In my This War of Mine review , I said I would cover the new expansion update. Since it is now out, that is precisely what I shall do. Because I have other duties to attend to, including another upcoming review, hint hint, I decided to make my custom playthrough be short and easy.
At the menu screen, you now have the option to create your own story. This differs from the “choose a story” menu screen in that, when you choose a story, you don’t have total control over the scenario itself. You just choose a set of characters, and it’s one the game already made for you. Sometimes, their scenarios come with built-in difficulty factors, but those factors are beyond your control.
Customizing your game, however, gives you a bit more freedom. You can choose which combination of civilians you want to start out with, and even customize your own. It’s not Sims body-shop level customization—it’s just enough for them to be given a backstory that fits in with the general gist of the game without them feeling too much like outsiders. In fact, you can even go so far as to upload your photo and insert yourself into the game. This doesn’t really seem like the kind of scenario in which you would want to vicariously insert yourself at first glance, but on the other hand, putting yourself right in the line of action is potentially powerful. I have not done this yet, but I might in the future.
The special abilities that come with the new civilians’ occupations are not readily obvious until you begin the game, but you cannot determine how high your characters’ combative abilities are, or how good they are at cooking, and so on—that just goes with the occupation. I suspect the purpose of this is to prevent eager players from exploiting the system by creating an overly powerful character. These special abilities and limitations make the civilians you customize feel more like the survivors that already come with the game. Roman, for instance, is the best at combat and stealth attacks, but is less empathetic.
The one inherent flaw with custom civilians is that the full extent of their abilities isn’t immediately known. They may need a few more thorough playthroughs with other players before their usefulness is fully understood. For this particular run, the civilians I created were never placed in a situation where I’d need to understand their strengths and weaknesses. This is one reason why making this test playthrough easy may have been a mistake, but I’ll write more on that later.
For this playthrough, I created Angie the insurance agent and Yosef the psychologist, and paired them up with my OTP Roman and Katia. Since we never had to deal with winter thanks to my customization points, this gave the characters plenty of time to explore and do good deeds with minimal stress. I worried that starvation was going to become a problem at one or two points, but I managed to find the food we needed in time, and by the time the others reached the edge of starvation again, the war was over. And thus, everyone lived happily ever after.
On this test custom map, I included the two new locations: the looted gas station and the old town. Both are relatively easy to navigate, outside of a few places where you’ll need a few lockpicks and a handsaw, but the latter is deceptively easy. Every location has some sort of document or item you can examine that will give you a good idea of what life in this location must’ve been like. The old town uses this feature to craft a very tragic story that gradually unfolds with exploration. Once you reach the highest point of the house, you’ll quickly realize that your character is in a lot more danger.
Outside of this danger, this playthrough was relatively easy enough. However, in making things easy, I feel like this was a mistake. My party had the resources it needed, nobody had to make a tough choice, everyone survived to the twentieth day, and my survivors lived happily ever after. Under any other circumstances, I’d be thrilled to get such an ending, but it didn’t feel like a genuine victory because I’d deliberately tilted the scales in everyone’s favour. No one actually earned their happy ending, and it just didn’t feel true. It was like the difference between climbing over a mountain, and being airlifted to the other side.
This is not a criticism of the custom story design itself. This is just a slight warning against making things too easy for your characters. Do it so you’ll get a very basic idea of how this customizing works, but not if you want a fulfilling gaming experience. Sure, you’ll have an easier time winning, but you won’t actually learn anything.
….So next time, THERE WILL BE NO MERCY. Mwahahaha.