Video games can create so many different types of emotions from within us, no matter if they’ve had $1 million invested in their development or $100 million. How a video game makes you feel and the experience it executes from start to finish are huge. For the humble, yet powerful action-adventure game This War of Mine: The Little Ones, I was left with thoughts of reality, perspective and insight despite its limiting structure and often times empty outcomes.
In the midst of a war, gamers are not alone as they start out with three playable characters whom must be taken care of. Decisions must be made in regards to resources and rationing. There are no simple choices and the daytime gameplay is somewhat similar to that of the old Sims days when you would need to command your character to eat, to sleep and to work.
Every character you control possesses a certain skill or benefit that they add to your household. Children did not add much of a benefit to my experience, in fact, I felt they were nothing more than a hindrance over the course of my playthroughs. Then again, they are just children, aren’t they? You must be careful to take care of each character because people like Marko can carry far more, due to his Scavenger trait, than say someone like Katia, who excels when trading.
This is where the most difficult choices and decisions come into play. Who will you keep alive? Who will you deny aid or nourishment to? Personally, I kept those who I felt provided the best chance at surviving alive and well. They took priority when someone needed a bandage. They took priority when they were hungry or felt sick. It’s a decision that was remarkably hard to come to, but once you waded passed your emotion, the choice was simple.
You might watch gameplay or a trailer and think, “there’s no way I’ll become attached to these characters,” but 11bit Studios has made it impossible to ignore the emotion that is born out of each playthrough. The character who was a personal favorite had to be Marko for his ability to scavenge more than others. In fact, he was a character I didn’t even start with during my most successful playthrough. Marko came along just over halfway through and he quickly ascended to my most valued household member.
Choice is littered everywhere in this game, from how you choose to spend your resources, to the people you choose to sleep, guard and scavenge at night. Deciding to spend resources on a heater could prove to be costly when I found out days later that I needed them for a metal workshop. While the heat was a nice luxury, the metal workshop would have enabled me to craft a saw blade or shovel, which would have then gotten me through a locked door or pile of rubble quicker. Once you decide to use a resource, it is gone and you must live with that choice.
Night is a very dangerous time, not just for those you decide to keep on guard, but for those who head outside to scavenge. Each location you scavenge has a varying amount of weapons, materials, food, meds, parts and other findables, in addition to potential danger and enemies, who if they see you will shoot to kill. Just because a location is dangerous doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to go there because if you are tactful enough, you may be able to sneak around, get the things you need and escape unscathed.
Should you get caught in a conflict with an enemy NPC and you die, all of the resources you were carrying stay in that same location and do not come back into your inventory. I was happy that the developers allowed you to go back to the spot you died and regain the things you had in your bag previously, but again, it all comes with a risk.
The artistic vision of This War of Mine: The Little Ones has been profoundly realized and not only is its grim, dark and hopeless setting more than enough to convey the gravity of what is happening in the game world, it truly makes you feel as if you are in the environment, suffering with each of your characters. Suffrage is easily detectable with a simple, quick glance, but it gets to your heart all the more when you initially read the things each person has to say.
There is some dialogue in This War of Mine: The Little Ones and it can be read on the screen as it comes up. These things are usually indicative of a character’s mood or needs, in addition to the intentions of an NPC in the world. The things characters say did become a bit repetitive and predictable, which I found to numb the experience, especially later on in a playthrough.
When encountering an NPC in the world or at your door step, I’ve never felt so uneasy before in a game. Will this person try to kill me? Can or will they help me? When I went to another location, it was always a relief when I met a person who wanted to trade or didn’t have intentions of killing me.
I recognize 11bit Studios’ ability to inject emotion and meaning into each character’s words. I couldn’t help but feel a strong affinity for the people in my household, and it became a struggle to decide who I wanted to let fall by the wayside when resources became scarce.
What is impossible for This War of Mine: The Little Ones to overcome is the fact that the game’s structure and layout is limited. The formula is the same, live a day to take care of your people and fight at night to gain resources from the same locations to see another day. During each playthrough, your house doesn’t change, outside of the improvements you make to it. The rinse and repeat recipe does become a burden when you climb into the weeks’ worth of days surviving. At that point, I began to lose my adoration toward characters and just wanted it to be over with.
Additionally, the way the game is structured not only is it limiting from a gameplay standpoint, but it feels like a game that just doesn’t want to make you feel good. You could survive for 31 days, come to the end of your journey and essentially be left with a “you failed” sort of feeling.
That did leave a sour taste in my mouth because of how relentless the game’s grim nature is and the fact that you have to take it in, day-in and day-out. That said, I do empathize with 11bit Studios due to the fact that this game is about surviving in the midst of war, so I added this graph more as a warning for players, who think they’re going to get a happy ending no matter what, than I do as an actual criticism.
When I step back and think about This War of Mine: The Little Ones, I am left with thoughts of a profound and meaningful experience, in spite of its limiting structure, and one that will make you feel like you never have before. This War of Mine: The Little Ones provides an essential illustration of what is the inescapable fact of our very existence: we are all human.
- Character skills
- Meaningful choices
- Powerful emotion
- Rinse and repeat formula
Deep Silver provided a PS4 review code of This War of Mine: The Little Ones for the purposes of this review.