Iron Harvest is the Real Time Strategy spin off of Scythe, a civilization and strategy style boardgame classic. Confusingly, Scythe also has a digital version. RTS games seem to be out of favour these days. How about a battle royale RTS with 100 participants? Did anybody think of that? Iron Harvest promises oldie but goodie Real Time Strategy but can it rekindle the slowly burning flame of RTS giants of old?
Iron Harvest takes place in 1920+, just a few years after the end of the Great War, in an alternate steampunk world. This is a world based on the haunting artwork of Jakub Różalski where great empires fight over farmland, iron and oil, as post impressionist farmers watch giant mechas tear at each other’s guts. “Iron Harvest” is one the artist’s better known paintings and provides the title of the game.
Playability: Classic RTS controls
There’s a lot of content in Iron Harvest, including lengthy faction campaigns, lots of heroes and units, destroyable environmental, expansive maps. The game plays like a classic RTS, so if you are already speak RTS controls, you can dive boots first.
Unit controls are standard drag and click, but somehow there is a little bit of sluggishness in their response. Infantry and mechas roam around a lot, quickly getting lost in the expansive and beautiful landscape. These pathfinding issues are typical of classic RTS games.
It’s time to plug a neural network into the next generation of RTS games, because the Iron Harvest algorithm doesn’t do a proper job of keeping your units in check. Ants move in a more logical and natural fashion than the armies of Iron Harvest.
Annoyance: Non-stop verbal diarrhoea in the midst of intense combat
The heroes of Iron Harvest have pet animals (bear, tiger, wolf). It’s a great idea, but the beasts constantly go berserk! They need some serious taming! Bad bear, bad!
The constant chatter of your units will drive you off the wall, whether in the atrocious English voice over or the much more believable Polonian, Rosviet and Saxonian versions. I played mostly with the original voices, only occasionally reading the subtitles. It’s great to have voice acting for everything, but sometimes you feel like telling your troops “just shaddup you cry babies, I’m trying to silently ambush here”!
Beauty: Moonwalking giant robots and wooden humans
If you’re into Wagnerian orchestral music, Iron Harvest will serve partitions by the scores (I’m a bit more of a baroque atmospheric chamber music fan).
Without doubt, the stars of Iron Harvest are the so-called mechas (giant World War I steam powered mechs). They come in all forms and shapes, though broadly categorised as light, medium and heavy. I particularly like the colossal tin can on skinny legs armed with a giant rifle and bayonet. The machine gun toting crab is pretty cool. There’s also the overgrown chick equipped with nail guns… The potential for a spin off solely dedicated to Iron Harvest mechs is immense (that would make it a spin off of a spin off of Scythe, the boardgame).
The human counterparts of your armies are comparatively unexciting, and consist of the usual ready to buy batches of engineers, grenadiers, medics and other varieties of gunners. Only the Star Trek red shirts are missing.
Iron Harvest does not do justice to Jakub Różalski artwork. While the scenery is a lush evergreen with a lot of details, the cutscenes are on the homely side. This is particularly jarring as the human heroes of Iron Harvest walk like bots while the bots seem to be able to smoothly moon walk. I wasn’t expecting Avatar or Ready Player One, but Iron Harvest is not going to win awards for realistic character lighting and skin texture.
The Old Video Gamer’s Prattle: As unkempt at its titular pet bear 6/10
At this stage, the game starved RTS amateurs will be happy with anything that does the job. Classic resource gathering and upgrade mechanics, smooth control and command, palatable background story, and people to connect with online. Iron Harvest tries too hard to make its mark and be different, rather than build on what works.
Despite its flaws, Iron Harvest does not face any competition as far as RTS are concerned, so it’s pretty much “a have to play cause there’s little else” if you’re an RTS connoisseur. I would have preferred smaller and more beautiful with better finishing, over shaggy and unpolished.
If you charge $50 dollars for a game, people will expect AAA acting and cutscenes, maybe Diane Kruger and Christoph Waltz? A lower introductory price would have been more reasonable and might have fostered a larger community of players.
Warcraft, Starcraft and the Blizzard stable of classic RTS games cast long shadows on the genre. Check out the Old Video Gamer’s review of Grey Goo by Petroglyph, a space based sci fi RTS, and one of the few noteworthy RTS releases in recent years or try the legendary epic of Starcraft 2 Heart of the Swarm if you haven’t (we still play Wings of Liberty to this day, and it’s free!).