I last played This War of Mine earlier this year at PAX East. At the time, it was still pretty new to me, having just been announced. But it gave me a pretty good idea of what the game is all about.
This War of Mine is different kind of military game. It’s one that offers a refreshing, though frightening, outlook on war. It doesn’t place you in the boots of a hero. There is no “winning.” There’s only pain and suffering on your quest for survival.
This week, I was sent an updated preview build of the game. Not much has changed since I last played it — the overall premise seems to be the same, as is the general setup. Days are split into two phases: a day and night cycle. During the day, snipers keep you from leaving your refuge, so you must craft items, trade for supplies, upgrade your shelter, feed and keep healthy the survivors in your group. At night, it becomes more of a stealth game as you have the choice to send out one of the members of your group to scavenge nearby areas for food, medicines, weapons and other supplies that, in turn, can be used during the day to fortify your shelter. It’s seemed like a good balance of simulation and stealth-action gameplay for the 30 minutes I played at PAX, but does it hold up over a lengthy period of time?
In the most recent preview sent to me, I was given access to the first 12 days — 12 days cycles and 12 night cycles. I don’t know if there’s an actual end to the game, but I can say that if there is one, it’s going to be very hard getting to it. Though the first few days are pretty forgiving, things quickly turned hairy around day 5 or 6. With supplies running low and members of my group getting sick, I was forced to expand my search for supplies at night to new locations that opened (ones that weren’t available in my first preview).
The new locations offer a tougher challenge when it comes to scavenging, adding more barricades and locked doors to get through before you can actually find supplies. In some cases, you may even encounter other survivors who, like you, are also fighting to survive. Do you go up to them and attempt to make peace or do you sneak around their home and steal their supplies? It’s funny/sad, but you really learn a lot about yourself when playing This War of Mine. Like, I learned in a time of crisis I will do whatever it takes to keep my group alive. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that stealing from people equally as desperate as me can sometimes have its own downside.
Not much has actually change in terms of gameplay or aesthetics; it's still largely a point-and-click game set in a 2D plane with a dreary overtone. However, much more of the game was opened up to me this time around. More crafting items were available to me which allowed for more decisions to be made in terms of how to use my supplies. Different locations led to different scavenging experiences and more challenges.
If there’s one new takeaway I’ve had from my recent hands-on time with This War of Mine, it’s that surviving will not be easy. It’s going to be one of those games where you never really feel like you’re winning. There’s a certain sense of accomplishment when you build a new tool, like a weapon for defense or a furnace to keep warm, but it’s often short-lived excitement. The constant worry of having to micromanage survivors in your group doesn’t allow you to dwell on past successes. I found myself constantly be looking ahead, worrying how I’m going to find my next meal, or how I was going to keep warm for the incoming cold weather. These sort of questions, always in the back of my mind, create a sense of worry and tension while playing This War of Mine that I only see growing as the days progress.