Last year, 11 bit studios wowed the gaming community with its dark and emotionally provocative game, This War of Mine [$14.99]. An action-adventurer with a heavy dose of strategy, there was a lot to love and think about as players tried (sometimes in vain) to simply survive the horrors of war. Android and iOS players finally were able to check it out last month, and we’ve been running it through its paces to see if it made the transition to the mobile platform successfully. As you might expect, it passes with flying colors, and is truly a game that deserves to be played by everyone on iOS.

A simple premise (survive) in a complicated setting (a war-torn land still in the middle of fighting), This War of Mine explores the oft unmentioned aspects of war: what are the civilians without military training, without protection, doing to survive in a land that is ravaged by both friend and foe. There are no magic bullets to succeed. In fact, even the regular bullets are relatively scarce. Instead the focus is on the necessities: food, water, medicine, a place to sleep. Eventually you graduate on to the more complex necessities of life such as tools, defense, and items that attempt to provide some normalcy in this radical setting.

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This War of Mine is broadly divided into two separate phases: the Day Phase and the Night Phase. During the day, you direct your survivors to clear and upgrade your multi-storied residence. Upgrades can be as simple as fixing up holes in the walls to increase defense, building furniture, such as beds, to increase the comfort level of your folks, to creating separate workshops that can unlock even more things to craft. Crafting is all based on basic items that are necessary for survival such as enforced doors, medicine and fuel to equipment such as shovels to clear out debris faster to item generators such as a rainwater collector.

Crafting deserves some added discussion because I found the crafting system a bit daunting during my first run. However, once you get a few under your belt, it becomes easier to navigate and understand. This is important because survival is completely dependent on crafting the right items for the right situations. This is probably less important during your first run as a guide can mostly predict what needs to be done but on subsequent runs situations may change and force players to make tough choices.

The companion to crafting is exploring and scavenging, which comprises the Night Phase of This War of Mine and is where the game really shines. At night players may send one survivor out into the world to scavenge. Various locations open up the longer the game is played, each with their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of items, as well as danger level in regards to NPCs. Some NPCs may be willing to trade and offer better items, others may want to kill you on sight. Meanwhile, some locations may be abandoned but require equipment in order to effectively clear debris, unlock ares and really clear out the loot. Adding to the strategy is the fact that survivors only have a limited amount of pack space, so you’ll really need to decide what’s important. Do you load up on the material and electronics to build? Or focus on medicine and food? Should you take a shovel to clear or a gun for defense at the expense of losing a storage slot for the actual scavenging? These are real questions that bear contemplation depending on the situation.

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Scavenging and Night Phase also present the most difficult decisions in terms of how to interact with these NPCs. Serious questions are raised as trading versus raiding (especially if you have the weapons and skills to take people down). The min/maxer might not have a problem with mowing down an innocent survivor looking for some medicine and willing to trade with me, but I had a really difficult time with actions such as that. Quite a few survivors you encounter are just trying to get by, like mine. It’s almost as if going through the drudgery of the Day Phase, building up my supplies, and trying to stay alive taught me a greater appreciation for that fight in everyone I saw. This is particularly the case when you encounter those locations that have folks that have no quarrel with you, but possess items that would certainly help if only you killed them.   I knew it would make my experience better, but I just couldn’t do it, no matter how many times an online guide pushed me to do so. I think it speaks to the power of the narrative and setting that’s been set that this is even a discussion in a video game.

There is a way to “beat” This War of Mine, and that’s survive until the cease fire day, when the war ends. However, making it to the end of the game will be difficult, as players will have to endure by collecting supplies, weapons and material to build and upgrade your hideout. Survivors can become wounded, sick, tired — understandable ailments when all hell has broken loose. However, such conditions need to be watched careful, as they can dramatically impact the performance of any character.

Survival is accomplished through a tuned tap-based control scheme that fits right at home on iOS. In fact, I’d argue that the game plays better on the iPad than on the PC with a mouse and keyboard. The iPad also does a great job showcasing the beautiful visual art style of the game. Its grainy atmospheric art style certainly imposes a post-apocalyptic feel that’s jarring in the best sense of the word.

