date: Fall 2014

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