This War of Mine: The Little Ones review

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There have been plenty of games about war, but they have almost always been from the perspective of the soldier – isn’t it about a time we played something from a civilian’s perspective? 11 bit studios released This War of Mine back in 2014 on PC and explored this very theme – now it’s on Xbox One and comes with added little people.

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There’s no pre-story, no tutorial, just a group of survivors holed up in a shelter that’s in desperate need of some TLC. You must direct them to patch up the shelter, building defenses and amenities so they can survive the coming weeks and seasons until a ceasefire is called and some form of normality can be returned to their lives.

By day snipers make the streets unsafe so you must use this time to work on your shelter and nurse sick survivors back to health – the day is on a timer (as is the evening cycle) so you must plan carefully. Each task takes a certain amount of time to complete, so you won’t complete all your chores before night sets in. Under the cover of darkness one of your group can sneak out to scavenge for supplies while the others sleep or guard the shelter and the precious supplies you’ve already gathered.

While out scavenging, you have to navigate each area, careful not to make too much noise and attract any unwanted attention. The day and night activities reminded me of The Escapists, which I absolutely adored, so it’s no surprise then that This War of Mine has hit similar highs.

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While an option, combat is a last resort. Should you decide to stand and fight, you will more than likely be left badly injured or worse, dead. Your character can also end up emotionally scarred should they end up killing someone. Here lies the biggest challenge: deciding when to take a risk. Scavenging can often lead to theft – the best loot isn’t just left lying around – and stealing from someone not only comes with the risk of being caught, but also has the potential to impact your own community. Returning with food, meds and supplies can raise questions. A scavenger may even confess as to how they robbed someone blind or worse, left somebody for dead. You may be able to manage hunger, illness and tiredness, but the emotional wellbeing of your survivors can often be out of your control and this can be the tipping point that cracks your community.

What starts as something simple turns into a game where every choice has a consequence. Every decision is a hard one that rests on your conscience making each choice all the harder, especially when children are thrown into the mix. Do you feed the starving child or keep food for the strongest members of your party? Who do you send out to scavenge and who should stand guard? Choices get harder as time goes on. Survivors fall out, illness sets in, very soon your carefully managed community goes to shit – and it’s wonderful.

One by one the inhabitants of my shelter left – nobody died – but soon Bruno, the one who had cared for everyone and done all the cooking, was left all alone. It was incredibly sad. He moped about the house and when he became deathly sick, he lied in bed waiting for the inevitable to come. He lasted a week and just as winter set in Bruno couldn’t take the suffering anymore and committed suicide, never to see the end of the war.

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There are plenty of moments like this, pulling at your heartstrings. Some situations develop after you’ve made what might seem like a simple decision but ends up having an unfortunate outcome. It’s sad in places, but that’s the point; this isn’t a happy game, it’s about the struggles of war.

The biggest question the game asks of you is whether you have any morals? Do you care for those you meet or protect those at your shelter? While exploring a resource rich ‘quiet house’, I found an elderly couple – they’ve had a good run right? – Robbing them of their supplies meant they couldn’t survive and upon returning to their house, I discovered what my actions had done. Even if you can live with this, your character remembers what has happened.

These actions are reflected in the narrative of the game; each character has a bio card where diary entries are made. These include thoughts and feelings about their current situation and towards the other survivors currently living in the shelter. You can also read a house statement that gives clues as to what you should be building next.

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War is not a happy, careless Call of Duty experience. It’s tough and filled with difficult decisions. It’s particularly bleak for those caught in the middle of it and this has been captured perfectly by the excellent artistic direction of the game – black and white pencil drawings. There’s no respite from the soundtrack either. Beautifully composed, it compliments the setting perfectly but will provide no solace for the desperate and depressing situation you might find your survivors in.

This War of Mine: The Little Ones is an incredible piece of work. It’s humbling, emotional and tough to beat, but as well-balanced as it is I did stumble upon a situation where upon being attacked (and retaliating) my character became sad. When returning to the scene of the crime and looting further – each character became increasingly more depressed that we had left the camp with fewer and fewer supplies after each raid, yet the survivors at that location were both dead thanks to my earlier ‘incident’. Eventually my favourite character and choice scavenger could no longer live with the guilt and left the shelter.

A civilian’s take on war might sound like a dull prospect but 11 bit studios have created a compelling and engaging experience within the survival genre. It may not have high action, but This War of Mine stands out as one of the best titles I have experienced, leaving a lasting memory of what I had played.

Thanks to Xbox and Koch Media for their support

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I've been gaming for longer than I care to remember and spent four years writing for another XCN website leading a 10 strong team. Now I'm in charge of TiX alongside Dave Moran – I hope you enjoy what we do!