War never changes …but art does. Our dark fascination with the drama of war has inspired artists for generations. The themes remain the same: Value. Sacrifice. Sadness. Policy. The way we experience each has evolved along with our ability to tell stories. of today Iliad it’s from tomorrow Iron Hearts IV. When we think of war games, we rarely think beyond billion dollar shooters. But are there smarter games out there? Do any of them have something new to say?
Yes is yes. this my war from 11 bit studios was released in 2014 and received rave reviews for its portrayal of civilian life within a war zone. It eschews action and adventure for a more grounded genre: survival.
Aesthetics are probably the first thing you’ll notice about the game. A harsh, faded palette serves as a visual metaphor for the game’s narrative thread, which explores the various shades of gray both morally and visually. To survive a chaotic war zone, ordinary people are faced with difficult choices. this my war don’t run away from them either. Moral dilemmas are front and center, with visceral and lasting consequences on display.
Your band of survivors needs many things to maintain some semblance of comfort and safety in their dilapidated shelter. Building materials like wood and machine parts to make things like stoves and workbenches. Food and water, of course. There is also a need for things like books, cigarettes and coffee to help your survivors deal with the mental strain and stress of making the best of a bad situation.
So where does morality come in?
Well, it all has to come from somewhere. And instead of populating your world with black and white villainy, this my war puts you in charge of choosing between scavenging and stealing. Both involve risks. Cleaning involves going to abandoned places and finding what you can. But be warned, you may not be alone. And just because a site was empty one day doesn’t mean it will be if you come back.
Combat isn’t pretty this my war. Your survivors are just ordinary people who are getting more and more desperate. You can fight with your fists or crude homemade weapons, or if you’re lucky, you can find a weapon. There is a lot of discretion involved and the odds are rarely in your favor. Violence is a last resort at first, but as time progresses, the stakes increase and the old adage of “only the strong survive” applies. What this game shows, however, is that it is often more circumstances than disposition that drive people to cruelty.
This is where theft comes in. While cleaning up abandoned sites is presented as a more or less open playing field, theft is not. Even the UI reflects this, with pickup opportunities marked with an open hand icon and stealing with a set of pinched fingers. You need to know when you’re stealing because it affects your characters’ morale and mental health, but when compared to starvation there’s not much choice, is there?
These are not victimless crimes. Far from it. The people you steal from are usually there to testify, protest, and occasionally fight back. Other times they are truly helpless. A starter location has a lot of supplies, but they belong to a frail elderly couple. Your survivors won’t feel good about taking away from them, and neither will you. It’s a testament to the game’s design that moments like these weigh on your conscience. Consider how many NPCs you’ve harmed in every game you’ve played. You feel nothing trampling crowds on the sidewalk in GTA, but here you go. And sometimes doing the “right” thing has big consequences.
All of this takes place within a well-crafted survival game system. Regardless of how you manage to acquire your resources, you’ll put them to use craft upgrades in your shelter, along with useful tools and items to trade with other survivors. You must manage who sleeps, who goes out to search and who stays behind to store what’s left. A radio can offer clues about the weather and criminal activity, as well as drive the story. Will the war end? Help is on the way? Only time will tell.
this my war is available for PC, Switch, PlayStation and Xbox. An updated version, This War of Mine: Final Cut, was recently released on Xbox Series X and PS5. It is also available on Xbox Game Pass.