One of my favorite indie games in recent memory has been 11 Bit Studios’ This War of Mine. For the last seven years, I’ve played it on different platforms, from the mobile phone to the PS4 and even on the Nintendo Switch. With This War of Mine: Final Cut releasing on current-gen consoles and on Xbox Game Pass, it’s about time for another deep dive into this subversive survival sim.
Watch – This War of Mine: Final Cut Trailer
The premise of the title is simple: Survive during an urban warfare situation. A group of motley strangers finds themselves in their safe house during this conflict, each with a particular skill set. Maybe you’ll end up with an athlete, a medical practitioner, and a gardener; all in the prime of their lives. Just like in real life though, you may also end up with a retired office worker or an Instagram influencer without the necessary life skills to make it through the whole affair.
Also, just like in real life, RNG can go against your favor, leaving the length of war or when it could happen undetermined. Resources are scarce and you’d have to contend with other survivors also trying to survive and defend their keep.
Some runs will be difficult, some runs will be easy, but the only thing that will be consistent is that war is here and you’ll do whatever it takes to survive.
A Different Kind of War Sim
When I played and finished the game back in 2014, I treated it like any other simulation from a gamer’s perspective. Just like any other RPG player who crunched the numbers and hoarded resources, I totally missed the point of the game back then.
During my first few runs, I focused on getting through the war by utilizing my characters as best as they could. I sent the strong athletes out on runs during the evening, and the crafters would use the resources sourced to reinforce and defend the safehouse. I treated them like any other unit in an RTS game like XCOM – as highly trained killing machines to complete tasks I commanded them to do.
As I started to advance to the more difficult scenarios, which opened up characters to factors like stress, This War of Mine started to reveal its true face. It’s not a war game where you will bask in your achievements or cheer about how your characters survived or how many resources you’ve kept. It’s how much of your humanity you’ve retained throughout the ordeal.
Difficult scenarios where you need food or medicine in order to save your injured characters will start to show up. Would you steal from a sick elderly couple or kill for it? You start to justify to yourself that “it’s only a game” and dispatch them the way you’d do to the villagers in Skyrim or Fallout.
Suddenly, your characters, being the humans that they are, will stop eating and fall into depression. Your survival chances have gone down because your runner’s mental health is in tatters and if left untreated, may take their own life.
As a game, I enjoyed its ingenuity and creativity in portraying a war game that doesn’t involve highly trained killing machines who would solve all problems by shooting them. You’re given real people with real feelings to deal with the war and they won’t necessarily follow the script seen in many conventional games.
This War of Mine During the Pandemic
During the pandemic, I decided to play the game again on my PS4, which is probably not the smartest decision to do at the height of COVID. However, looking back, it was probably the best time to experience the game because of the connection you form with the characters who may be feeling the same way, albeit in varying degrees of distress.
Both myself and the characters are holding on to the experience of uncertainty during this time. The uncertainty of This War of Mine really mirrored the same uncertainty during the pandemic. War and pestilence ebb and flow on their own timeline and the process of securing provisions while taking care of your mental health draw close parallels.
With The Little Ones DLC, not only do you deal with your own crew but also deal with taking care of children during these tumultuous times. You could assign the children tasks of varying degrees of difficulty, but the stakes are higher as you have more vulnerable members to defend while also dealing with your own mental health and managing your resources.
I do not have children of my own, but my feelings do go out to parents who have had to nurture and care for their children during the pandemic. I could only imagine what it would be like for children to endure a difficult event such as war as the closest I’ve experienced to war in my generation was a Coup d’Etat in Manila in 1991. It was a week-long lockdown during my childhood, but time moved slowly as a child and that felt like forever.
This War of Mine Today
When This War of Mine: Final Cut was announced for the current-gen consoles, I realized that this title has been around since 2014 but is very much relevant today, especially with the War in Ukraine still ongoing. It is definitely a publicized conflict, but we’ve always had different levels of war and conflict ongoing in the world that is not publicized to this extent.
This War of Mine: Final Cut features all of the content available over the last few years along with all the DLCs, including the individual stories that center on the many parameters that increase the challenge and have set stakes for the characters that you’ve taken in.
This War of Mine is a title that needs to be experienced whether on Game Pass or in its many forms throughout the years. I’ve intermittently played this title throughout the last few years and out of many games for change genre, This War of Mine is probably the most relatable and the title that blends simulation and message without it appearing too fraught. The message is clear and it continues to send it no matter what the console generation.