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Preview: Iron Harvest

I went into Iron Harvest expecting one thing, and I’ve come out the other end of this early access preview wrong in my assumptions, but happy about it nonetheless.

Iron Harvest is an alternate take on history, but it still pays tribute to the early 20th century wars. In this version of the world, mechs are a thing and countries don’t have their proper names yet. Poland is Polania, Germany is Saxony, and so on. But yeah, it’s the mechs that are the biggest change to history, and a change we were very lucky to not have to live through.

I’ve played a few hours of the open beta that is available to everyone, but I’ve also had a go of the media-only Saxony campaign, and it’s the latter that has really sold me on Iron Harvest.

Iron Harvest is an RTS (real-time strategy) game, and I was expecting something along the lines of Age of Empires or Command & Conquer – my two favourite RTS games of all time. It’s not like either of them, which at first disappointed me if I’m being honest.

I wanted to amass an army of mechs that numbered in the hundreds, but that’s just not possible in Iron Harvest. Instead, you create small squads of individual units. So “buying” a grenadier in the barracks means 1 purchase is for a handful of men. It’s different and not entirely what I’m used to. I got used to it eventually and came to appreciate the balance the game tries to keep.

Also unlike Age of Empires and C&C, you don’t have to mine resources, and there are only two anyway, Iron and Oil. Instead of having harvesters or workers collecting Iron and Oil, you need to capture points on the map to take control of Iron refineries and Oil pump stations. It adds another layer to the gameplay because if you’re not careful and you leave your precious resources unguarded, there’s nothing to stop the enemy from coming in and taking it back, capture-the-flag style.

The opening started slowly with an introductory mission to get me used to the games U.I and controls, all of which were simple enough for me to understand. I did play on PC, though, and such games are almost always easier played with a mouse and keyboard, so I’m left wondering how the controls and U.I will be adapted for the eventual PS4 release, and if there will be support for mouse and keyboard on consoles. I’m hoping for the best.

Iron Harvest has three campaigns, and I started with the Polania campaign, which introduces us to the Polanians. The people of Polania are the poor buggers getting shafted in the war, but they make do and knuckle on against the odds and the technical might of the Saxony army. Polania has its own technology-driven war machines, as well as an actual bear medic, but it doesn’t compare to the Saxony army’s hulking war machines. Naturally, that famous German engineering has been put to use and Saxony has the best war tech around, including a massive AT-AT-style hero machine, the Brunhilde.

 

There is a balance, mind you. While Saxony has the best in mechanical warfare, its ground troops aren’t as effective. Polania has mechs, but they’re generally lighter, more nimble, and not as powerful, and they aren’t able to hold their own against the Saxony war machines, at least not alone. But on the other hand, their soldiers are hardy and, when used right, can be a deadly force, easily outmatching the Saxony soldiers. It’s a balance we’ve seen elsewhere in other games and genres, but it still makes sense and again, it’s mirroring real life through its warped mirror.

Instead of having you build a massive army and simply number-slam the opposition, Iron Harvest forces you to make each unit as effective as possible. Squads aren’t made in a matter of a few seconds, so losing a unit can put a real dent in any ongoing offensive you’re engaged in, or a defence that you’re trying to keep together. You can make some units, like ground soldiers, into cover to make them harder to hit. Leave them out in the open and play Iron Harvest like Age of Empires, and you’ll have soldiers dropping like flies. You need to play smart. It’s not enough to throw sheers numbers at the enemy. You have to use each unit to its strengths; find flanking routes to surround stronger foes; have enough resources on standby to keep the number of soldiers up, and to make sure that your precious resources are safe from enemy hands. There’s a lot going on but it’s all condensed nicely, with one piece of gameplay feeding into the next, and it keeps the action going without bringing in massive slowdowns.

Iron Harvest is telling a story, too, but like with most game previews, I didn’t get too invested. Or at least I tried not to. In my experience, RTS games don’t tell the most interesting tales and I’m generally playing them for the gameplay, but I did find myself sitting through the cut-scenes to get a bit more exposition, and I’m looking forward to the full release to find out where the story goes.

As far as RTS games go, Iron Harvest is definitely one of the better ones I’ve played, even if it’s not what I’d normally go for.

This preview was carried out using PC code provided by the publisher. 

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