“How am I going to survive another day?”
Every action you take in This War of Mine is devoted to answering that question. The constant lack of food, water and safe shelter keeps you in a perpetual state of need. As the need grows you are forced to venture further out from the fragile safety of your home in search of the precious resources that will keep you alive for another day. There are no great victories to be found in This War of Mine, just the simple satisfaction of reaching a new morning.
The game is scare with the information it feeds you. What little is known is that a nameless, hostile force has occupied your city, turning it into a battle zone and forcing you to take shelter in a ruined house. From there, your only goal is to survive. By day, snipers watch the streets, preventing you from leaving your home. At night, you are forced to scavenge for life’s essentials. It is this day/night structure that provides the basis for This War of Mine’s gameplay.
Daylight is devoted to building. Using the limited resources available you must fortify your home, create tools and weapons, and craft various furniture and appliances. The sheer number of options available means that you will always have something to build, but the constant shortage of resources forces you to agonize over every choice. Finally saving up enough for that carpentry station upgrade is uplifting, but the feeling that your supplies could have been better spent never leaves you.
Your survivors will also demand your attention. You start the game with a group of three civilians, stranded by the war. Each of them has different attributes that makes them better for different tasks. One might have more inventory space, therefore, is a better scavenger, while another might be quicker, allowing them to escape from danger that might kill a slower one. Before the light fades, you have to manage their hunger, tiredness and happiness, while protecting them from the elements. These survivors are your most precious resource and even losing one instantly increases the game’s difficulty. That being said, attracting too many survivors results in its own problems.
Each survivor comes with a brief biography, detailing their story that during the course of the game. However, the lack of any dialogue that isn’t explicitly stating their current mood, makes your group feel like little more than a bunch of hungry mouths. The potential tragedy of losing a survivor feels somewhat lessened because of this. They feel more like resources to be managed rather than actual people.
What further worsens the day sections is that after the first few weeks, they begin to get boring. Once you’ve assembled your basic crafting stations, a routine of survivor meter management begins to emerge. However, the wants of your group can usually be taken care of in the first five minutes, leaving you with the rest of the day to do nothing but wallow in the tragedy of it all. Randomized events attempt to break the monotony, but they come few and far between. Often it is better to just skip over the day segments to get to the much more interesting night sections.
The night is devoted to restoring the resources consumed during the day. After the meager amount of goods are exhausted in the starting area, you are forced to send your survivors into the surrounding locations to scavenge. These sections feel like point-and-click adventure games in which you encounter raiders, vagabonds and people like yourself who are just trying to get by. While This War of Mine doesn’t have anything in the ways of a morality system, killing innocents lowers your character’s happiness. Do it too much and you may find characters in your home judging each other for their actions.
However, again, the mechanics in these sections occasionally seem to be working against the rest of the game. Poor pathfinding and enemy AI in these sections results in easy exploits. Furthermore, the lack of complexity to the combat system means the difficulty plateaus and you never feel forced to better your play style. These mechanics not only pull you away from tragedy, but they make playing the game feel like a chore.
It’s a good thing that This War of Mine gets so much right about the mood it creates. The world of This War of Mine is a darkly beautiful landscape of penciled greys and stark whites, heavily inspired by movies like The Road. The lack of colour creates a constant feeling of oppression and the plentiful dark corners obscure your vision and hide potential enemies. The bleak atmosphere is aided by a simple somber score that disappears at night. During these sections the echoing sound of your survivor’s footsteps accompanies you, alerting your location to others and reminding you are alone in the world.
This War of Mine is a game about wanting. Whether it is food, crafting supplies or simple comforts, This War of Mine masterfully keeps you right at the edge of being satisfied. With each new dawn you will have to ask yourself, “How am I going to survive another day?” Answering the question takes you to dark places in This War of Mine. It is a shame that experiencing the somber mood is so much more enjoyable than actually playing the game.
This review was conducted on the PC. This War of Mine is available for the PC, OS X and Linux.