Real-time strategy is a genre that is seriously lacking in the console market. Halo Wars 2 was released way back in 2017 being the last notable game, fans of these experiences have slim pickings on the Xbox family of consoles. The reason for this is unknown but I would hazard a guess at it being the logistics of adapting the control system of these games onto a handheld controller. We all know that the best way to play RTS games is with a mouse and keyboard. But it has been proven that these titles can function well with a controller if ported well. Iron Harvest Complete Edition is the latest title to dabble and try its luck in this field, but does it become a successful contender, and is it worthy of your hard-earned cash. This is the Xbox Era review of Iron Harvest Complete Edition.
Iron Harvest Complete Edition is developed by King Art Games and published by Prime Matter. After a little over a year to make its mark on PC with mostly positive reviews across the board, the development team has opted to dip their toe in the next-generation market. Those still biding their time on trusty gaming consoles in the previous generation will sadly be out of luck. Iron Harvest Complete Edition is only available on Xbox Series S/X and Playstation 5. This edition brings the entire package across from PC featuring all previously released downloadable content. Featuring a total of five campaigns, skirmish against AI, and various multiplayer modes along with ranked play, there is a feast of content here for RTS fans.
The game is set in a 1920+ alternate history universe created by the Polish artist Jakub Rozalski. The theming is described as a “dieselpunk mecha” and is inspired by the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1920. The story and campaign sessions are focused on the intense conflict between three nations in Central and Eastern Europe. Polania, Rusviet, and Saxony make up the three and are based on Poland, Imperial Russia, and Imperial Germany respectively. Usonia based in the United States is another playable nation that was introduced later on as DLC for the PC version. You may be left wondering how mechs are even functional in a game set in the post-great-war era, diesel is the magic and key to these unique jaw-dropping behemoths.
Campaign first, multiplayer later
Delving into the campaign to start with is highly recommended since the first story doubles up as a tutorial. RTS titles on the console are slightly more challenging to master with a controller and the campaign is the perfect starting point to practice. I won’t give you a deep dive into all five sections here but I was extremely surprised at how well-written and scripted the cutscenes played out. I often find this genre difficult to engage with story-wise as you just want to get stuck into the action. But here there is a solid engaging storyline worthy of your attention in all portions of the single-player offering.
The Polania campaign is where you’ll commence, here you’ll be leading the fight with Anna Kos who lives with her father Piotr. Polania is stormed by the Rusviet troops looking for a scientist who turns out to be Anna’s father. Piotr is captured due to his rare skill of being able to disable mechs with his prosthetic arm. Anna then rallies and recruits some of the Polanian resistance to rescue her dad. Along the journey, you’ll tame a bear who fights alongside you, and whilst I won’t reveal how this occurs, it is an interesting and intriguing plot.
Throughout the five campaigns on offer, I estimate that each will take between five to ten hours to complete. Most missions feature primary and secondary objectives and ticking them all will give you the most bang for your buck. Objectives are visually presented to the left side of the screen and are simple to follow. Often it will be a case of infiltrating an area and capturing the location and building defense systems. Secondary quests could fetch or build missions such as go here and build this or collect that. Experienced players in this genre will be extremely familiar with the concept and what is to be achieved.
How does the game play with a controller?
With Iron Harvest Complete Edition being such a solid entry to the genre on console, the key factor is whether the game functions well with a controller. As mentioned the introductory campaign will give you some insight into how to perform actions and certain tasks. Sadly though, I didn’t find this intuitive enough and found myself spending a lot of time attempting to memorize how the game plays out. This was partly my fault as I dipped into multiplayer after only a few hours in the single-player portion. I was left scratching my head about how to build my base not realizing only engineers could carry out this work. The campaign eventually does explain this to you but much later into the story. I do feel that a standalone tutorial that coaches you total functionality in one session rather than being drip-fed this information in the story would have been warranted, especially on console.
The game is very much the same as the PC iteration but optimized for the controller. I was intrigued to see if it matched the fluidity of Halo Wars 2 which felt surprisingly incredibly natural to play with an Xbox pad. Iron Harvest Complete Edition isn’t far off the mark in terms of quickly navigating the map and chucking out commands. Sure, it will never match the concise speed of the mouse and keyboard but it is a sacrifice to make if playing on console. Unfortunately, I found that the behavior of units hindered the gameplay more than the control scheme. Often groups of units would wander off of their own accord and not respond to the commands I had issued to them. There were many occasions where I’d wonder where some of my units were, only to find them camped behind a wall or still stool idle.
As for the controls in general, the left stick is used to navigate the map whilst the right can be used to zoom in and out. A, B, X, and Y are used to various commands, building and attacking enemy troops. It takes some time to get used to the ins and outs of how everything flows but practice does make perfect.
Skirmish, multiplayer and more…
There is a certain clientele who prefer all-out warfare over following a campaign on RTS games and I am in that bracket. Skirmish is the perfect place to start before heading online. Here you’ll be able to customize the game mode you’ll be able to play along with different rulesets and settings. With a total of 14 maps to choose from with a mix of 2-4 player battles, there is a great amount of variance here.
Multiplayer is by far the most competitive. You won’t want to go in with zero experience here as you’ll get crushed. Quick match allows you to pick from 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3 online battles with random game modes. If you feel you can hold your own in this casual playlist then you can turn to ranked. Here you are matched with players of similar skill levels. Your progress in Ranked is divided into Leagues, which are subdivided into divisions. Will you have the skill to progress from Bronze to Master league?
Graphics & Sound
Visually Iron Harvest Complete Edition is pleasing with hand-drawn loading screens echoing the atmosphere of the setting. Graphically in-game, the presentation is glorious enough to be almost on par with the PC version. Zooming right into the action does throw some blurry textures and slight dullness on some details. Whilst cutscenes are interesting as they tell excellent stories, they are poorly displayed with a grainy coating. The blessing in disguise is that there is always an action-packed scene so you can kind of forgive this shortfall.
Sound effects and music are what you’d expect from a typical game of this nature. Dramatic old-fashioned melodies ring through the menus, accents from across the globe are spot on when dialogue is spoken and firefights come through exceptionally well audio-wise.
With RTS titles on console in very short supply, Iron Harvest Complete Edition is a welcome addition. Sure, it doesn’t do much differently in the genre to similar titles. But when there is such little choice for casual gamers, you would be crazy not to jump at this one if you love this type of game. It does fall slightly off course in comparison to Halo Wars 2 in terms of fluidity and visual performance. Comparisons aside though, this is a solid entry with a huge package of content on offer with great longevity and replayability. Beyond the campaign mode which clocks in at around 30-50 hours depending on your playstyle, the Skirmish and multiplayer modes will give you unlimited scope for endless battles well into the future.