Stayin' alive has never been so hard
In a sea full of bright, action-packed games at PAX it was a surprise to see such a serious greyscale game like This War of Mine, an 11 bit studios title about life during war. Rather than placing the focus on combat as most warfare games tend to do, this one centers on the strategy and struggles around day-to-day survival for victims.
This War of Mine forces the player to make tough decisions for the betterment of the group. Who gets the last of the antibiotics: is it the person who needs it most or the one who's defending home base? When food is tight, who gets to eat? I struggled with these choices during my time with the demo, and unfortunately nothing got easier as I progressed.
I started out with three characters stationed in an abandoned, war-torn house. Each person brought a different strength to the table from their previous life -- i.e., the journalist was good with people and the firefighter fared better in combat. During the day, I had my characters cook food, build beds, and craft weapons to prepare for what the night would potentially bring.
Occasionally, traders would come to offer various goods but often wanted much more in return -- there was no such thing as an "easy" trade. I also had to be cognizant of how much time I was putting into trading -- a day timer loomed above my characters, their walking and crafting speed dropping the more worn down they became.
Every night I had to decide who kept guard, who went out to scavenge at night, and who was lucky enough to catch some sleep. The decisions were easy at first, with the obvious thought that I'd pair everyone up to the task that matched their skill, but I found quickly that there is no "easy" part of war. Sleep deprivation, hunger, sickness, and serious wounds slowly brought my characters down, making it harder for them to do anything useful.
At night I sent my scavenger off to collect resources from various buildings -- I could choose which structures to sneak into, but it was a gamble in terms of what (or who) I'd find. Stealth was a necessity, as people did not take kindly to me sneaking into their base and stealing their stuff. One night I had returned from a successful night of scavenging only to find that a troupe of bandits had sacked my own base and severely wounded one of my people.
By the end of the of the sixth day my characters were all but dead. My journalist, despite the fact that she was sleeping most nights, had developed a sickness and hunger that probably wouldn't keep her alive much longer. My scavenger was defenseless since we had no materials to craft weapons, and the fireman had been beaten to a pulp during that random ambush. They gave me verbal cues letting me know that they wouldn't survive another day, and knowing that I had already failed them I put down the controller.
This War of Mine was an interesting commentary, despite its depressing and difficult nature. The mechanics were a tad difficult to grasp at first, but once I got the hang of it I felt much more comfortable. I'm looking forward to seeing how it evolves before it's released this year.