September 1, 2020
King ART Games
Iron Harvest 1920+ is an RTS game developed by KING Art games and published by Deep Silver. The game features a single-player campaign mode, a multiplayer mode, a skirmish mode, and also has several scenario challenges. Funded through Kickstarter in late 2018, the game has a dedicated team of developers behind it, many of whom have worked on games like The Witcher, Scythe, and Viticulture. Driven by the desire to innovate and make a boundary-pushing RTS game for the biggest fans of the genre, the King ART game team surveyed over fifteen thousand players about what they would most like to see in a real-time strategy title. The survey results are a fascinating read. Based on these results, Iron Harvest takes its gameplay cues from classic strategy games like Company of Heroes, Dawn of War, Age of Empires, and more.
Iron Harvest is set in the alternate reality of 1920+, a universe inspired by the art of Jakub Rozalski where Russia’s tsar and Rasputin still reign supreme. Popular board game Scythe is also set in this universe and, while the main stories in Scythe and Iron Harvest aren’t directly related, the choice of universe does make for a gorgeous aesthetic that easily draws players in. The fact that Iron Harvest is set in an already firmly established universe made for an appealing world in my eyes, and it was clear that the developers had a distinct vision of what the world should look and sound like.
Iron Harvest’s story is mostly told through its lengthy single-player campaign, which consists of about twenty missions. The game features three different factions: Polania, Rusviet, and the Saxony Empire. Each faction comes with unique perks and quirks, as well as characters that function like hero units on the battlefield. As you progress through the story campaign, you’ll get to play as different factions’ hero characters while learning more about each faction’s backstory. The most interesting part in the story campaign for me was definitely Anna Kos’s, the Polanian resistance fighter who you control at the start of a playthrough. Sandwiched between the Saxony Empire and Rusviet, Polania is fighting two territory-hungry nations to survive and stay independent. After Anna’s brother Janek joins the Polanian forces at the front, Anna has to save her hometown from Rusviet invasion. Without wanting to spoil anything, things rapidly become more interesting from that point on.
While the voice acting is naff here and there, and some of the story beats feel generic, faction hero characters feel suitably badass for the world they’re in. Olga Romanov of the Rusviet faction, for example, has a pet tiger that she can ride into battle, while Anna Kos of Polania has a killer sniper and a bear that can maul hordes of enemies. This, coupled with the game’s mech units – giant tank-like robots – really brought Iron Harvest’s world to life for me. The mechs are introduced in a suitably impressive way: for the game’s opening trailer, the developers used archival war footage and added mechs in the background. The result is impressive and conveys how powerful and intimidating mechs are supposed to feel on the battlefield.
Visually, Iron Harvest does a wonderful job of creating an engaging world for players to lose themselves in. The units and landscapes look stunning, the battlefield animations look and sound great, and the variety of units will keep you on your toes in battle. Through its single-player campaign, you’ll start your first several missions with a few infantry units, before gradually controlling more powerful and complex ones. When you finally get to a point where you’ve got a plethora of units running around the map and mechs stomping along in the background, it’s an incredibly satisfying sight.
When looking at the RTS style gameplay, there’s a lot to get stuck into in Iron Harvest. Compared to some other titles in the genre, Iron Harvest places a stronger emphasis on tactics and planning over making decisions on the fly. To do well in battle, you’ll need to build a base and control several strategic points on the map that’ll grant you resources. In turn, these resources can be used to expand your base and build mechs for your military in a dedicated workshop. Because of this, I found myself studying the map a lot more closely than usual, and I paid a lot more attention to how I positioned my units. The more tactical you can be on the battlefield map, the better. Positioning units to fire from buildings, using hero units strategically, and providing units with plenty of cover is crucial to winning a battle without losing half your forces along the way, especially when you’re dealing with enemy mechs.
“The more tactical you can be on the battlefield map, the better.”
Unlike games like Conan Unconquered, for example, purely relying on brute force won’t cut it in Iron Harvest: my units moved and reacted a lot more slowly than I expected on the battlefield, and often an infantry unit took two to three seconds to reload a weapon. In an RTS setting, these few seconds can turn the tide of the battle and cost you dearly. To remedy this, I found myself making sure my army was well positioned instead, and I focused on having a military with strengths varied enough to take on strong opponents.
While I enjoyed strategising and planning in this way, I’m conscious this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, especially when it comes to players who are new to the genre. In addition, I also felt like the game gave me no alternative; if I had been relying on my units to react quickly enough in the heat of battle, I wouldn’t have stood a chance in combat.
While there’s a large variety of units and many of them are useful, some feel more like a hindrance than an asset. This is especially true for mech units. While mechs look great and seem powerful (they generally have a higher HP and DPS rate), I found them clunky to control. Often my mech unit would not be able to get past a simple low wooden balustrade or a little brick wall, and it would take them forever to get from one point of the battlefield to another. Because of this, any strategic plans hinging on the strength of the mechs often fell flat, and in later playthroughs I ended up focusing on different infantry units instead.
This wasn’t a complete deal-breaker for me, though. There’s plenty of fun to be had with different factions’ units, and hours of gameplay to keep you entertained. However, when it comes to innovating within the RTS genre or pushing the envelope like the developers seemed keen on doing, Iron Harvest falls short. Instead, it just delivered a great RTS title with traditional mechanics and plenty of depth. And if that’s your jam, that’s plenty to while away the hours with.
- Great story and single-player campaign
- Huge variety of units
- Great hero characters for every faction
- Beautiful graphics
- Units can move and react slowly on the battlefield
- Mech units are clunky to control
- Generic story beats and voice acting in places
Iron Harvest is an incredibly impressive RTS game that’ll have you planning and strategising your next move on the battlefield for hours on end. If you’re a fan of RTS games and are not put off by planning and a bit of micromanagement, there’s plenty to love in the 1920+ universe for fans of games like Command and Conquer and Age of Empires.