Day 21: It’s been three weeks since we moved into this bombed-out house we’ve come to call home. Three weeks since I last saw any members of my family; two since my last hot meal; one since Katia was gunned down scavenging for food and medicine. Bruno hasn’t fared well. The illness is no longer confined to his body – now his soul is sick, broken. The snows have come, and we’re feeding the heater every day now… I wept when we burned our only two books. Bruno scoffed. “They’re children’s books,” he muttered from his sick bed. “It’s not as if we read them.” He didn’t bother asking whose books they had been.
Day 25: I scavenged last night. We’re both starving. I remembered a house, untouched by the violence. I had come weeks earlier in the hopes of getting supplies only to find it occupied by an old couple… living as they had before war came. They reminded me of my grandparents, and I left. Katia and Bruno had not been happy, and we did not eat that night. I returned this evening in the hopes that they had fled… or worse, shamefully. But they had not. The old man struggled, wouldn’t let me steal his wife’s medicine. I tried to tell the proud bastard I only needed a little, for my friend. I struck him and he hit the floor hard, unmoving. His wife screamed. “Why have you done this?” I am not sure if this was directed at me or God. What little food was left in my stomach came up, and I fled with what little I could carry. We’ll eat tonight, and Bruno will have medicine.
Day 27: Bruno passed sometime during the night. He looks at peace. It is better this way, I suppose. I shall join him. Hana, Emira, Lejla – I shall see you all soon.
This War of Mine is an indie title set in an unspecified city that’s been besieged. You and a random set of survivors brought together by chance stumble upon a bombed-out building. You control these characters by clicking on them or their photographs (which also provides a daily bio) and clicking on an interactive prompt. It is at this point that every game of This War of Mine will diverge. As you walk around your new home, shifting rubble and unlocking armoires, you’ll find supplies: lumber, food, medicine, and all important components. Components (and lumber) are your primary building tools in the beginning, with which you can craft beds and chairs. These may seem luxurious in a time of war, but creature comforts help keep morale up. Advanced items, such as machine parts and electronics, will allow you to construct a metalwork, stove, heater, radio, and oven. But you’ll never have enough for several of these items – not in a single day.
It’s up to you to decide what should come first. Do you build beds, so everyone can have a good night’s sleep? Sure, you can sleep on the floor – but it’s not as good as a warm bed. Do you eat cans and raw food, which are not very filling or comforting, or do you build a stove to make hot meals? Do you construct a weapon with which to defend yourself, or do you choose to build a herbal crafting station or moonshine still, which are great for future bartering?
You’ll busy yourself during the days with these tasks, and how to divvy them up. Some characters might be sick or slightly wounded, and keeping them in bed all day can help with recovery. But someone is going to have to craft and dig through rubble. When day turns to night (8 PM), you’ll have further decisions to make. In the bombed-out city there are sites – villas, apartments, houses, hospitals – with potential supplies, some more promising than others. Each carries with them the risk of human habitation. Some people are willing to barter uneasily, while others are rapist deserters from the army. Pillaging an empty building has no repercussions, but robbing people is generally frowned upon, and justice is swift and cruel. Worse still, there are looters who may just shoot on sight.
So, who will go? Sending your fastest runner means they’ll have a better shot at outrunning would-be murderers. Send your best scavenger and you’ll have more room to carry supplies. Send your best trader/negotiator and they may be able to strike a deal. But if any of these characters are sick, wounded, tired, or feeling blue, they’ll have a tougher go of it. Worse still, you’re not exactly living in a fortress. There’s a risk each night of looters coming to take what little you have. Some players will choose to use precious lumber to board up holes, others will craft knives and shovels, putting one or more characters on guard duty during the night. Others still will be forced to let everyone sleep, if exhaustion and illness are setting in, and you can’t have your wounded staying up all night, guarding; they’ll never heal. These raids can range from desperate scavengers that will flee from a single guard, to well-armed bandits that will wound or kill anyone in their way.
You’ll have to survive for a long time, upwards of forty days. And it’s no easy task. Each playthrough will give you different survivors, different weather patterns, and different challenges when scavenging. It’s fun and highly replayable, but the subject matter is heavy enough that you won’t likely spend more than a dozen hours with this title.
This War of Mine is a macabre juggling game, and just when you think you’ve found your rhythm, the weather or a sniper hits you like a greased up chainsaw. You will never find yourself thriving, just scraping by. And when supplies are low and days turn to weeks, you’ll have to make some tough choices. The opening scenario I described is one that can happen in your game. You may decide to help neighbors initially; sending a survivor off to board up a woman’s home while her husband is away, feeding an isolated artist, or helping the victim of a sniper attack. But your heart will turn to stone in time as living becomes a prolonged struggle. That old couple? They’re no longer off limits. The hospital? They’re wounded, dying – my people need this more than they do. And that is what This War of Mine does most effectively. It shows you the cost of war – body, mind, and soul. I’ve read plenty of great anti-war novels, seen plenty of great anti-war films. This War of Mine joins Spec Ops: The Line in a growing, prestigious genre of anti-war games. It speaks for the most silent, unrepresented victims of war unflinchingly, sincerely. It reveals the cost of war; not with the over-the-top set pieces and faceless macho protagonists, but with quiet moments.
Near the end of my first playthrough, day 25, I had two survivors left from our original four. One had fled in the night; the other succumbed to a lethal injury. One survivor was utterly broken, rocking upstairs, muttering to himself. I sent my other depressed, ill survivor to comfort him, to rouse him from his depressed state. She sat and comforted him for an hour, and it gave him a little hope. But I knew it was all for naught. They were going to die, inevitably. We had no food. We had no medicine. So why? Why bother comforting him? Why not reset the game? I couldn’t. I couldn’t leave their story unfinished, untold. They both slept in beds that night, and both passed in the morning. The night had been calm, perhaps the calmest night since day one.