Siege Survival: Gloria Victis

I had a real nasty run with Regrets in September, and I’m pleased to report that my first and so far only Regret of October has been relatively tame. Siege Survival: Gloria Victis just isn’t fun, and I figured that out after just a few hours of play. I often don’t have a ton of fun early on in a game I end up loving – I need some time to settle into it, to understand how the game works and what it’s about. This is true even if the game has a perfectly effective opening, as Siege Survival does.

But I’m comfortable in saying that Siege Survival is just not a game I like. It’s This War Of Mine transposed into the medieval era and with all the emotional greys sucked out. Turns out, the scavenging and crafting/survival mechanics of This War Of Mine are pretty boring without the context of being civilians trapped in a wartorn city desperately trying to survive, confronted with options to do things like rob a helpless old couple blind because you need food dammit, delivered in gameplay so you don’t just click the “rob helpless old people” option, you actually have to walk through the house and click on stuff to put in your inventory while the old man is following you around begging you to stop.

Siege Survival trades that out for a goodies versus baddies set up. I mean, it’s medieval warfare, so probably our team is just as despicable on the offensive, but I’m playing as a couple of peasants in a town under siege, so the villainy of the invaders is on full display and the villainy of the defenders is weakly implied by the fact that this is a realistic-ish medieval setting so we can extrapolate some things that are otherwise not hinted at, let alone depicted, by the game. And while you play as a couple of peasants huddling in the courtyard of the castle, scavenging supplies from the city at night to build stuff to get you through the siege by day, some of the things you build are weapons and armor for the soldiers holed up in the castle’s bastion. You are unambiguously on their side and yet for some reason none of those guys ever go on dangerous night-time expeditions to retrieve stone and timber from the half-demolished remains of the town.

And while that town does have a few story vignettes, none of them are especially compelling. The goal with them seems more to depict the grit and brutality of a medieval siege – but not in such a way that asks any of the compelling moral questions that This War Of Mine did. TWOM’s great accomplishment was in applying such intense resource pressure to the player that you are sorely tempted to do terrible things to alleviate that pressure, and may indeed die if you do not, and Siege Survival has the resource pressure but doesn’t give you any questionable or blatantly evil options (and yet in such a mundane way – you don’t arm soldiers committing war crimes or sell your neighbors out to the invaders or anything as dramatic as that, you just walk into a house and put the soup cans in your backpack while the house’s helpless owner tells you to stop).

Siege Survival also has the problem that, as a resource management game about outlasting a siege, it’s possible to make crucial mistakes very early on that can jeopardize your ability to hold on at the very end. In the first few days of the siege, I managed resources very poorly and my pigs died of starvation. Looking at some guides online, this looks like it will make the entire rest of the game much harder. I’m glad I looked that up in a guide, because if I’d gotten eight hours deep into the game and found my situation was pretty much untenable because I lost my pigs in hour one, I would’ve been way more frustrated. And unless I play the game while following a guide through the whole time, I might bump into a walking-dead situation like that at any time. This is the kind of pace some games have, but if they do, they need to be really good to justify potentially having to replay 5+ hours of a scenario to avoid a mistake made very early on that became crippling only in the endgame, and Siege Survival is quite boring.

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