Early impressions of This War of Mine were that the game had a lot to show off and was very interesting. And interesting it is; but it most certainly doesn’t hand out your garden variety type of fun that games are required to serve by law. Instead it opts for the slow, painful, and rare type of fun that masochists prefer.
Everything is an uphill struggle in the game, and every boon will be short-lived. Food gets eaten; you won’t have enough to feed your survivors. Your people will be raided and wounded with nary a chance at preparing the proper defences due to other more pressing matters. Any slice of happiness is momentary, and any lull in completing the day to day tasks efficiently will set you back. And it all makes it a fantastic survival game.
The day/night cycle will keep you on your feet for a few weeks, as you cobble together the most important equipment with the resources you have to hand by day and try to ransack only the most essential of items while out at night. The juggling act is made more difficult by the randomly generated starting survivors and items; sometimes you’ll have more survivors which might be easier to begin with, or perhaps fewer survivors – but as a bonus, you might have the luxury of a free wooden chair.
Each of the characters is unique and has their own special, passive abilities, and some are almost worth restarting the game for. Boris is “Strong but Slow”, he has a carrying capacity of 17 which is double that of some characters. Katia is an excellent trader and can get you more bang for your buck when trading. These two alone, in a playthrough, make it so much easier to survive. It’s not that you couldn’t complete it without them but it is far, far easier with them, than say, Pavel, who can run fast.
The days are largely the most “boring” points of the game. Management slows to a crawl while you while away hours waiting on traders to knock at your door, or for your survivors to take a well-earned nap after a night scavenging or guarding. When you do have equipment to make/upgrade and other interesting decisions to make, you can most definitely fall down a rabbit hole as you theorise what is most important to your survival. A decision between an upgraded metal workshop (so you can build hatchets and weapons) or an upgraded indoor garden (to allow you to grow vegetables) is often a more weighty decision than you’d first expect.
Nights are where the real action takes place. Take your pick of one of the many randomly assigned areas and then scavenge the hell out of them. Pilfer whatever you can, whilst making sure not to steal from civilians (most of the time) and avoid bandits where you can. Fighting is reasonably gratifying but the hand to hand combat is more awkward than the shooting. Timing is key to whacking them in face and not taking damage, but it’s uncertain what’s going on exactly when you set up another strike while they’re still reeling from your last attack. Stealth kills however are practically overpowered considering how easy it is to isolate an enemy or strike from the shadows. They have no defence against it and it’s always an outright kill rather than a knockout.
Resources are finite and, even once you’ve gotten close to the end (a random number of days somewhere over a month), survival will still be tough; the most common resources become scarce and you can see that you’ll have to sacrifice individuals for the survival of the others.
There’s no doubt that the game is very, very good but a few things feel a little off. Only being able to send out one survivor makes sense on many levels; you don’t want to send too many people into danger. But, why would you only send one person out to scavenge materials when two could carry exactly what you need from a place you’ve completely cleared of enemies and already fully searched. It’s understandable for it to be designed that way but it also feels like you spend too much time revisiting locations only to grab items you couldn’t take with you on your last visit. It amounts to maybe a sixth of your night trips by the end of the game. If events occurred on trips to an area other than your first then it’d be understandable, but it’s only first time and won’t happen again regardless of any inaction.
Depression is handled very fairly and meaningfully throughout the game (which is greatly appreciated), and the ways of combating it are very well thought out and respectful; but the effects of the deaths of your own characters are very limited comparatively. In our successful playthrough, an ailing, wounded Bruno was purposefully starved by us to let the others continue on. He eventually died but the lack of interaction with his death seemed contrary to everything else in the game; his body disappeared, everyone was (understandably) depressed by his death, everyone had a little entry in their bio about how they wished he hadn’t died. A few days later they’d cheered up and everything seemed to be on the up and up; his death just didn’t seem to have the same impact that stealing or murdering innocents did. If you had to interact with the body to remove it then maybe it’d feel more meaningful.
This War of Mine is excellent, it does have its own very minor faults but it conveys the impact of war on a civilian population very well and with respect. It is still a survival game and the random elements will give either replay value or very unique stories to share with other people. It’s most definitely worth buying and playing through – but it is also very heavy going, depressing to play, and requires a huge amount of patience.