11 bit studios made a name for themselves with the Anomaly series where they flipped the script on the tower defense formula. They flipped the script again with This War of Mine that doesn't put you in the shoes of soldiers fighting a war, but rather the people trying to survive a war.
Survival at Its Worst - This War of Mine put players in control of a set of survivors who find themselves in a run-down house in a city that's currently at a war. In my playthrough, I started off with Katia, Bruno and Pavle. Each character have their own backstory and their own strengths like Katia who is able to bargain better deals, Bruno who can cook and Pavle who can run fast.
During the day, I had to assign the three various tasks around the house depending on the supplies I had available. Early on I had them search the house and then eventually with enough supplies, had them build equipment in the house like a metal workbench that can produce weapons such as knives and guns. This part of the game is more like the Sims where I keep the survivors busy. Then at night I select one character to scavenge in buildings around the city in hopes to finding more supplies, ammo and food. These night runs require a bit more stealth in some cases as certain buildings are inhabited by not-so friendly survivors. Later on when more weapons are available, my guys can go on the offensive with stealthy backstabs or gun blasts to the face, but they won't take many hits before they wind up dead.
The combination of the two gameplay makes This War of Mine so interesting. Those night runs are vital to surviving because if I don't have the right supplies the survivors can go hungry, get sick due to the cold or simply lose hope. It's a balancing act that can go awry if one night a survivor finds themselves on the business end of a rifle, that whole balance is thrown off and there goes the game.
Am I a Good Guy or Bad Guy - Moral choices in games is nothing new. Where This War of Mine changes a bit is the severity of the decision of doing right and wrong. When dong night runs, a few buildings on the map offer some valuable supplies depending on whether or not I want to steal from people in need. Take supplies like food from an older couple in their home may seem like a good choice as it'll save my survivors, but the survivors won't like it. They'll state constantly on how a choice I made was wrong and if I do it too many times, they'll break and become useless to me. Same thing for killing people, not intervening when someone else's life is in danger or stealing items deed to be personal property. I can be the good guy and possibly be rewarded for my efforts, but I may be left with survivors who don't have the needed supplies to continue to survive. The moral choices in this game come with a little more baggage than what you see in other games.
You Never Know What You're Gonna Get - It didn't take me long to realize I had screwed up so I found myself starting from scratch a couple of times. Each time you start a game, a new set of variables will come into play making each playthrough a bit different. Throughout the day, there are traders, people in need of help and other survivors to join your group that may show up at your door. In one playthrough, a survivor named Marko showed up and became an essential part of my group as he had the most inventory slots for night runs. Then in another playthrough, my shelter was robbed almost on a nightly basis during those runs. Not only that, some survivors would end up hurt after these raids. When traders coming calling, items will vary in value so in one playthrough my sugar would get me the supplies I need, but that could change the next time around. This mixing up of the game makes every playthrough interesting and you can definitely play it again and again without using the same strategy to survive.
THIS SIMS OF MINE
Survival of the Whiniest - A problem I had with This War of Mine was that the survivors going into a real whiny mode after a while. In a way it's to give me hints on what they need. Thing is, they'll say the same thing multiple times during the day as if I didn't see it the first time. You have the obvious statements like if they're hungry, tired or sick, but it's the depression statements that keep popping up. Items like coffee, books and cigarettes help keep survivors in a happy mode and they'll keep reminding you on how much they miss those luxury items, especially cigarettes. It didn't take long from when I wanted to do everything I could to keep my survivors in the best of spirits to becoming more of a babysitting sim. Maybe if their dialogue was a bit more than single statements and had more substance to them, I'd care more about satisfying my survivors. Speaking of caring…
Who Are These People - Each character in the game has their own backstory. In most cases, they lived normal lives until the war started and then everything went to hell resulting in their loss of loved ones. Throughout the game, each character talks a bit more about their background and when you reach the end of the game, usually day 42 but sometimes it's longer than that, there's a final epilogue for them that will vary on the kind of ending you received. Thing is, I didn't care much for these survivors. I read through their stories and there wasn't a lot there to make me becoming emotionally attached to them. So when one died, it didn't affect me. It bummed me out since now my group would have a tougher time and the other survivors would become depressed, but it wasn't much more than that. Similar to my previous point, if 11 bit studios had done a bit more in giving these characters some personality or offering more info to me rather than the equivalent of a LinkedIn profile, I could have found myself more attached to the characters.
This War of Mine is a great example of a developer taking a change on a novel concept, and showed that the concept was valid as a game. To make the game great, however, I needed to feel more in touch with the characters. I tried my best to like the characters, I really did. In the end, however, it felts more like I was playing the Sims during the day only to have the nights put me right back into survival mode. The game was a joy to play, but it was just shy of being amazing.
*This review was based on the PC version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.