11 bit studios’ latest release, This War of Mine, is a bit of an escape from the Anomaly series that the studio is known for. This War of Mine explores war from a perspective that is often overshadowed by images on our television of bombs, guns, and tanks. Rather than having players directly engage in the conflict between 2 factions, 11 bit studios chose to tell the human side of war. Players control civilians struggling to survive in a war torn region, trying to live on despite the chaos unfolding around them outside of their control. The stories these survivors tell are no less horrific than the tales of explosions, gunfire, and death that the soldiers come home with.
11 bit studios took great care to research historic conflicts from our distant past and recent history. This War of Mine’s setting is designed to remain conflict agnostic. Rather than depicting a specific war or time period, This War of Mine removes itself from the geopolitical side of war by just focusing on the human experience. Despite being set in a fictitious conflict, the game takes inspiration from numerous true stories of tragedy and survival from the civilians that lived (and died) when war came to their doorstep.
Jumping into the game is completely straightforward. Players initially control 3 unique characters, each with a short backstory. The first day is spent gathering resources inside of your bombed ravaged home. Starting out, players have very limited resources and amenities available to them. Each day players have a limited amount of time to craft items, cook and eat food, or just sleep after a long night of scavenging.
Gameplay wise, the day and night cycles stand in stark contrast in many ways. Players will largely be focused on base building, crafting, trading, and time management during the day. During the evening though, the entire game switches to include aspects of stealth, item harvesting, and combat. In many ways, it’s as if This War of Mine is actually 2 different games that seamlessly intersect somewhere in the middle. It’s all quite brilliant.
Initially, gameplay is fairly simple. Players build, eat, sleep, scavenge, and repeat it all the following day. As the days go on though, resources begin to wear thin, and bad situations start to take their toll. Maybe during one of the nights, bandits broke in and wounded your party members. Maybe that character was already hurt, and now they’re sick as well. Too bad you’d just traded the last of your bandages for some vegetables the previous day. Now you’ll need to venture into deeper and more dangerous parts of town in search of first aid. Since your severely injured companion is best served laying in bed and recovering, now you’re a body short on night watch. What if the bandits come back again?
Increasingly difficult situations can lead to players needing to make some very tough decisions. After about 20 hours spent in This War of Mine, I’ve found myself making a number of morally questionable choices. Initially, I wanted to play the game peacefully; scavenging but never stealing, growing foods when I could, trading for whatever else I needed by growing tobacco and crafting cigarettes. After repeatedly failing to keep my characters alive, as they met fates such as freezing to death, starvation, sucumbing to sickness, or being murdered by armed thugs, my morals began to fade.
I started a new game, and I was done being the victim. I crafted a knife for Pavle, my chosen assassin, each night going out in search of trouble. Like a trained hunter, I’d stalk bad guys as they made their rounds in a building. I’d jump out of the shadows, the armed thug caught totally off guard as he smoked a cigarette, quickly stabbing them to death. I was ruthless, meticulous, and my characters were living great. That is, until I slipped up and one of them shot Pavle in the back as he tried to escape. Things went downhill after that. Pavle survived, but nursing him back to health slowly depleted my limited resources.
Another night, as Pavle climbed through the window of a fortified home, he came face to face with an armed female guard. Pavle quickly dispatched of the girl, but what came next chilled me to the bone. As the girl’s lifeless body lay on the floor of the home, I heard footsteps coming from the floor above. Pavle hid in the shadows, waiting for the next victim to show their face. This time though, instead of a heavily armed thug, all Pavle saw was a grieving mother. She ran to her daughter’s body, falling to the floor in tears as she held her murdered child. As Pavle emerged from his hiding place, she screamed at him, just wanting to know why he was doing this. The unfortunate reality of the situation was that Pavle still needed the shotgun that poor girl was carrying, and nobody was going to stop him from getting it.
The profound weight of his actions had begun to take a toll on Pavle. Severe depression and sickness had started to creep in. Still, when Pavle was physically able, I sent him back out into the night. More dangerous encounters led to Pavle suffering another gunshot, this time worse than the first. As he returned home, empty handed and bleeding profusely, I knew what would come next for my once glorious killer.
With Pavle returning with an empty backpack, I only had enough food to feed 2 people. Someone would need to go without. As I looked over my 3 survivors, all hungry, Pavle stuck out as being a particular problem. He was very hungry, bleeding at an unprecedented level, and severely depressed. With the extremely limited resources on hand, I knew there was little that I could do to get poor Pavle back to 100%. So I stopped feeding him, and I stopped bandaging his wounds. I told myself it would be much easier with him gone, scavenging for 2 should be much easier than for 3. He died 2 days later from his injuries, a hero to some, monster to countless others.
These horrible actions weren’t Pavels though, they were mine. I was the monster responsible for murdering a mother and child. I was the executioner of countless men and women that were likely doing the same as I was, whatever was needed to survive another day. In my quest to keep my companions alive during the war, I lost something just as important. My humanity.
Fans of base building, survival strategy, or even stealth combat games should really pay attention to This War of Mine. With its focus on storytelling through experiences, This War of Mine has lived up to the hype that’s surrounded it in 2014. Even a single play through of this intense game will leave you rethinking your feelings on a lot of things, and probably questioning yourself as a person.
|Developer: 11 bit studios||Publisher: 11 bit studios||Official Website|
|Version Played: Launch Day Release||Steam Achievements: Yes||Steam Cards: No|
|Buy on Steam|
THIS WAR OF MINE
Summary: An addictingly difficult and thought-provoking look at the silent victims of war.