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E3 2014: The Toll of This War of Mine

11 Bit Studios

As the door to the home opened, it’s elderly owners stood, terrified of their potential fate. Boris stood silent. “Are you gonna kill us?” the old man asked. Boris answered with his fists, beating the man and his wife to death. But at least he got some pills and some meat.

“It’s not fun,” says senior writer Pawel Miechowski.

War never changes, particularly in video games. That still holds true in 11 Bit Studios’ This War of Mine, but instead of putting you on the frontlines of the conflict, you’re caught in the middle. Taking place in a nondescript country being ravaged by feuding armies, This War of Mine has you fighting every day of your life struggling to make it to the next. Nobody wins in This War of Mine. One merely survives.

Stranded in a building ravaged by the effects of artillery, Miechowski introduces me to a few of the characters present in his current playthrough. Boris is the most even-keeled member of the group, and the only person not tired or sick a few days into this trial. As such, it’s up to him to explore the surrounding area at night to try and find more necessary goods to make it through the upcoming winter. The thing is, like with real wars, you never know when This War of Mine might end. Every playthrough will be completely different, and some could last a few days, where others might last weeks and months. There’s also that tricky matter of making it to the conclusion alive.

11 Bit Studios

On that fateful night Boris chose to explore however, he encountered those lonely old folks. Even though they posed no real threat to Boris, merely to show off the emotional layer affected by your decisions, Miechowski had Boris take them down. Combat is simplistic, but fits well within the confines of what the developers are attempting to do. You want to avoid engaging with people as much as possible. Sometimes however, it is inevitable. Since Boris didn’t have to take out that couple, his mood sours upon returning back to the shelter. Visibly shaken by the act of violence, Boris now refuses to do anything. He’s given up on life after bursting right through rock bottom.

Boris’ decision has reflected on the others in the safehouse, too, and now the once ill Katia wants nothing to do with him. Not that Boris minds. He’s more than content to sit and postulate the futility of existence in the basement. Now because of that choice we didn’t have to make, Boris will likely not eat, and starve to death. He’s given up completely. However, there’s still work to be done, and if there’s any hope of surviving the cold nights looming ahead, beds and stoves must be crafted. Goods must be created for trade with other survivors. There’s a lot of nuance to This War of Mine, particularly in the resource management, but truthfully, it’s the emotional core that has us fascinated.

Too often we are celebrated for our outrageous and improbable kill counts in video games. Civilians are few and far between. The worlds are often ravaged so far beyond livable the only occupants are those carrying automatic weapons. Miechowski talks of a conversation he had with Lucas Pope (Papers, Please), where they agreed games were the best for telling dynamic stories because of the interactive aspects. Being an invincible killing machine is a power fantasy; being weak and forced to scrap for your life is a powerful one. There’s still some work to do before This War of Mine is ready for public consumption, but ideas are fascinating and more importantly, thought provoking. It might not be fun, but that just makes me want to play it even more.

This War of Mine will be available on PC sometime within the next year.

Next: Tales from the Borderlands: E3 2014 Preview

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