When we first heard about 11 Bit Studios’ upcoming game This War of Mine, there were two equal and opposite reactions from fans: praise and fear. Many were skeptical about how the game would honorably and faithfully portray civilians in a warzone, while fans on my side of the debacle were applauding 11 Bit for taking on a controversial topic that gaming hasn’t seen much of in the wake of the modern shooter craze. Nonetheless, curiosity is always the peak emotion around controversial games, and that curiosity is now satisfied — This War of Mine was playable for the first time on PAX East’s show floor this weekend.
From everything I saw at 11 Bit’s booth, I was excited. Their wall display was a gorgeous promotional piece, and the set of computers they had running the game were suited for demonstration of the art style. The smooth animations and the drowned-out color palette were just as I pictured it in my head, and seeing them in action was impressive. Then, I got to play their early build they had set up for PAX East.
The game uses a day/night cycle as its primary timer, and your goal is simple: Survive the war. You start in an abandoned house that three survivors are squatting in, and you spend the first day scavenging the house for crafting supplies, food, and medicine. You can use those supplies to craft items that will help defend your survivors and improve their quality of life, like crowbars and beds. While it fits the theme of wartime survival, it doesn’t really work too well as a game. You have plenty of time to explore almost the entire house on Day 1, and it doesn’t reset on subsequent days. The inventory system also allows for huge stockpiles of items that will allow you to craft almost anything early on in the game.
The most interesting part of the game was the nights. In the evening, you can choose what your survivors do: scavenge or sleep. They stay out of danger if you have them sleep (choose wisely; without a bed they might be tired the next day), but you control the scavenging survivor if you choose one. They will enter a different location (that you can choose and changes every day) to look for supplies, and this is where the story comes into play. They’ll sometimes say a few lines about who they are, or what their character is like upon scavenging. The actual supply search itself plays out like a 2D stealth game. There will sometimes be unknown enemies in the house who could be other civilians like you that only want to defend what is theirs, or they could be someone else entirely. You can hear their footsteps in the house and the game alerts you to them with pings on every step.
But there’s not much to worry about, as the AI for the enemies is extremely flawed. After you launch an attack at them, they’ll usually run the opposite direction, regardless if it’s a dead end in the house. If they’re already backed into a corner, they can’t do anything and end up running into the same wall again and again. Scavenging is quite easy, but it’s barely even necessary. The supplies you gain aren’t much different from what you find in the day cycle of the game, and the quantities are about the same. You’re just forced to scavenge after a few days because the game doesn’t allow anything else to happen.
While I understand this was a very early build of the game, I was disappointed. There is a lot of potential in this IP, and the Anomaly series is a fantastic bunch of games. But these weren’t isolated problems of bugs in the build; the core gameplay of This War of Mine was not as enjoyable as it could’ve been at this stage in development. They have a lot of work to do and I know the people behind it are a hard-working group of developers, but once this weekend is over I hope to see many posts on their site about how development is going.
This War of Mine will be available for PC on Steam later this year. You can find out more at 11 Bit Studios’ website.