The black, grey, and white back drop of This War of Mine: The Little Ones never lets up to allow different colors to shine through. It’s not supposed to though, because this is how 11 Bit Studios want war to be depicted; filled with all kinds of grey, from both one’s morals and their actions. War never changes, and neither do those who are affected by its traumatic shockwave. Boring gameplay mechanics, a stilted artstyle, and literally no rewards whatsoever combine with repetitive micromanaging to make this game out as little more than chores to keep you miserably busy
This War of Mine: The Little Ones is an expansion of 2014’s release of This War of Mine. You take control of up to four survivors who were not able to escape from the city of Progea, a war torn city inspired by the terrible destruction of the Middle Eastern warfare. And that’s it. You’re just thrown into the conflict and told to survive. Little to no backstory is given to the characters who you are tasked to help make it through this terrible conflict. Generic descriptions remind you that a military man is left behind with you, a scholar, a guy who is good with electronics, and even a woman who is good with children.
You’re tasked with staying alive as long as possible. From customizing your own game session to starting off at a randomly assigned shelter, each day will bring new challenges to overcome. If Sergei gets sick or injured while on guard duty, you’ll have to heal him as fast as possible. Did you send your best scavenger out to look for supplies? Then you’ll have to rest him up the next day, which passes by as you craft items, move around your shelter, or even partake in one-note conversations.
When examining the product from a lens of an ordinary, casual gamer, this game gives you a lot to do, but you’re forced to partake in all of it if you want to feel somewhat rewarded, and that’s literally impossible with the amount of time you are given within each day. If you don’t go out and get supplies, you won’t be able to create materials to heal the wounded, craft weapons, or trade with a traveling barter. No beds on the first night? Everyone will be tired the next day, as they wear down and become even harder to control. But you’ll also have to spend parts on creating water filters, upgrading your crafting bench, and a number of other appliances to even stand a chance of surviving. I came back from scavenging multiple times, only to feel extremely frustrated at the fact I could not craft what I needed, thus making it harder to survive.
Such clear and concise descriptions would make sense and further serve the gameplay, as you’re tasked with deciding who should stay behind and who should scavenge materials. “Good Scavenger,” and “Fast Runner,” are the only two descriptions that really impact your characters in anyway. Smaller hints, a goodbye note to a family who also didn’t get a chance to run to safety, and an older man who has stayed behind with his wife, attempt to make an emotional impact, but they largely fall flat as you race to scavenge materials before dawn rises.
As mentioned in the beginning, the art style is distinctly black, white, and grey. Taking many visuals cues from graphic novels such as Persepolis, graffiti is scrawled all over destroyed buildings. Oftentimes the background, messy grey sky would look broken and stilted, almost as if the game was still struggling to render the rest of the graphics. The atmosphere feels as if the characters are moving back and forth between several different panels, using different shades of black and grey to distinguish different aspects of the environment from each other. Small bits of food, such as raw meat and uncooked vegetables, are a shade of darker grey than a bowl of cooked food or medicine. It sounds a lot more intricate and unique than it actually is, as the black and white wartime aesthetic feels too simple in today’s day and age.
While this wartime aesthetic is meant to invoke a sense of pathos, it doesn’t work in a video game. In a video game, you’re supposed to achieve some sense of victory or accomplishment. The constant status updates that reflect how your characters are slowly degrading, such as becoming more and more exhausted and hungry to the point where your character can no longer move, reflect a barrage of mechanics that look to hold you back. It seems pointless. I understand that it’s supposed to reflect the growing desperation of war, but it just makes the game too hard to play. Couple the additions of children, people dying, and the constant feeling of losing at the end of every in-game day, and you have an extremely depressing experience that just isn’t fun nor cathartic to play.
Video games aren’t unfamiliar with drawing parallels between the gruesome effects of war to the people who are affected the most. However, This War of Mine: The Little Ones fails to invoke any sense of pathos nor enlightenment, while managing to provide a boring, uninspiring strategy game to boot.
-Scavenging and crafting feels like a chore
-Art style is boring and feels dated
-Too depressing to actually play
-Always feel like you’re going backwards
This War of Mine: The Little Ones is plagued with problems. Just stay away from it.
Liam Crossey is the Executive Editor of Features for The Game Bolt. Follow him on Twitter for too many retweets.