This War of Mine is bleak and depressing, but it offers a unique experience that you are unlikely to find elsewhere
Marko was a fireman before the war. He’s saved countless lives, braving flames. Now he’s my main scavenger in Pogoren, This War of Mine’s fictional war-torn equivalent of late-90s Sarajevo. He’s got an inventory carrying capacity of 15, which is more than Bruno, my cook (Bruno was a chef before the war, you see) and Pavle, whom I use as a handyman, instead of his utilizing his ‘quick runner’ ability, because he’s presently quite ill and needs medicine. At the outset, my trio of survivors had but a single piece of furniture between them: a chair; with no beds, heating, clean water, food or cigarettes (Bruno is a smoker and is susceptible to panic attacks when he doesn’t get his nicotine fix). Resource management is crucial in This War of Mine, but it’s managing survivors’ mental and physical states that will prove to be the difference between life and death.
This War of Mine’s world is largely ruthless, but there’s humanity in it as well. A good deed can often see a return of favour, and gun-wielding looters will share their spoils of war. Families could share what little food they have left, or simply welcome you with a hail of gunfire. This War of Mine’s world is unpredictable. I’m still not sure what to make of it because I’m more worried about Pavle making it through the night.
There are a lot of things to consider in This War of Mine, all of which will challenge your micro-management skills, and more importantly, make you question your basic sense of humanity. Do you steal from an old couple? Do you let someone inside your shelter and complicate your food situation further? Is it better to scavenge firewood than food? At first, you will find yourself looking at everything from a gamified perspective, basing decisions on a skillset-versus-burden basis, requirement-versus-availability of resources. But it’s only when something dramatic happens (and it most likely will) that your perspective on everything will change in an instant.
The event that changed my gameplay experience in This War of Mine was Marko’s death. His inventory carrying capacity and slightly faster scavenging speed had been invaluable, as he would often return from nightly runs with huge hauls of resources. My group was more than just comfortable. Pavle had recovered from his illness thanks to some clever trading of scavenged moonshine for meds, and Bruno was able to prepare (relatively) good meals for the whole group. We were so comfortable that we took on a fourth, Arica, a sneaking expert. Marko had made successful runs to various places, including areas where he would be peppered by gunfire, and still managed to make it out alive with a good haul. That was until he took a shotgun to the head while attempting to hide—not in a place of immense danger, but in a household with an old man and his son. And he hadn’t stolen anything yet. It was my mistake, the man did ask Marko to leave, and my lack of dexterity betrayed Marko as I clicked on the wrong part of the screen. I couldn’t undo what had just happened.
This War of Mine is unforgiving. There are no do-overs, and there is only a rudimentary save system. Resources are limited, and a single play-through demands careful planning and micromanagement. There also appears to be a conscious game design decision to just about make the controls work—imbuing a sense of panic during hostile encounters that would be deemed ‘lackluster’ in other titles. But it works perfectly in this particular game. The visual style, writing, character portraits all convey a sense of unique sadness that only war can bring along with it. It’s not often that a game comes along, makes you hate yourself and what you’re doing and yet offer such an intense and interesting gameplay experience that makes you keep going even when all hope seems to be lost.
Pavle and Marko survived. Arica didn’t make it.
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