This War of Mine: The Little Ones Review

Lee Bradley

Marko was the first to die. One night while out scavenging for food and resources, the former firefighter was attacked and killed. He had survived the bombing of the city and the firefights that followed, but couldn’t defend himself against a group of thugs attempting to protect their own meagre belongings. He died in a crumbling apartment building.

Pavle didn’t last much longer. Desperate for something to eat and some bandages to treat his friend Bruno’s wounds, he was gunned down by guards while trying to loot a once luxurious hotel. He used to be a famous footballer, cheered on by thousands. His attackers left his dead body next to a pile of rubble.

War is hell...

Marko and Pavle’s deaths left Bruno utterly alone. By day, the skilled chef attempted to make the dilapidated home he once shared with his friends sustainable; collecting and filtering rainwater, crafting handy items and cooking meals. At night he was forced to venture out, scavenging for scraps. Often he would return to find that the house had been raided. With nobody to protect it, thieves took whatever they wanted, undoing his hard work.

The arrival of an orphaned child changed everything. Bruno agreed to look after her while her brother searched for surviving relatives. How could he not? He kept the girl alive for about a week, providing just enough food for her to survive while attempting to offer distractions to keep her from depression. But then one night, while Bruno was out scavenging, the house was raided and the girl was attacked. She disappeared shortly after. Bruno died just a few days later, victim of a wound he didn’t have the medical resources to treat.

This is how a typical session with This War of Mine: The Little Ones plays out. It’s a survival management game in which you oversee the actions of a group of survivors in a war-torn city, inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. You dig through rubble, search bombed-out buildings for resources, and cobble together the barest of machinery (a stove, a rainwater purifier, a heater) to keep going for one more day. Most of the time you fail, falling foul of attackers, illness, depression and hunger.

It’s all just so desperate. Despite having the know-how to build a self-sustaining home, you’ve rarely got enough time or materials to ever actually do it. Getting through each day is difficult enough. Gathering everything needed to create a vegetable patch or a workbench to manufacture medicine is often just a fantasy.

Give that kid a teddy.

This War of Mine: The Little Ones delivers all this while bombarding you with relentless, important choices. Do you feed the child in your care or the adult who has to go out scavenging all night? Do you put an already exhausted and wounded character on guard duty during the night, or risk being raided while everyone sleeps? One misstep can unravel everything you’ve built, everything you’ve done. It’s life or death.

Yet still these minute-to-minute choices are relatively straight-forward compared to some of the moral decisions you’ll face. To survive and make it to the ceasefire (the game’s end point), odds are you’re going to do some pretty grubby shit.

In my playthrough with Bruno and the girl, I reached the stage where they basically had nothing. Bruno was wounded, hungry and tired, while the girl had long ago stopped playing with her toys. Instead, sick, hungry and depressed, she sobbed in a corner. That night, Bruno had to find food, bandages and medicine or death was inevitable. These were his options: scavenge around a resource-rich, heavily guarded building and risk being killed, or loot the “Quiet House”.

A little window on the selection menu told me that the Quiet House had just as much food, medicine and parts as the heavily guarded building, but crucially it was safe. “People are trying to lead normal lives here,” it said. “We’ve got nothing to look for, unless we’re willing to steal”. Faced with the choice of almost certain death at the face of either armed guards, hunger or illness, the Quiet House appeared to be an obvious pick. Justifying theft in a lawless, war-torn city in order to save the life of a young girl is an easy choice, right?

As it turns out, it was a horrifying decision. The Quiet House was occupied by an unarmed elderly couple. It was their home. As Bruno ran around stuffing his backpack with their possessions, the husband followed him. At first he begged Bruno to leave his stuff alone, then he begged for his life, and then he ran away upstairs. Bruno took everything he could carry and returned home to the young girl as a hero. They had a good meal, dressed Bruno’s wounds and the girl got her medication. When Bruno went back to The Quiet House the next night, he found the elderly couple dead, curled up together in bed. His actions had killed them.

It is very hard to survive in This War of Mine: The Little Ones without fucking someone over. Maybe you loot a house and steal a stranger’s stuff, leaving them to die. Maybe you kill some people with a crafted weapon; as either self defence or just straight-up self-serving aggression. Maybe you turn away the person at your door, because you just can’t afford to take them in. Maybe you leave the sniper victim to slowly die on the street, instead of carrying him home and patching him up. Maybe you’ll do all of these things in order to make it to the ceasefire. Maybe you’ll do whatever it takes.

No, really. War sucks.

After essentially murdering the elderly couple, Bruno fell even deeper into depression. If he hadn’t died to untreated wounds, he would almost certainly have killed himself, the game’s end state for failing mental health. Every action in This War of Mine: The Little Ones has very real consequences for the characters, and it takes its toll on the player too. When Bruno left the couple to die, when I left the couple to die, I felt like a scumbag. Yet something odd happened as I attempted further playthroughs.

This War of Mine: The Little Ones offers up a variety of different scenarios and characters (you can even create your own), while maintaining the same setting and offering up essentially the same crushing choices. But while my first few playthroughs packed a powerful punch, repeated attempts saw me strip away all of the morality. Eventually, I didn’t give a shit what I did or to whom. I wasn’t haunted by any of my actions. I just wanted to survive and “win” the game.

If you play This War of Mine: The Little Ones, odds are the same thing will happen to you. You’ll likely become a murderous, thieving, horrible piece of shit too. You’ll basically be no better than the thugs who raided Bruno’s house, stole all of his stuff and attacked a poor, defenceless little orphan girl. And that’s kind of the point, I guess? In the midst of war, with all structure removed from society, the only way to survive is to do so at the expense of others. It’s a dark, depressing message from a dark and depressing game. This War of Mine: The Little Ones is utterly remarkable.


Deliberately threadbare. A simple, mournful score helps to accentuate the desperate, hopeless gameplay. The sound effects do their job (clomping footsteps, tumbling rubble). There is no voice acting.

Viewed from a side-on perspective, the game looks like a monochrome sketch. The animations are rather limited, but expressive enough to communicate each player’s state. It’s a rather uncomplicated game, visually.

Everything you do, from crafting to exploring and looting is intuitive and well communicated. Combat and stealth, encountered only while scavenging, is deliberately tricky: you’re not a soldier or a ninja, you’re just a civilian in terrible circumstances.

A difficult aspect of the game to score. There are many different groups of survivors to play as, in many different scenarios. You can also create your own set of game conditions. I found repeated playthroughs increasingly less satisfying, yet the impact of the first few were profound.


At the time of writing, the full list of achievements has not gone live. All of the achievements I have personally unlocked were for exploring the game’s features. As such, I can’t really give the list a score. I’ll update when it goes live.

This War of Mine: The Littles ones is a powerful, affecting game that covers an aspect of warfare not typically touched by the medium. Telling the stories of normal civilians caught in the middle of a war, it asks: what you would do to survive? The disturbing answer is: anything you have to.

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