The demo for Iron Harvest was one of the many demos that I downloaded during the recent Steam Game Festival event. I’ve been looking forward to Iron Harvest since its Kickstarter campaign because of the game’s cool dieselpunk WWI setting, and the obvious inspirations the game took from Relic’s beloved Company of Heroes (CoH)franchise.
Iron Harvest is set in the world of 1920+. The setting began life as a series of paintings by Polish artist Jakub Różalski, and it eventually spawned the popular board game, Scythe. The world of 1920+ is an alternate reality, where the battlefields of Europe are dominated by strange dieselpunk technology, including mechs.
The demo featured skirmish and multiplayer modes with a handful of maps, as well as two playable factions: Polania (Poland) and Saxony (Germany). The demo didn’t even feature a proper tutorial, though if you’ve ever played Company of Heroes then you’ll quickly figure out the game’s core mechanics.
Like Company of Heroes, Iron Harvest features a significantly reduced focus on base building. The only real structures in the game are your HQ, a barracks for producing infantry, and a workshop for producing mechs.
All of these can be upgraded later in a match to unlock higher tier units. Besides that, the only other building options are defensive fortifications; like bunkers, anti-vehicle mines, sandbags, and so on.
Infantry units are grouped into squads of about three to five soldiers, and as the squad takes damage, they will lose members. This reduces their overall damage output, and like in Company of Heroes, there is a retreat button that makes the squad fall back to your base. When near the appropriate building, you can replenish a squad’s numbers by spending some resources.
Iron Harvest features two resources, Iron and Oil, that are harvested by capturing zones on the map. Each map also features strategic points, which play into the game’s alternate victory conditions.
You will gather victory points as long as you hold more strategic points than your opponent, and once you hit a certain threshold, you win. The game also defaults to a 15 minute timer, which is odd, but you can adjust the timer and victory point cap (or remove them completely) in the pre-game lobby.
If you are a CoH fan, then all of this sounds immediately familiar. You might even be pretty excited, considering that its been almost a decade since Company of Heroes 2 first released.
Unfortunately, my time with the Iron Harvest demo severely reduced by excitement for the full game, and now I’m kind of worried. This game is only two months away, but what I played in the demo was no where near ready for prime time.
The most glaring problem at first glance is unit behavior and pathfinding. This is particularly apparent with infantry units. Not only do infantry units tend to regard cover as a polite suggestion over an actual order, but they have a bizarre tendency to try and charge into melee range.
You could be having a firefight from behind cover, when suddenly your highly trained stormtroopers decide to go pummel enemies with the butts of their submachine guns instead of shooting them.
This leads into the second biggest problem, which is that units seem to have way too much health. One of the coolest aspects of CoH was tossing a grenade into a group of soldiers and watching them get obliterated. Artillery strikes were truly awe-inspiring, often wiping a whole squad with a well-placed shell.
You don’t have any of those moments in Iron Harvest. The weapons just feel really underpowered. Even the big guns from a gigantic four-legged walking tank can take a while to whittle down infantry units. Grenades have a pretty long cooldown, and yet they don’t really have that feeling of impact that you’d expect.
Another issue is overall unit variety and diversity between the factions. While both factions have a good selection of units, most of the infantry are largely just reskins. Polania’s basic infantry have bolt action rifles, while Saxony’s carry submachine guns. Despite this, they are so similar in terms of performance that I honestly couldn’t see a huge difference. They even cost the same resources.
The mechs and elite infantry are where the factions diverge the most, and show that the faction balance could definitely use some tweaking. Most people seem to agree that Saxony is stronger, due in no small part to the Stiefmutter.
This monstrous hexagonal mech attacks by sending out remote controlled mono-wheels packed with explosives. They are one of the few units that really feels like they have a punch, simply because they can send out so many wheel bombs at such a long range.
Iron Harvest also just lacks so many of the mechanics that made Company of Heroes so great. Units don’t have individual upgrade options like in CoH, so you can’t add a panzerfaust to a basic riflemen squad to give it some light anti-vehicle capabilities. You can pick up equipment dropped by enemy units, but this just outright changes the unit to a different one.
Suppression and squad morale are also effectively nonexistent. Units with machine guns can suppress squads, but the mechanic doesn’t seem particularly fleshed out right now. There doesn’t seem to be a morale system at all, so a unit can fight to its last man without any obvious penalties. If these mechanics do exist in Iron Harvest, then the game does an awful job at conveying them.
Overall, Iron Harvest feels like it’s inspired by Company of Heroes in only the loosest sense of the word. It comes off as a poor imitation made by people who know what Company of Heroes looks like, but don’t really understand the nuances that made that series one of the most beloved RTS franchises ever.
You could say I’m being too harsh on this demo, and by extension the game as a whole, for making so many CoH comparisons. My answer to that is that the devs actively encouraged these comparisons. They cite CoH as their main inspiration, and on a core level, the game plays almost exactly like it. The problem is that Iron Harvest lacks a lot of the polish and deeper mechanics that made CoH so great.
Even ignoring that, the game just isn’t particularly fun right now. The factions could use more to differentiate them from each other, and the game is full of bizarre squad AI, mediocre pathfinding, and lots of other little niggling issues that detract from my enjoyment of it.
Iron Harvest releases on September 1st for Windows PC (via Steam), PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. I genuinely hope this demo was just based on a really old build; because if not, I’m concerned that its many issues won’t be resolved before release.