When This War of Mine hit the Humble Bundle several weeks back, there was a small corner of the Internet that exploded with praise for the newly released title from 11 Bit Studios. After playing it for about 10 hours ourselves, we can tell you the only problem we have is the fact that more people don't know about the game, but hopefully that will change in the very near future.
Inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, This War of Mine is a change of pace from most conflict-themed games, choosing to focus on the civilian experience rather than soldiers in combat. It's an emotional rollercoaster that never plays out the same way twice, giving players solid replay value for the price of admission.
Even though each play through is different, This War of Mine is all about making the right -- and often difficult -- decisions in order to live through just one more day. Whether that's choosing who gets to eat the only portion of food, or which of your two wounded housemates will use the last bandage. Coldly calculated decisions are a must if you want to survive the war.
With that in mind, here are a few hard lessons that we learned in our time with the game.
The Early Days of War
You're probably going to live through the first week without someone dying of sickness or taking their own life, but it's how you prepare for the harder days ahead that will determine how long you make it. This means your first day and initial scavenging run through your own dwelling are of vital importance.
For starters, we adopted the habit of not feeding anyone on the first day and not giving them any sleep, instead choosing to focus on completing necessary tasks around the house. Of course, this decision will be based on whether anyone is actually hungry or tired when you begin, but if not, save it for harsher times. In fact, we opted not to feed anyone -- except our favorite scavenger -- unless they are at least hungry, and more than likely very hungry. We stopped short of letting anyone starve to death, but it was a brief consideration.
What you should be focusing on in the early days of your survival is stocking up and on food, medicine and materials, as well as preparing yourself for when things get very tough. This means boarding up your dwelling to reduce the likelihood that bandits can get inside, as well as building beds, a rain water catcher, furnace, rodent trap and advanced work bench that can craft simple tools and weapons.
The Art of Scavenging
The supplies in your home may only last a day, and even then there is rarely enough to satisfy everyone’s needs. This means that your first night is also going to be your first trip into the outside world, and how you prepare -- or who you choose -- can go a long way in determining how full your backpack is when you get home.
In the case of our first play through, we were spoiled by having Marko in our group, an expert scavenger with 17 slots in his backpack. Besides him, the most we've ever seen is 12. This meant that Marko was almost always tapped on the shoulder when it was time to search for supplies. The key there is that he was almost always the one going out.
We learned very quickly that some of the randomly generated locations to scavenge were dangerous, and the survival of our group depended largely on the well being of Marko. This is where we had to make some tough decisions, often sending someone who was sick, wounded or just generally not very useful to scout ahead. Again, in the case of our first play through this was Bruno, who was frequently in poor health and unfortunately expendable. Don't judge us, but we often sent Bruno into situations with low odds of survival for no other reason than to clear a path for Marko the next night. If Bruno died, that was horrible, but not quite as horrible if Marko -- and his five extra backpack slots -- perished. Not to be complete savages, but Bruno's potential death meant one less mouth to feed, one less person to get sick and one less bed that was required.
The Art of Combat
That's a perfect segue into the combat in This War of Mine, which is another area that you're going to want to leave up to an expendable member of your group. For us, this turned out to be someone who joined us part way through our survival journey, and his name was Boris.
Boris wasn't particularly fast, but he was extremely strong, completely obliterating an entire dwelling of unarmed squatters -- and even one with a knife -- all by himself. This meant that the very next night, Marko was free to walk into the dwelling and loot it without fear. In fact, he did this for several nights, just what the group needed to make it a few more days.
Besides a clear path for Marko, that combat situation ended in us bringing home a knife, which we then used to stab a man with a gun, which we then used to shoot another man with a bigger gun. This is, unfortunately, one of the most common ways to secure weapons in the game, and it is extremely high risk. Once you're loaded up with a few pistols and shotguns, though, you can pretty much go where you want without being too scared of the consequences. You can also leave a couple of guns at home to put an almost absolute end to your own dwelling being looted.
Combat isn't all about the physical, however. It's also about being able to deal with the psychological consequences, something that is a very real problem in This War of Mine. After Boris killed six -- maybe nine -- people that night, he was never the same, and even went so far as to walk out on the group several days later. His depression led to somber -- more so than usual -- times back at home, meaning that besides hunger, physical wounds and being sleep deprived, our group had to deal with depression spreading throughout its members.
The End of the Road
Our original group of Pavle, Marko and Bruno -- Boris joined us several days later -- was probably our best run at the game so far. We made it 31 days that time, and only managed to survive 13 on our following play through. While partly due to having a great team the first go around, there is another factor that helped us stay healthy, and that was being compassionate.
For all the times that we were forced to be violent, it was our lack of violence and even compassion that helped us stay mentally strong. When none of our members were killing or dying, everyone was able to stay in fairly high spirits. When death began to surround our group, first with Boris killing, then with Pavle and Marko being killed while looting in the night, it was pretty much a wrap. Bruno broke down and took his own life to end our run, and as we mentioned earlier, Boris abandoned the group.
Compassion isn't just about letting people live while you're raiding various locales for supplies, though. It's also about helping your neighbours when they come knocking. It often pulls a member of the group out of the mix for part of a day and a full night, but you're also frequently rewarded for your efforts. By helping our fellow survivors board up and fend off bandits, we were given a shotgun and some food, both of which were vital to the group's longevity. It was when we began to get desperate -- then abandon our moral code altogether -- that things went horribly wrong.
That's the scariest part about this game. It will push your ability to show compassion to the limit, and eventually force you to cross lines that you never thought you would. When you do finally break your moral code, it might just end up being your downfall.
If you picked up This War of Mine, let us know in the comments how long you managed to survive. If you haven't picked it up, you can snag it on Steam right now, even if you're a Mac or Linux user.