I think I’ve got it this time. Of course, I’ve thought this at the start of every game. But this time, there are signs that my new strategy’s working. My crew’s in good health, we’ve got a respectable food stash, and no one’s sick or injured. Not only that but we’re armed and while there have been raid attempts on our apartment, none of them have been successful. Night falls and I send Roman out to scavenge. Roman’s good at combat so I give him an extra boost by arming him with a knife. I’m feeling good. Roman’s feeling good. We go out.
The building we enter is littered with promising piles of stuff to go through. Roman starts scavenging. Wood, old teddy bears, broken weapons – it’s all valuable. Each thing could be the difference between life and death. So all of it goes into Roman’s backpack.
A little ways in, I’m alerted to a conversation happening on the ground floor. It’s two people: a girl and a guy. They’re far away and so I keep Roman working. But the conversation begins to set my spider senses tingling. The guy’s calling the girl words like “babe” and saying he can do favours for her if she’ll do the same for him. She’s not interested. She just wants food and tells him to leave her alone. His demeanour turns threatening and he tells her to get in the back. They begin walking away and this normally would be good, but I can’t leave them alone. Maybe I can help her get away. Roman’s got a knife after all.
I send him after them. His backpack’s already full so he doesn’t need to scavenge anymore. He can just make a quick dash for the exit if things go hairy. Roman bursts through the door and the girl makes a quick dash for it. I suddenly realize that the guy has a shotgun. Immediately, I press the “run to exit” button, but the guy’s already fired. Two shots and Roman is dead. He didn’t even have time to swing his knife and I’ve lost a vital crew member.
Back at the shelter, the other survivors are mourning for Roman. Trying to deal with their depression is a tricky thing. I send the survivors to take turns consoling each other but it’s never a quick fix. The talks eat up precious hours they could be focusing on resting, catching food, boarding up the house, making moonshine…whatever. People come to the door wanting help. I have to ignore them. We’ve got problems of our own. My initial strategy feels marred now and I’m wondering if I should’ve left the girl to her own fate. But that thought also leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
It’s thoughts like these that make me recognize the true success of This War of Mine. Initially, I didn’t want to start it. I’m not a huge fan of survival games that drag on for days, or even hours. I don’t particular like crafting. In my experience, crafting games eat up too much time. I mean, what’s the point of having a sweet virtual base camp if your real life laundry is still sitting in the washer waiting to be hung? Yeah. I know. It’s a wonder I ever game at all.
But This War of Mine strikes a pretty poignant chord with me. It’s a gritty war torn world right down to the line drawings heavy with greys and blues and underscored by a dark, moody soundtrack. I’m not able to make a call on this being close to what survivors actually experience in war. To be honest, I wouldn’t even know. What the game does do is spawn a different perspective for me. I’d like to think of myself as a pretty capable person. I feel like I don’t need a whole lot to survive. But how far would I actually go to live? Could I sacrifice another person’s wellbeing to ensure my own? And do I even want to?
Grim thoughts aside, This War of Mine as a game alone works. If I’m just looking at the usual things that make a game good – replayability, solid mechanics, engaging storylines – it’s got it all. I love that the game gradually unlocks more and more survivor groups to start with. Some of these survivors have specific skills: a bigger backpack, good persuasion, quieter sneaking. Little details help to add to the humanity of the characters. At one point, I built a guitar to cheer my little group up. I gave each of them a turn on it. To my amusement, while some could rock out a beautiful ballad, others could only pluck out a painfully simplistic tune. Get them drunk and they’d play even worse before finally giving up.
To add to the replayability, the places that you can visit are randomised so that if you start the game again, the options open to you are different. It’s varied enough that I’ve played through several stories without getting bored. I’m always thinking of another strategy, a different focus that’ll maybe help me win this time.
And you can win, unlike many crafting/survival games. It’s not about playing until you die. I won’t spoil the ending – and there are multiple ones. I’ll leave it to you to find out for yourselves what they are.