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I love every aspect of this game, but I have to admit it’s hard for me to engage in lengthy play sessions with This War of Mine. Every decision that I make during every hour of a game-day feels like it has so much weight that it’s in some ways emotionally exhausting. The same goes for scavenging for all of the reasons I’ve listed above. I say this not with any negative intent towards this amazing tactical/survival title. Rather, it’s to speak to how it manages to encapsulate how well the game portrays the horrors of the setting and why it’s simply a game that everyone needs to play.

In my view, a good game entertains, while a great game creates a lasting impression of being entertained. This War of Mine goes beyond that by also impacting how I feel about certain decisions within the game and causing self-reflection. It goes without saying that such emotions would not be possible without the game actually being good to start with. However, rarely do games become experiences like This War of Mine, which earns it nothing but the highest praise in my book.

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarStar
  • pllobsession

    nice

  • rezn

    Once I got over the idea of one of my people dying and not restarting, I really began to enjoy it more. Plus a new person shows up the following day most of the time. Great review I couldn't agree more. This game is classic and filled with thrills, critical thinking and lots of emotion.

  • Bob

    you know, this game actually sounds like the zombie apocalypse game I've been wishing someone would make for years! I know this isn't a ZA game, but it sounds like it has all the things that I've wanted in a ZA game...

    • Anova

      It absolutely is, easily the best apocalypse game on the market. That is also holds a lot of emotional weight and story about war just brings it all together.

    • ProgPariah77

      Of course, there's nothing to keep them from adding zombies in a future update!

  • Dema9o9ue

    Gotta love these iPad only games...😏

    • curtisrshideler

      Yup. My iPad is so old that it rarely plays anything well and I mostly game on my phone. So, guess I'll stick to Fallout Shelter unless they end up making this universal.

  • Derrythe

    I can't play this, made it to day 4, and my people are content, fed and rested. If I play now, they'll only get worse.

    • LarryWP

      At $15 you have to play more. 😉

  • Eseres

    Fantastic review! This game is beautifully executed down to the smallest detail, and I love it! Well worth the asking price for sure. So if/when this goes on sale, I highly recommend picking it up to those who feel its too expensive for their wallet 🙂 To be honest, I did struggle a bit to learn the ropes, but now Im enjoying it every day. Makes me sad every time one of my survivors die though, but life goes on 🙂

  • riChchestMat

    Is it 5 stars because it's a 5 star game or 5 stars because it's a good port of a 3 or 4 star game? For iOS gaining to fully mature, the games have to stand up by themselves.

    • http://entrepreneurialblog.com Niclas Johansson

      "In my view, a good game entertains, while a great game creates a lasting impression of being entertained. This War of Mine goes beyond that... "
      What in the above wording makes the answer to your question not blatantly obvious?

      • riChchestMat

        The 83 metacritic rating plus other reviews that make this seem more like a 4 star game on balance, without the squuuueee it's on iOS tinted glasses

      • Dankrio

        Metacritczzzzz... 4 starszzzzz...

    • Anova

      If you read the review Eric does a great job fleshing out his rating. It's 5 star because it's a first of its kind done with excellent polish.

  • Maglor

    ___∧_∧   ____∧_∧
    (・∀・∩) (∩・∀・)Most
    (つ  丿__(   ⊂)Impressive
    ( ヽノ ___ヽ/  )★★★★★
    し(_)   __(_)J COOL!!!

  • Lohengriehn

    i disagree.

  • speedyph

    😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😍😎😎😎😎

  • Timmy2x

    Just waiting for that sweet discount that should be any day now, I'm thinking 1/2 price?

    • Blair Davis

      haha you and me both.

      • Timmy2x

        It's half price grab it!

      • Blair Davis

        Thanks for the heads up! I grabbed it.

      • iamninja

        Just did!

  • mrmac

    Just wondering if this will be available on the iPhone anytime soon?

