Iron Harvest 1920+ – Playing All The Hits
With the focus on the next-generation console wars, it is a curious and fortuitous time to be releasing a real-time strategy game. Thankfully Iron Harvest takes a lot of positive elements from old favourites and condenses them into a nice little package.
Boardgame fans will recognise the game as being set in the same universe as Scythe, a strategy board game set in an alternate history 1920s Europe, recovering from the effects of the “Great War”. In this alternate timeline, three nations war for control of Central and Eastern Europe – Polania, Rusviet, and Saxony – and they invest in industrial-strength mechs to do so. This is the gimmick that KING Art and Deep Silver bank on, and it pays off as we invest in the human impacts of these mechanical behemoths through the campaign.
Unlike other RTS games, it is refreshing to see a game that counterpoints its strategy emphasis with a narrative that immediately questions the benefits of war. Starting the story as young Anna bickering with other Polanian children did make me shift in my seat a little as she fluctuated between patriotism and anxiety for her older brother, but it was a great juxtaposition for the tutorial. I taught Anna to shoot instead of focusing on my own need to learn the controls, but I also felt some of the uncertainty about teaching a young child about hunting and its ramifications further into the storyline. It reminded me so much of Warcraft 3, where we experienced the narrative through central characters that levelled and contributed in their own way. The campaign allowed me to play through each of the factions seamlessly to understand their units and their motivations – to avoid spoilers I can say, while the campaign was a bit slow, it was crafted together with care, and each element (voice acting, score, narrative flow) was well-researched and considered.
With a background in Blizzard RTS games (the Warcrafts and Starcrafts were my teenage years), I was happy to play a game that focused less on base-building and more on using the environment’s natural defences to secure victory. I have always been impressed by the competitive scene of these Blizzard classics, but they required a player who strategized quickly and that was something I always struggled with. Iron Harvest caters for the slower strategist by empowering the units instead of the base. Resources are not accrued from mining and farming – rather they are the product of tactical decisions of capturing structures and salvaging assets. This made the gameplay more focused on the positioning of units for attack, defence and maintenance of resource points. It gravitates to using the cover available to your units, and while this is sometimes a little fiddly, it feels more authentic and accurate and continues your focus on the effective use of the environment. The intuition of the units needs some work, and some of the precision requirements are difficult to manage unless you really invest your time in unit-by-unit management – the placement of your mouse is the difference between one of your battalion being behind or in front of your barricade or placing your units behind mechs for better damage, and it was occasionally frustrating.
However, the big moments really shine. See, “tactical decisions” may as well be code for “destroy the bejeebus out of that house over there with the foot of your giant mech”, and the game makes sure that these opportunities are savoured and appreciated. While some maps have you committing to building a mech army, others just want you to find some friends along the way and shoot some stuff. Both feel comprehensively realised, which made the pain of some objectives easier to bear. To complement this flow, Iron Harvest uses a curious and creative upgrade technique – rather than committing to and building specific units from the start, your parties can “customise” by killing enemy battalions and looting their weaponry. I absolutely loved this as an elementary strategist, as it allowed me a way to correct a failed decision by going back and picking up that grenade launcher or shotgun and trying again. It may have taken longer, but it saved me a failed mission a few times.
When assembling all of these elements together, it is a recipe for some amazing gameplay and puts in quite a show. Sound effects and visuals are great for the genre, with engaging weapon-fire sounds and particle effects of destruction. While I did not have a lot of opportunity for the multiplayer, I managed to catch some of it online and it is fantastic to watch.
For advanced players, it may be more of the same with a different paint job, but as someone who has had less engagement with RTS titles as a whole, Iron Harvest has been a really solid introduction for me. With a unique well-researched universe and context, and interesting combat mechanics, I look forward to diving further into multiplayer and to seeing more of the 1920+ universe down the road.
Iron Harvest 1920+ was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by Koch Media Australia.