Iron Harvest is a real-time strategy game that takes place right after World War I in an alternate universe where instead of tanks being the big game changer, diesel-powered robots became the new favored way of waging war.
Released on Sept. 1 by KING Art for PC, XBox One, and PS4, Iron Harvest really encapsulates how it must have felt to see the first tanks roll out in the Great War. The tanks developed by the British were a revolution in warfare — nothing like it had ever been seen before and its mere appearance was enough to cause panic among German troops.
Just imagine how they’d feel seeing a two tall metal giant with cannons for arms trundling towards their trench.
Iron Harvest is KING Art’s first real-time strategy game and it’s pretty solid for a first attempt. The game is reminiscent of strategy games of the 90s and early 2000s, with base building, upgrades, unit management, and resource gathering.
Players capture resource points to gather iron and oil, build structures to train units, upgrade buildings to get better units, and build an army to wipe out the opposing force.
But Iron Harvest does bring a few new tricks to the table.
Units can be ordered into cover and this makes a big difference in firefights. Playing real-time strategy games as a child, my main strategy was to amass as big an army as I could, point it at the enemy, yell “Get ‘em!” and hope for the best.
You can’t really do that in Iron Harvest. A trooper in cover is a much harder and effective target than one not, so players need to think about cover, flanking, and how to flush enemies out of defensible locations.
With the right tactics, players can make effective progress without turning the warzone into a meat grinder.
Another feature Iron Harvest brings to the table is the ability to specialize standard troopers on the fly by picking up the necessary equipment.
If you’re out in the field and find anti-armor guns, your standard riflemen can pick them up and use them immediately. You can find grenades, machineguns, and even flamethrowers to get the edge needed in a fight.
The war machines are the big draw of the game. Each faction has something unique to offer, from giant walker robots to mobile bases and mobile artillery cannons. Just like tanks in World War I, these things can turn the tide of war. One of the best parts of the game was seeing just what else could surprise me. There are too many to go into great detail.
I did find some difficulty with pathfinding that is probably going to need a patch as soon as possible. It can be frustrating to order your units to take a hill, only to watch them go the longest route around when there’s a shorter path in front of them. Or when you order your troops to retreat and have them run through a known machine gun nest.
I’ve also had instances where larger units just seem to get stuck on thin air and don’t move forward.
The first part of the campaign sees you take the role of Anna Kos, a Polania Republic citizen who lost her brother in the Great War.
Poland wasn’t an independent state after World War I and neither is its Iron Harvest counterpart. Its citizens are just recovering and Polania’s leaders are negotiating a peace treaty as the Rusviet Tsardom and Empire of Saxony stare each other down and prepare for round two.
Anna is stuck right in the middle of it all as she joins the Polania Resistance to fight Rusviet occupation and avenge her father’s death.
And that’s where Iron Harvest really shines: the people and their stories. The setting itself is great and the war machines are fascinating to look at, but what really makes Iron Harvest great is the people’s stories.
You get to see Anna as a child be reassured by her brother that the war — the Great War — will be over in a few months and that he’d be home by Christmas. Obviously, that’s not what happens and he never makes it home.
Her Uncle Lech is the leader of the freedom fighters and has a very “live free or die” mentality. He belittles his government for not fighting Rusviet rule and chastises Polania citizens for not rising up against their oppressors. He’s confident that if every citizen rises up, no one could oppose them and they could get their independence.
Players will also get to experience the conflict through the eyes of the Rusviets and Saxony as they progress through the campaign and learn their story as well. And that story is the hook that keeps me playing.
But while I love the story and the gameplay is good, I can’t recommend it just yet.
At time of writing, Iron Harvest is going for $50 on Steam. In the few weeks since it’s been released, the developers have rolled out updates for things like a co-op campaign mode and a three versus three map. However, features like this were assumed to be available for launch. Instead, these features and more will be rolled out within the next few months.
The launch of Iron Harvest feels early, especially considering when I booted up the game for the first time on Sept. 1 it welcomed me to the “Open Beta”. There are more features planned to be released and coming in due time, so I’d give the game a month or two before buying it if you’re interested. At least that way, you can see if KING Art gets everything sorted.