Its been a while since we’ve had a massive real-time strategy campaign to play through. Iron Harvest, based on art created by the Jakub Rozalski and the board game Scythe, looks to deliver one of the most impressive story-driven campaigns for the strategy genre in a long time. On top of the already impressive campaign, Iron Harvest offers competitive multiplayer, co-op vs. AI, and a plethora of other modes to keep you entertained for the foreseeable long-term. Oh, and it has steampunk style mechs. Lots of them.
Mechs, Mechs Galore
Iron Harvest brings a strong Company of Heroes vibe to it, focusing more on combat and controlling the map then resource gathering and base building. Resources are placed across the entire map as control points, meaning if you want to build more units you will need to leave the comfort of your base and fight for the resources to build them. Expect a much slower playstyle, as infantry will need to be placed into cover, and mechs positioning can often win or lose a fight. Scoring flanks on your opponent is a quick way to kill mechs, as the game rewards you for hitting armor weak spots. Games, especially in multiplayer, can be more of a real-time chess match than a race. The variety in mechs makes each game more than a rock, paper, scissors balancing act though. Placing well-positioned defensive structures and utilizing your factions unique abilities and heroes can really turn the tide of the match over an opponent. From there, each side dukes it out to either destroy each other's base or in some cases fight for victory points gained by capturing and holding these control points. It doesn't differentiate at all from Company of Heroes in this regard, but it does act as a way to focus the combat more throughout a match.
What really separates Iron Harvest from the traditional RTS though is the setting. Three pseudo-fictional factions (the Polanians, Rusviets, and Saxony) are duking it out after the Great War. Mechs are what make Iron Harvest shine. They are sometimes clunky and over-the-top, but they are absolutely the star of Iron Harvest. Each comes with abilities, and the ability to punish your enemy. The downside being if you overextend you might find yourself in a heap of trouble. At times, it did feel as if once mechs came into play infantry was an afterthought, but honestly why wouldn't you want to make these beautifully mechanical beasts the sole focus of each match?
Iron Harvest, even on max settings, does look dated graphically. While it is an RTS, which aren’t known for their graphics, even much older games in the genre look more refined. Still, the unique setting coupled with the art style of each faction is what really makes Iron Harvest stand apart visually. My only big concern is, despite playing it on a top of the line graphics card and processor, I was still having pretty significant frame issues when a large number of units were on the field.
Without a doubt, the campaign is the real meat and potatoes of Iron Harvest. Three sizeable campaigns from all three factions were thoroughly enjoyable. Starcraft II was the last time I can remember enjoying a real-time strategy campaign for its story. While the voice acting felt a little lacking for some characters, each character was enjoyable in their own right, particularly in the Polanian campaign. The struggle of war is well represented from a psychological and moral perspective, but Iron Harvest does a brilliant job of humanizing the story through its protagonist Anna Kos.
Throughout the campaign, I loved how varied each map’s design felt. None of them felt like you were playing on a discarded multiplayer map. One of my personal favorite levels was a stealth mission, where you have to sneak by mechs and then fraternize with the locals to learn of a secret meeting place. Missions like this really make Iron Harvest stand apart from the typical real-time strategy campaign.
The maps in the campaign are absolutely beautiful, using terrain and height to create some incredible moments. In the Rusviet campaign, I have fond memories of sitting perched up in my base against a Saxony onslaught where my perfectly positioned units laid them to waste. Iron Harvest does a great job of making each level feel unique and catered to telling the story and creating interesting playthroughs.
Skills Pay the Bills
Multiplayer was a solid experience, having spent a lot of time playing it during the open beta. Matches take on a much different pace than your traditional real-time strategy game. Finesse and tactics are more important than having insane multi-tasking skills. Truly, Iron Harvest caters more to a wider audience due to the slower pacing and focus on tactical combat. The one disappointment is the maps do feel much more straight forward or basic in multiplayer. It’s not surprising, considering they’re striving for competitive balance, but going from the campaign to multiplayer maps feels a bit underwhelming.
My biggest concern regarding multiplayer, and the game in general, is occasionally the AI and controls feel a bit clunky. Mechs are by nature cumbersome, but I constantly felt the need to adjust their positioning or spam their attack targets in order to have the command go through. Even infantry, which is more mobile, has issues with getting into cover and positioning at times. The hotkeys and control groups sometimes felt a bit difficult to use, especially when you play a game like Starcraft and then play Iron Harvest. Just a bit of polish or tuning would go a long way in cleaning up the experience of micromanaging units.
Iron Harvest Review | Final Thoughts
In recent memory, it’s tough to recall a more feature-packed real-time strategy game than then Iron Harvest. Many shy away from competitive multiplayer, but Iron Harvest doubles down on it and delivers a massive story-focused campaign on top of it. While it does have its clunky moments, the game plays out extraordinarily well. Strategy games are alive and well, and as Iron Harvest proves, a fantastic vessel for storytelling at a grand level. Feature-rich for a launch title is not a common sight these days, but Iron Harvest delivers in a big way in this real-time hit.
TechRaptor reviewed Iron Harvest on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
- Mech Play is Unique and Charming Addition in Real-Time Genre
- Massive Campaign with Enjoyable Characters and Storytelling
- Ranked and Competitive Multiplayer Adds Considerable Depth
- Sometimes Clunky Controls Can Slow the Game Down
- Standard Multiplayer Maps Pale Compared to Campaign Maps