    • iamninja

      It is starting today

  • Huge49erFan

    You sold me Eric! This game is right up my alley and I'm buying it now. Great post 🙂

  • PadreTomasito

    There are real stories of survivors of real tragedies. Authors of this game made a lengthy efforts to gather a lot of data from people involved in real war conflicts, their families etc.

    • John Casey Keyser

      I can vouch for that. I was one of the people who was brought on to help and provide them with experiences.

  • n00b

    Pro tips:
    Always focus to build first:
    -Radio: To get informed about everything what's going on.
    -Beds (2 are enough) a must do first, if not, survivors can't rest well.
    -Stove: Having cooked meals are better than wasting eating raw food. Improve it ASAP if Bruno isn't in your party.
    -Metal workshop: Build it ASAP and craft the crowbar, it's way much better than lock picks, if yout have lock picks you may want save them for later (like robbing someone). Upgrade it when you can, having saw blades are very useful to access some areas with very nice loot, and a hatchet will be useful when Winter it's coming.
    -Board up and reinforced door: This will prevent you getting raided specially if you don't have Roman (he is the strongest guard) rushing is recommended, specially if your party is only women (Zlata is an exception) or elderly.
    -Trap for animals: Good for long term to get your own food, a good advice is get fertilizer when scavenging to get food faster and scavenging for food less a priority so build 2 as soon you can.
    -Herbal Garden > Vegetable Garden: A later game thing to build to get vegetables and get even more food making your party self-sufficient. However, you need A LOT of resources (materials, wood, pieces, lots of electrical pieces) to craft and upgrade.
    -Rainwater collector: Build 2 if your temperature is above 20 °C, 1 if temperature is less than 17 °C, don't build if 12 °C (winter is coming) or if it's winter as its useless and you will smelt snow instead (also if you bring food occasionally). Always get water everyday specially in later game.
    Guitar: Only if Zlata is on your party, or also Roman/Katia as they play the guitar very well. This will make your survivors happier.

    If you haven't enough food for everybody feed them every 2 days to save food. Also try rush to upgrade the stove, you will save a lot of resources when cooking with the improved stove (even making Bruno less useful).

    Avoid doing bad things as they make your survivors sad, if they get depressed they might either leave the shelter and stole your things, or suicide and make your survivors even sadder. If someone is sad, give him alcohol or put him to sleep for a day or two.

    Instead try to do good deeds like helping neighbors and killing bad guys, they will be content and their movement speed is increased, also feeding them at normal state will make the, happy and well fed (even more speed)

    Whenever you can, scavenge only for materials when you need to upgrade your shelter, if not try to focus gathering food or aiding, canned food is the best as its good as a cooked meal and you don't need to waste materials to craft. Bandages and medicine are a must for emergency, if you have too many you can trade them with Franko for a very high value. Herbal meds are less useful but their value is still high for trading so get them too.

    Get at least 10 books in your shelter. This will make survivors happier. Also watch out survivors addictions as if you don't bring coffe or tobacco for certain characters they will become sad.

    Always trade with Franko things that you don't think you will need for what you really need like food or bandages/medicine if it's a real emergency, if not trade for only materials, specially components and wood as this will save you several nights of scavenging.

    Avoid dangerous places unless you have firing weapons and skill or you are very skilled for stealth kills. If you are going to massacre people, Roman and Arica are the best as Roman is trained in combat and Arica is best for silent kills, also because they both can backstab from behind. Boris and Pavle is also an option but only if you have firing weapons as Boris is strong and has the highest health but is slow and Pavle is better with hit-n-run tactic

    Hope this guide will help and sorry for long comment, here's a cookie 🍪

    • louisa

      Thanks for all the hints and help. Much appreciated as I'm new to this whole thing!

  • GiHubb

    I found the game to be utterly boring, especially the day part. I didn't like all the war clichés, we've seen and heard those s million times in all sorts of movies. The day night cycle also felt very forced to me. But ultimately, I found it to be a tedious exercise in micro managing people, tamagotchi goes to war.

  • Huon

    By far the best game on iOS this year for me. Worth every single penny spent.

This War of Mine Reviewed by Eric Ford on . Rating: 5