This War of Mine – Review

Aug 21, 2015

We generally play games to escape from reality. Whether it’s to take on a role of a prophesied hero, an elite assassin, or to just match up different kinds of candy, we all want to not think about about what’s going on in our personal lives.

Few and far between are the games that actually ground us in reality. An example of this can be found in the various sim games that have gained in popularity over the last decade such as Farming Simulator or Euro Truck Simulator 2 (personally I still find it amusing that these games are a thing) but rarely, very rarely you come across a game that manages to be fun, poignant, and provides social commentary.

That game is “This War of Mine” and you need to play this game.

This War of Mine takes places in the fictional city located in Central Europe and was inspired by the events of the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War but could just as easily be taking place in Syria or any other country torn by war. Players are tasked with controlling three characters during a day and night cycle. Each character has a unique trait which can aid or hinder your efforts such as being a good bargainer or a good cook. Additionally, each character has to have their hunger, energy, health, and mental state monitored.

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An example of your starting base. Look at all those messes to clean up and windows to board up!

During the day cycle, you manage all three (and eventually more) characters as you work on your base. Said base starts off in shambles and the survival of your group is contingent on you transforming it into a sturdy, well supplied shelter. As such, your day can be spent building up fortifications, crafting water distillers, or just rolling cigarettes.

Of course, you can’t just upgrade your base on a whim, you need raw materials to perform any sort of crafting. This is where the night cycle comes in. During the night cycle, you assign duties to each of your characters. You can have them sleep, guard the house, or go scavenging. There are many different areas available for scavenging (new ones appear over the course of the game) but not all are created equal.

Some areas have lots of supplies but are also dangerous, there might be other people there who will not hesitate to shoot you on sight. Certain locations might be safer but have less supplies or come with an emotional cost. In one instance, your characters will get depressed over stealing food from an elderly couple and I assure you, a depressed person is not too keen on getting things done around the base.

I would certainly describe the game as a survival game but also a sort of roguelike. It intentionally forces you into hard decisions. The safe scavenging areas quickly dry up and you’re forced into areas where you’re either stealing or sneaking near very dangerous people with guns. Which of your characters should eat? Which should get some sleep? These are all decisions you have to make.

2 against 1, this won’t end well…

2 against 1, this won’t end well…

More importantly, if you mess up during a nighttime sneaking session, your character dies without any way of bringing him back.  This creates an extremely tense atmosphere. You find yourself constantly questioning each of your decisions, how should I spend my precious resources? Where should I scavenge tonight? What kind of risks am I willing to take?

Even when you think you’re playing it safe, the game forces you into compromising situations. For example, when you return from your night of scavenging, you might find that your base has itself been attacked by raiders. Not only does this mean that you might’ve lost precious supplies but that one of your characters who was on guard duty got injured. Now you need to worry about going out of your way to find them bandages or medicine or else they might die from the wound.

Periodically, people will come to you and beg for help with a sick relative or to pull people out of the rubble of a collapsed building. Do you help, knowing that to do so will prevent you from utilizing a character for a while? Or do you act selfish and only look out for you and your own? It’s a little surprising about what you can learn about yourself from being forced into the moral dilemmas the game sets up for you.

Moral dilemmas aside, this game is hard. There are no difficulty levels for you to adjust and you’ll probably need to play through it a few times to get a feel for where and when to spend your precious crafting resources or to figure out the best sneaking route in a particular area.

There’s also no tutorial which bugged me at first. However, after thinking about it, I realized this was intentional. After all, if you were trapped in a city during a civil war, there’d be no tutorial or helpful hint section advising you on the best course of action.

If you make it this far, good job, know that it only gets harder!

If you make it this far, good job, know that it only gets harder!

As for the story, your actions in essence end up creating your own story as you go along but each of the characters do have their own established background. As the game progresses, you can find out more and more about each of your characters. You’re never hit over the head with this information though, it’s there only if you want to read it.

The graphics of this game aren’t exactly cutting edge but they don’t have to be. The game does a fantastic job of setting up the mode. Everything about the game screams dark, grim, and despair from it’s color palette to excellent music score. I honestly found myself tensing up, even when I was searching for supplies in an area I knew to be safe. You find yourself always on edge and always expecting the worst, which I think, is the point.

There’s not many games out there that can have such a strong effect on a player. For that alone the game is worth it. Quite often, I feel that we ignore the larger world around us. It’s a safety mechanism. It’s quite easy to focus on our own personal lives and not pay too much attention to things happening in the world outside that small sphere.

Soldiers generally aren’t friendly here or any stranger in general.

Soldiers generally aren’t friendly here or any stranger in general.

This game is capable of bursting that bubble. I actually stopped playing at one point as I realized that my decisions, the events happening to me probably very closely mirrored something that happened to real people, could in fact be potentially be happening to someone right this very moment. That’s a heavy thought. One that I continued to think about long after I had stopped playing for the night.

In short, I cannot recommend this game any higher. Go, play the game for yourself, and see how it impacts you. Have you already played it? If so, share your experiences with us in the comments sections below!