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Iron Harvest’s success shows an appetite for traditional realtime strategy

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Mechs and World War I troops fight it out in covered terrain

Iron Harvest
King-Art Games

Iron Harvest just completed the most successful video game Kickstarter in almost a year, raising $1.3 million for developer King. A further $200K was raised via German developer King-Art’s own website.

This level of interest is a demonstration that realtime strategy (RTS) still has a solid base of fans, even if mainstream publishers have all-but abandoned the genre. Recent releases, including Halo Wars 2 and Dawn of War 3 were commercial disappointments. This, despite the success of Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs) like League of Legends, which are the distilled successors to RTS games.

King-Art released a demo to backers, which offers some sense of what’s on offer, and why it’s finding favor with RTS fans. I played the demo earlier today, and found it to be encouraging.

First, it offers a compelling setting, with an alternate post-World War I universe of trench warfare and clunky industrial mechs.

The tactics of early 20th century warfare seem to have been integrated, with heavy use of cover and trench works. I found myself making full use of a network of trenches that crisscross the map. King-Art says it’s not interested in creating a game that’s all about quick-clicks, preferring to focus on tactics.

Mechs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, allowing for different strategies. It’s too early to say if this game will be able to completely avoid the RTS trap of victory-by-attrition, but this early demo offers complex routes as well as objective choices.

Resources are harvested by capturing points on the map, which also contributes to a research tree. Production base buildings are important, and I’m hoping they add to the game’s complexity, rather than leaning too heavily on rock, paper, scissors standards.

Iron Harvest
King-Art Games

Hand grenades and other useful secondary weapons spawn on maps. They mix combat up in unexpected ways, especially against mech units, which tend to be impervious to standard infantry attacks, but vulnerable to specialist weapons.

The final game promises 50 units, including around 30 different mechs, as well as extra specialist units. Most importantly, the game will offer a full campaign across its three playable factions. I think this will prove to be its real testing ground. RTS players are tired of single player campaigns that turn out to be thinly disguised multiplayer tutorials.

I’m also hoping that the different factions come in stark variety to one another, rather than merely being mutual analogs. They’re loosely based on central European powers of the early 20th century.

The game’s developers say they just want to make the sort of RTS they’ve spent years waiting to play. Its Kickstarter blurb notes: “This is a game that favors clever tactics over action, player freedom over scripted set-piece moments and strong single-player campaigns over long-term monetization opportunities.”

We’ll be keeping an eye on Iron Harvest, which is being developed for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.