This War of Mine Review
This War of Mine places the player in an unfamiliar role in the war game, controlling a small team of survivors in a war-ravaged cityscape. You don’t assume the role of a fearless commando in first-person, or manage troops in a real-time strategy setting; the goal here is simply survival at any cost in a broken down house. The experience is surreal, sitting at your comfortable PC and watching as your team struggles to eat, rest, stay healthy, and stave off crippling depression in a world without morals.
Cigarettes, booze, and jewelry become valuable trade commodities as you avoid snipers, fend off raids on your homestead, steal from the defenseless and even murder those that get in your way. The survival instinct is strong, and being placed in a situation where rape, theft, and murder are all daily realities is unsettling. You may not like yourself much after making some of the decisions you’re faced with.
The core gameplay loop is simple, a rough cut that feels a lot like other survival games such as Don’t Starve or Minecraft. You build essential tools to help you out around the house (like stoves, raincatchers, and beds), and advance your crafting tables to facilitate your goals. You also have to make functional tools – weapons, crowbars, lockpicks – to help with your scavenging. During the day, you’re managing the status of your three survivors, a sort of dark Tamagotchi system where you juggle sickness, wounds, exhaustion, and depression. The loop is fun at first, but quickly becomes a repetitive, monotonous chore as you discover how to play, the day functioning as filler content while you wait for evening to approach.
You have the opportunity to pick up another character along the way, but you may not want to – that’s another mouth to feed, but having an extra pair of hands in the house can be helpful. Each night, the other half of the game takes place, as you select what evening activities your survivors participate in. Some of your team is likely standing guard at the homestead or sleeping, but you’re almost always sending out one person to scour the broken city in search of scavenging opportunities to obtain critical supplies.
These scavenging missions make up the meat of the game outside the sim-warehouse, as you encounter snipers, gangs, and other desperate people trying to survive. Using stealth, you can avoid some of these encounters, but not all of them, so you want to have a weapon on hand. These interactions often include decisions that will make you feel bad about yourself, delivering the constant message that when survival is on the line, humanity is at its worst. One of my first scavenging missions placed me in a small house occupied by an old man and a woman. While I didn’t kill them outright (though I could have), I stole all their food, essentially ensuring their death. Reading the various notes and letters strewn about the homes and locations about love and family safety tugged at me, and hammered home an overarching point: The glorification of honor and heroism that we often see in wargames isn’t anywhere close to reality. But these realizations don’t stop you from stealing or looting – you have to survive, after all.
If you can take all the messages and empathy out of This War of Mine, then it boils down to a rather simplistic survival experience that takes around 40 to 50 in-game days to complete. I wasn’t expecting to embrace the empathy aspects or some profound message on war, but after a few games, I was drained of any desire to switch to another title and rack up a kill count. It’s a fairly depressing experience, but I absolutely respect the title’s ability to impact me in ways that games generally don’t. I’d recommend this game to anyone looking for an experience that’s far outside the norm of what we expect when we pick up and play a new title. You may not enjoy playing This War of Mine in the traditional sense, but I think that’s kind of the point.