Which flavor do you like your strategy game in? Do you lean on the turn-based side, with the Fire Emblems and Disgaeas of the world? Or perhaps you like something a bit more…active?
In that case, you’re probably diving into the real-time strategy (RTS) pool, with the Starcrafts and Warcrafts and what have you. It’s a much more…hectic…genre, but with some die-hard dedicated fans, especially on PC. Unfortunately, while turn-based titles seems to still be going strong, RTS games seem to have been mostly displaced by MOBAs (i.e. League of Legends and the like).
Thus when a new RTS title hits the scene, it instantly catches the attention of the genre’s fanbase. The game we’re looking at today is the end result of a Kickstarter campaign, one that ended up raising over $1 Million.
Developed by KING Art Games and published by Deep Silver, Iron Harvest was released on September 1st, 2020, for PC.
War Is Changing
Iron Harvest takes place in an alternate history Europe, directly after World War I. The tale revolves around the countries of Polania, Rusviet, and Saxony (guess what countries each of these represent), and the tension amongst them after the war.
The story here plays out across a set of missions for each country, kicking off with Polania. What starts off as a small skirmish to keep Rusviet forces from antagonizing Polania develops into a full-blown war, mostly thanks to a new technological innovation: steampunk mechs.
Many of the plot points here read like a string of clichés in war stories: an unlikely leader who has to prove themself to get soldiers to follow them, mysterious splinter groups trying to encourage conflict, “can I really trust you?” drama between main characters, it’s all here. Hell, “steampunk machinery in the early 20s” isn’t exactly a new idea either.
However, clichés aren’t always necessarily bad, and Iron Harvest manages to weave them together into an entertaining romp. There’s nothing here I’ve never seen before, but the weight and emotion in the way its told made the story much more enthralling than I expected.
Run Around With Their Heads Cut Off
To start off, a couple of notes. First, the focus here is on the single-player campaign experience. Secondly, I have to admit, I’m not what one would call the biggest fan of RTS games, although I do have experience with games such as Starcraft and Majesty.
With that out of the way, let’s go into the basic rundown. Iron Harvest is an RTS that puts much more focus on combat than base-building and resource-collection. There’s only two resources to worry about (iron and oil), which can be gathered by capturing resource production points or looting caches on each map. Bases are only made up of three buildings (a headquarters, barracks to produce infantry, and workshops to produce mechs) and can only be built in specific areas.
The goal of most maps is to take over your opponent’s base, although the little tasks along the way to the ultimate goal vary depending on the specific campaign mission. Ranging from saving civilians in the middle of a battle to guiding a train through a series of enemy checkpoints, these little additional missions add just enough variety to keep missions from getting stale and repetitive.
Once it becomes time to rush the enemy base, though, the flow of the game does begin to get more formulaic. Gather resources, spend them on infantry units to defend your resources and gather more, eventually start producing mechs, then gather everything up and rush the enemy.
The highlight of the game is, obviously, the mech units. Each of the three factions has their own designs and utilities. Polania, for example, has lightweight speedy mechs that can fire a slow-loading but powerful bolt rifle, up to massive walking fortresses that infantry units can load into. It is admittedly fun to steamroll the enemy with massive machines, but it’s also often painfully slow, as the most powerful mechs also tend to be the slowest-moving.
Infantry units aren’t quite as fun to use, but they are important, and there’s enough variety in units to craft squads for specific situations. Need to fend off some small mechs but don’t have any of your own yet? Get some grenadiers and heavy gunners. Wipe out a swarm of infantry coming at you across a choke point? Light ’em up with flamethrowers and machine gunners.
Iron Harvest tries to put focus on strategic movement and usage of cover, especially with infantry units. Flanking mechs are often the best way to take them down (due to having weak spots in their rears), but is often unwieldy to perform. Determining what is and isn’t cover can also be difficult. The game does indicate when an area being pointed at can be used for cover, but only if you’re pointing at the exact right area, and some things that seem like cover can’t actually be used that way.
That is, if your units even listen to your cover command, or even survive on the way to where they’re ordered to be. Unit pathing is…weird. I’ve lost count the number of times I’d command a group of units to move to one area, and while a few units will take a logical path, another will suddenly turn around and march in a large circle on a completely different path there.
This makes it hard to trust units to perform tasks while you’re away giving commands on another part of the map. During one mission, I ordered a group of units to return to base, then moved to another part of the map to order a second set to capture a resource point. I get an alert that enemies have been spotted, and click back to see the first group decided to take the scenic route back to base…directly through enemy lines.
Fuzzy in Many Ways
At least, for the most part, Iron Harvest is relatively attractive while playing it. The various battlefields are crafted well, despite the desaturated palette they are painted in. Units are distinctively designed, making it easy to distinguish between a flamethrower unit and a grenadier at a quick glance. The mechs are the star of the show, all uniquely designed and reflective of the factions they fight for.
Campaign cutscenes are a mixed bag. Characters animate and emote well, but some textures are just…weird. Hair in particular, especially facial hair, is weirdly fuzzy and low resolution. The cutscenes also seemed like they were running at a low framerate, despite Steam reporting a full 144FPS.
The soundtrack leans heavily orchestral and bombastic, which seems par for the course for a war story. The campaign does have some nicely composed string pieces for big moments, which absolutely helped with emotional impact.
There’s also relatively extensive English voice acting, and it’s…oh dear, it’s not good. Every character speaking in a thick accent, and I can’t quite figure out if the accents are being faked or if the voice cast just doesn’t have English as their first language. Many of the characters sound like their actors were pulled off the street and given a script. Some of these voices manage to kill the aforementioned emotional moments in the campaign story.
More Aluminum Than Iron
Iron Harvest seemed like a promising game, even to someone not really into RTS titles like myself. In some aspects, it does deliver. The story is surprisingly good, the design and usage of the mech units is top notch, and I personally appreciate the streamlining of base and resource management (the bane of my existence in most RTS games) to focus on combat.
The act of performing combat and moving troops around, though – the core of the game – is weirdly uneven. Moving units is awkward, and the pathing issues the units have make what should be simple skirmishes often risky and sometimes infuriating.
KING Art did state that they plan to watch for community feedback and continue updating the game. Perhaps all of the above issues will be fixed. However, as the game is right now at launch, Iron Harvest is rough. Promising, but rough.
Review copy provided by KING Art Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of KING Art Games.