Some days it feels like the real-time strategy genre will never make a comeback. But then every now and again, a game rears its head to remind you of the slow, tactical charm that only a classic RTS provides. Iron Harvest is one such title, blending the dieselpunk/steampunk Scythe board game into a game eerily similar to Relic's iconic Company of Heroes. And while Iron Harvest could use some more refinement, oldschool RTS fans will have plenty of fun.
The game's local publisher provided me with access to a preview code of Iron Harvest. The build had access to the first five missions from the Polania campaign, one of three campaigns that will be in the full game. The first three missions are largely scripted affairs, focusing on handling small squads and teaching you basic mechanics.
In the fourth and fifth missions, the base building mechanics kick in. That aspect is pretty straightforward: your headquarters runs off two resources, steel and ore, both of which can be found at capture points and various supply drops across the map. You also have a unit cap, which expands as you add more workshops and barracks to your base, although you can only ever build in the area around your headquarters. Units gain experience as they survive, do damage and carry out basic functions, unlocking further abilities as you go.
There's nothing new on that front, then. What's intriguing is the theme, and how it all fits together.
If you missed the original campaign, Iron Harvest started life as a Kickstarter campaign. It's based on the 1920+ universe created by Jakub Różalski, the Polish artist whose work inspired the Scythe board game. Iron Harvest is a successor of sorts, providing more of an opportunity to flesh out the Saxony, Rusviet and Polanian factions from the board game.
The Polania campaign starts with a sombre note, introducing a young Anna Kos and the origin story of her adorable battle bear Wojtek. The Polania story generally is one of opposition against a Rusviet invasion, with Anna and her uncle helping organise the resistance. The Saxony didn't feature in my preview build, although Kickstarter backers should have just recently gotten access to some Saxony hardware in skirmish and multiplayer.
You can see a full mission above. It runs for about half an hour, although I've made some light edits so you didn't have to watch me slowly drag an anti-tank cannon across the maps for 10 minutes. Those buggers move slow.
The campaign missions took me about 45 minutes to an hour each to complete, but I was being relatively patient and working through the secondary objectives as they came up. In general, Iron Harvest seems perfect for an older RTS gamer that wants to enjoy an RTS more focused on tactical positioning, cones of fire and unit compositions rather whoever can marshal their army around as fast as possible.
That said, all RTS games will benefit some kind of micromanagement. One of the bread and butter Rusviet mechs has a grenade launcher, but if you have a fast-moving mech of your own, you can just dodge all the projectiles while another unit does massive damage from behind:
There's a rendered cut-scene at the end of each mission, usually running for a minute or two. It's nothing especially fancy, but it does bring the 1920+ universe to life a little better. And it's a nice touch to get in an RTS, where story and characterisation isn't usually the highest priority.
There's no rapid advancements on the RTS formula here, but there doesn't need to be. Fans of Scythe will enjoy how well the three factions have been brought to life. RTS fans will appreciate the similar mechanics redeployed in a new setting. Some of the unit pathing was a touch frustrating, and a few times I'd try to select a unit, only for the game to think I wanted to select a bigger group of units right next to it.
But I enjoyed the five missions I played, and as an oldschool RTS gamer it was hard not to like the lengthy mission design, large maps and the patience needed. Iron Harvest is due to launch on PC through Steam and GOG on September 1. The developers are also posting monthly updates through their official blog, which you can check out here.