Review: This War of Mine

This War of Mine arrived with a modest splash a few years back. Now there’s a DLC out and a small modding community. It is a good moment to take another look at it.

At its core, This War of Mine is a resource management game – you have a couple of characters and a dilapidated building. The characters need to eat, sleep, stay healthy, and keep it together enough to want to survive. This is accomplished by looting first the stashes of loot in the building itself and then making nightly scavenging trips to nearby points of interest – gas station, airport, supermarket, abandoned apartment, and so on. Some of them are inhabited, others guarded. Though your specific set of survivors and the lay of the land vary from one game to another, the common thread among them is that there’s never enough.

The gameplay itself is simple and not actually very engaging. What elevates This War of Mine into something worth your attention is its milieu. The setting is the besieged city of Pogoren in Graznavia, standing in for Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, when the city stood under siege for 1,425 days, three times longer than Stalingrad. 14,000 people died, 5,400 of them civilians. Your characters are the people of the city. Not soldiers, not mercenaries – tobacconists, teachers, athletes, chefs, and children.

To survive, you must loot buildings. Hopefully they’re abandoned.

The game does not last quite that long – indeed, all my playthroughs were done in under 20 days. A successful playthrough, I’m told, would’ve taken up to twice as long. This War of Mine is not an easy game, nor do I think it should be. The Little Ones DLC adds child characters to the game, who are useless in gathering resources but very good at expending them. There’s also the new This War of Mine: Stories series of scenarios, which use the engine of the game to convey the player through a tale, rather like a visual novel, and sidelines the resource management game.

The game’s bleak environs are rendered in understated beauty. The graphics style is at once realistic but also stylized to resemble a hand-drawn animation. From the corner, your deck of characters looks at you like from a series of war correspondence photos.

Who goes scavenging, who gets to sleep.

Does it, then, work? Does This War of Mine, in all its unrelenting bleakness, bring home the horror of war and evoke the ghost of emotion about the tragedy of modern warfare? The answer to this is going to be very subjective and personal. For me, the answer is unfortunately negative. This War of Mine is too much about managing resources and not enough about the characters. The milieu is crafted well and the visuals of the game are excellent, but the survivors are too distant for me to feel much when they’re shot by a sniper or starve to death.

This War of Mine is not a bad game by any means, but it doesn’t quite deliver on its potential. Even as the imperfect work that it is, though, it is an important look into what goes on in the background of most of the other war games we play.

Publisher & Developer: 11 bit studios
Platforms: Windows PC, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: November 2014
PEGI Rating: 18

All photos © 11 bit studios.