Iron Harvest Review
The moment I saw the art for this game, I was immediately reminded of Scythe—and for good reason, too. It is set in the same universe as Scythe, designed by artist Jakub Różalski. An alternate 1920s, right after the aftermath of World War I. There is once again another war brewing in Europe, seen through the eyes of the Polania Republic, the Rusviet Union, and the Saxony Empire (Poland, the Soviet Union, and Germany). The campaign you play through will span through these three nations, each with their separate story arcs and hero units. Iron Harvest is an RTS that maintains a stunning but gritty atmosphere through its dieselpunk mechs clashing against Great War era battlefields.
A classic RTS at its core
The RTS genre is one where it’s difficult to innovate in, and Iron Harvest realizes this; the gameplay feels just like the classic RTS games of yore. In a typical skirmish match, your objective is clear: destroy the enemy headquarters at all costs. You start with your own headquarters on a different part of the map from your opponent. You have a basic infantry unit and an engineer, but to expand, you need resources. Iron and oil are the two resources needed to construct anything, with oil being the primary limiting factor for the powerful mechs.
While your headquarters will passively generate resources, you will need to increase your production rate by capturing iron mines and oil pumps scattered across the map. Skirmishes essentially end up being a ceaseless tug of war game between resource buildings and strategic positions all while staging attacks against the enemy HQ and defending your own base of operations. In the case that it becomes far too difficult to destroy the enemy’s base, you can opt for a victory by victory points, obtained by capturing strategic positions around the playing field.
The infantry units are what you will rely on for much of your games. Each faction’s soldiers all look unique and dressed to suit their class. Most of the specialized infantry are identical in stats and equipment, but the standard infantry differ in that they are equipped with either rifles, shotguns, or machine pistols for the troops of Polania, Rusviet, and Saxony, respectively. Up close, Rusviet infantry will prevail with their shotguns, but at range, the Polania hold the advantage with their accurate bolt actions.
The specialized troops will cover the needs your rank and file cannot, from anti-infantry for light or heavy troops, to more specialized needs such as healing for a medic or constructing fortification and repairing mechs for engineers. And if you ever feel like changing a unit’s class, you can do so without spending resources by finding a fallen unit’s weapon kit and equipping it. You can have a standard infantry unit and upgrade straight to a grenadier by killing an enemy grenadier unit and taking their weapon kit.
But infantry isn’t what you’re playing this game for, right? There’s mechs! Unlike infantry, the mechs of the three factions are much more varied. Some are melee-focused, some are designed to mow down swaths of enemies, some are mech busters made to take out enemy mechs, and some are created to just be unstoppable gigantic machines of death. In exchange for offering the most firepower and being able to take on an onslaught of bullets, they are expensive to make and tend to be very slow-moving. Still, not only do they change the state of the battlefield, but they just look cool.
Iron Harvest’s campaign missions are more complex than a skirmish match. You have many more objectives to consider, from defending against waves of enemies to freeing your captive comrades-in-arms to capturing and holding a specific location. And you’re not just given objectives without further explanation: there is a story that is told through cutscenes and in-game sequences that occur during the missions. Indeed, many missions don’t play out entirely like a typical RTS match and don’t rely on an enemy headquarters’ destruction to end.
Every faction’s heroes are all characters in the campaign. They are your most important units in your missions as they come with special abilities (both passive and active). For instance, Anna Kos of the Polania faction uses a bolt action rifle that can shoot through multiple troops in a straight line with her active. As for her passive, she has a bear as a companion. Yep. You can control who he decides to attack and reign him in if he gets too far from you. As a bonus, he can heal any friendly infantry units that are near him, including Anna.
In terms of story, it’s about what you would expect from an RTS. It’s not bad, and is honestly quite interesting since it provides lore about the war and how the mechs came to be; it’s just not something to write home about. But the missions themselves are well-designed with different paths you can take to accomplish your objective. A mission where you have to escort a train won’t force you to take a single railroad track: you can switch tracks to take a different route to avoid one set of enemies in favor of another set.
Things that could be improved
Admittedly, I did notice some flaws that are important to note. For one, the graphics aren’t always palpable. Now, I know for a game of this genre it shouldn’t matter much, but because you will see cutscenes frequently in the campaign, you will most definitely notice some glaring issues with the visuals. If you were to compare a mech and Anna’s bear, you will notice the mech looks great while the bear’s face isn’t properly textured. This isn’t something that is detrimental to your experience per se, but it’s something you will definitely notice.
It also bugged me that when you zoomed in on a character model, a depth of field effect occurs where the face of the unit is blurred. I’m a fan of the Total War games and part of what makes them feel amazing for me is how there is a cinematic mode you can turn on, with mods you can install for a free camera with adjustable heights. Unfortunately, Iron Harvest doesn’t support either of those things. There is a button to turn off the HUD, but it doesn’t remove the cursor nor does it stop highlighting units. I get that it wouldn’t make much sense to have a free camera mode in a RTS, but there’s so many moments in the game where you could think it would make a great screenshot that you would at least wish you could adjust the camera better to get the right angle for the picture.
In addition, the pathfinding is… well, it works most of the time. However, sometimes you will see an enemy unit get stuck on a rock for a few moments, or perhaps you will direct your unit to move to a location but decides to take a long route to their destination. Or perhaps, you want to move your units into cover, but for some reason, they decide to clump up on a single spot at the sandbags you placed instead of lining up across the whole row. Or maybe you will attempt to use a sniping ability at someone while you are in cover, but you end up shooting that sniper shot at your own cover, forcing you to wait for the ability to cooldown. It’s almost impossible to have flawless pathfinding, I know, but I feel something could be done to improve it, especially since this is a game where you are going to command multiple gigantic mechs at a time.
The final thing I want to touch on is that as of right now, there is a lack of multiplayer content. The developers intend to add more to the game as time goes on, so I doubt it will remain an issue for long. The issue is that the store page for the game advertised a co-op campaign and there is none. This would understandably upset people who may have bought this game so they could play with a friend. I’m unsure about when they will add this, but as of the time of this review, it is important that you keep this in mind.
It’s hard to make an RTS stand out. There’s just so little popular demand for them now, and the ones that have already been made pretty much have it down to a science. What makes this one an exception is how it uses the 1920+ universe with a traditional and rural setting that is juxtaposed by twitchy, mechanical automachines and other dieselpunk technologies. I’ve known of Różalski’s works even before Scythe which makes me very happy to see another adaption of his universe come into fruition. Although I cannot say that this is a groundbreaking game, I will still say that Iron Harvest is great for fans of the older RTS games, despite its flaws. And if you’re like me, you’re going to set the game on easy mode and spam as many mechs as you can.
Iron Harvest can be bought on Steam here.
You can also buy it from GOG.com here.