Abandonment. Lonesome. Unfair. Crippling. Harsh. Severe. Reality. Those are just a few words that will come to mind when playing through This War of Mine: The Little Ones for the first few tries. Yes: tries. This is a game that takes time, patience, trial and error, experimenting and experience. This War of Mine is an experience. It makes even the most privileged of gamers comprehend the minute ‘give’ and overwhelming ‘take’ of a war’s devastating power and rage. This War of Mine opens its gates to show us a war torn city in utter annihilation, giving little indication on what to do or what’s to come. But starting out there is but one word that will come to mind: survive.
Developers 11 bit studios have really made quite a mini marvel with This War of Mine. They opted out of taking the stereotypical bread-for-battle warrior, putting in tons of explosions and saying, “kill the bad guys to beat the game.” Instead, they took a different angle from a realm we’ve not seen much of in gaming: play as the victims in this besieged city. Take a small group of three or four ordinary, everyday people, throw in a very short synopsis of what their lives were like before the war, cram them into a shelter and see them last as long as possible.
Set in a 2D perspective and washed over in grey, black, and white, the art direction of This War of Mine represents a bleak perspective of wrongs from every direction. A sad motif where finding hope is not much of possibility. Along with a heart wrenching musical score that perfectly transcribes the emerging tragedy and terrors of war.
This War of Mine takes place in day and night cycles. Daytime is used to fortify shelter in an abandoned house, eat, build, sleep, and guard. Nighttime lets a single character from the small group scavenge nearby locales to locate and collect resources to help get through this deepening war. Day and night, over and over this is the routine until the “ceasefire” is called and the war ends. A ceasefire can take place anytimeduring in-game day and night cycles, depending on what customization settings are selected.
"This War of Mine opens its gates to show us a war torn city in utter annihilation, giving little indication on what to do or what’s to come. But starting out there is but one word that will come to mind: survive."
War is not a representation of beautiful landscapes swamped in adventure, exploration, and intrigue. This War of Mine will prove that in spades. Lasting the full stretch of this war is not as simple as build shelter, eat, then scavenge at nightfall. It goes astonishingly deeper and on multiple levels. At night there are many options to be found. This game is not about finding an objective and completing them, it’s about options. Sending a character out to scavenge other ruins throughout the city while the others either sleep, or guard the house is one option.
If the decision to go out and scavenge is chosen, that person becomes the only playable character until the night ends over a predetermined about of time, or by manually ending the night by exiting the scenario and returning home. Returning home will unload everything scavenged while also giving a mini update on what happed at the home base while the player was away. The NPCs at night can be robbed, killed, hurt, get sick or nothing major could happen at all. It’s all luck of the draw whenever returning home before daytime.
During scavenging raids, there are plenty of different locales to explore, but only one is allowed to be explored per night. Searching and excavating these houses, hospitals, shopping centers, etc. can result in finding necessary items to bring back to camp and survive a couple more days such as wood, parts, medicine. But with reward there is sometimes major risk and it all depends on what options the player wants to choose.
Going into an occupied house that shelters another group could be good or bad. The family may be defenseless: making stealing their items from them a simple task. Sneaking through and taking their belongings without getting caught is one way. Or fighting them with fists could take them down in a few hits and ransacking their house is another option. Or said group could be armed with knifes or guns killing the playable scavenger in just a few shots. That’s not where the story ends, however.
"This game is not about finding an objective and completing them, it’s about options."
Upon returning to base alive, major consequences could possibly be in order depending on what actions were taken while out at night. Having stolen goods from a defenseless group could prove traumatic for the player’s characters. Killing innocent victims is also just as devastating and can cause psychological damage for the group. This could eventually lead to regret, depression, anger, sadness, etc.
Those affected by decisions of a brutal war for survival may become dependent as they will do nothing: no working, or sleeping, or eating, just wallowing in their own psyche. All characters can be controlled during the day, unless immobilized by emotion. This allows the player to control others to allow them to bring the depressed characters food and set up small dialog to help them snap out of their depression, but it doesn’t always work. As well, getting killed while scavenging can also send the group into turmoil. Their emotions tend to get the better of them sending them in all of the above directions and more. This is the price of war and the price of survival.
A scenario editor called Write Your Own Story is available after playing the game at least for a [in-game] day. Scenario editor allows the player to choose how many days until ceasefire is called, how many locales can be explored, how harsh winter is, etc. It’s a perfect way to get into the game a little easier just to get the hang of how it can play out before going full force into a randomized setting.
This War of Mine: The Little Ones is an exquisite example of the reality of war. A harsh truth unravels of what transpires in war from an outside perspective. Befuddled casualties of this war, forced to collect themselves, uplift their spirits and control their environments is just a small period that leads to an even larger exclamation point: survival. War is not powerful heroes toting around an arsenal, cracking skulls and taking names. It is a deeply visceral and moving experience. A chapter that can be the beginning to something much larger or an end to something much darker.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
A very revealing, visceral experience that goes deeper than its gameplay.
Slow and depressing.