I don’t like feeling sad. I’ll endure some tears on the way to triumph or to sweeten a reward but I avoid media that chooses sadness as its focus. Despite this aversion I absolutely loved This War of Mine. It was steeped in loss but playing well kept the worst at bay. You could even eek out some joy for your beleaguered citizens. It made you inhabit a broken world where building a comfy chair was a realistic and tangible reward.
Father’s Promise, the first in a planned season of short story DLC, abandons that formula. It also loses much of its narrative momentum because of the harsh constraints of the core engine. It’s still a fun trip back to the nameless war torn city and still has poignant moments but it’s short, unsubtle and almost emotionally cheap.
Should you buy it?
If you love the core game then sure, why not? A few dollars for 2 hours of flawed but engaging gameplay. It’s nowhere near as brilliant as the original experience but absence makes the heart grow fonder and I was happy to go back. I’m sure the story will affect you emotionally and will make you think. But it does it in such a forceful way that I felt like its gut punches were undeserved.
If you show me a picture of a puppy I’ll feel attached to it. If you tell me the puppy was bludgeoned to death with a hammer you’ll succeed in making me feel sad and angry. It doesn’t make you a good storyteller.
Mechanically the game is unchanged but you’re essentially alone and only inhabit the world for a short time. You don’t get to use many of the systems that created drama in the original.
You’re Adam, a father tending his sick daughter shortly after his wife’s death. I was instantly invested from a roleplaying sense. That’s the advantage of having built up so much trust and atmosphere with the original. I was eager to beat the game’s steady drip of horror and make a nice home for my kid.
You would think this game would be perfect for telling such a story. However the hard limitations of the game destroy momentum and lead to frustration and distance from the characters.
Time is compressed, which is fine normally but gets maddening when simply giving your daughter medicine or talking to her takes over an hour of precious daylight. Or worse, finding food and being unable to feed her because 8PM rolled around. Your character’s adherence to his beauty sleep schedule chips away at the notion that he’s a desperate father.
Once you begin the quest being limited to only exploring at night feels silly and contrived. You spend your day audibly stressing about urgency and how you should follow the clues but can only putt around the house, make some soup and take a nap until evening.
The game even uses these clumsy mechanics to move the story along. You can’t guard the house and sleep at the same time and your daughter occupies the only bed so you spend consecutive days in exhaustion until the story needs you to pass out. I even built a second bed to see if the story accounts for not being exhausted and the game wouldn’t let me sleep in it, insisting there are more important things to do (there weren’t). Games should never be this forceful about railroading us.
Despite all the clumsiness and emotional bludgeoning it’s still pleasant (in a dark depressing way) to be back. There’s only one real moment of action but it does its job well. The locations are recycled from the original but it doesn’t matter – I wasn’t bored during the 2-hours it took to finish. I never died and I think I got one of the better playthroughs so there’s no reason to try again.
For $5 you get the season pass good for two more of these short, standalone stories. While I was fine with my time spent it didn’t do enough to convince me to sign up for the rest. I’ll probably end up getting them individually and spending more but if the next episode is as brief and clumsy as this one I might lose interest until there’s a proper sequel.
With the caveat that $2 doesn’t mean much to you and that you enjoyed the core game, I give this a 70. They managed to do away with every single system (survival, temperature, group dynamics, growth and upgrades) that invested me in the original game and replaced it with a clumsy story. They’re lucky the music, atmosphere, art style and good will from the first game did enough to make this pleasant.
It’s not a waste of your time but it should have more game or more thought put into the story. This felt like someone had a message, wrapped a story around it and gave it to someone else to translate into a fairly rigid engine.