On the 7th of this month, Bohemia Interactive released the sixth premium DLC package for ArmA 3, titled "Laws of War". Renowned as being the most committed military operation simulator, the reaction from the fanbase was mostly positive at the addition of a humanitarian faction whose goal is to clean up the detritus of war and bring some semblance of a normal life back to war-torn regions. On top of that, with an MSRP of $11.99 USD, Bohemia is donating half of all sales to the International Committee of the Red Cross. With everything said, I had to buy it the moment it came out!
Although there was a free update that added all the new content to your harddrive, the DLC vehicles, attire, weapons, and campaign were locked behind a paywall. However, Bohemia did at least provide us with two free showcases, one of which was an exposition of all the new content and a background on the new faction, IDAP (the International Development & Aid Project), and the other was a much more action-oriented seminar where players are run through various simulations to impress the laws of war upon you. Some examples of lessons taught in the seminar included not firing on civilians who haven't engaged you in combat or unarmed enemy medical personnel. There was also a demonstration on how mines and cluster bombs can be more trouble than they're worth, staying hidden in the ground for days, months, or even years at a time until someone, anyone, accidentally disturbs it.
Of the new content that was added in the DLC, the campaign will be explained later. Several new civilian, press, and IDAP-themed outfits and clothing articles were added, such as a paramedic jumpsuit, hard hat, dust mask, and safety goggles. Decorative items were also added, such as IDAP tents, water bottles, body bags, etc. The new vehicles include an IDAP van, ambulance, new IDAP skins for the formerly AAF-only Mohawk heavy transport helicopter and CSAT-only Zamak transport truck, and a special utility drone capable of dropping leaflets (which can have custom designs overlayed on them) as well as timed charges for safer disposal of mines and UXOs (UneXploded Ordinance). Speaking of mine-clearing, the mine sweeper that was already in the game was reworked, giving you a new display that shows you the direction of mines and UXOs, allowing you to mark them manually rather than the original mechanic, where the mine sweeper did all of that automatically.
However, just because this DLC focused on the civilian and humanitarian aspects of war doesn't mean that the military factions didn't get anything. All organized military factions (so everyone but the FIA) get the APERS Mine Dispenser and the cluster bomb air strike utility. The former item is a portable device that deploys dozens of small Anti-PERSonnel mines in a forward-facing cone after either a 40-second timer or a manual touch-off, allowing players to set up minefields in a fraction of the time that it would have taken them to do so manually. The latter allows for Zeus operators (think Game Masters for organized ArmA 3 custom operations) to call in highly-destructive air strikes, with the very-obvious downside that not all of the cluster munitions will explode.
As for the campaign, I'll do my best to explain the nuances of it without spoiling it. For those who don't mind the spoilers, I'll be putting them down at the bottom of the page, but keep in mind that there will be some spoilers for the main ArmA 3 campaign, as well.
"Laws of War" takes place in the small town of Oreokastro in the mountainous northwest of Altis before, during, and after the events of the vanilla campaign. For most of the mini-campaign, you take on the role of Nathan MacDade, a former US Army engineer now working as an IDAP mine clearer. As you progress through the town, clearing out mines and UXOs, you encounter "memories", which take on the form of visual anomalies that you can interact with. Interacting with them either transports you into a flashback of what you remember the town was like one year ago, or into the shoes of a member of one of the four warring factions (NATO, FIA, CSAT, or AAF), all of whom were present during the battle in one way or another.
The take-away message from this mini-campaign is that there is no such thing as black and white in war. From the opening scene, when you watch, helpless, as a civilian who survived the war and returns to his hometown in search of his brother steps on a mine and dies instantly, to the end, when you're put on the spot and asked to tell a reporter who you think is to blame, you're led to the understanding that war is complex and that when you send young men and women off to kill each other, they don't always make the right choice. No matter how good your intentions are, just because you aren't butchering civilians and laughing while doing it doesn't mean that your actions aren't having adverse effects on the non-combatants whose peace of mind is now shattered. If you're looking for honor and glory, you'll find none of it in war.
For those of you who are on the fence about buying "Laws of War", I cannot recommend it enough. While about 60% of it can be classified as a walking simulator, it provides a whole new perspective on war that's rarely seen outside of games such as "This War of Mine". To quote one of Nathan MacDade's most profound lines (as well as the slogan for the game, overall): "This is war."
During the campaign, the main point (as I mentioned above) is that all of the factions contributed to the destruction of the town of Oreokastro. Below are all the "sins" that each side committed:
USA/NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization): Despite serving a peacekeeping mandate in Altis, American and NATO forces really put in a lackluster effort to prevent further violence between the AAF and FIA. The most they did was airdrop humanitarian aid and deploy liaisons to advise the AAF to stop shelling their own goddamn people. On top of that, the NATO invasion of Altis and Stratis near the end of the vanilla campaign further devastated the already war-torn nation, resulting in even more civilian casualties.
FIA (Freedom and Independence Army): The citizens of Oreokastro had long been outspoken critics of the military junta that took over their government four years ago, and frequently offered supplies to the guerillas who fought them. In spite of this, however, some cells of the FIA were just as brutal as the government forces they fought, not only attacking AAF checkpoints in order to sabotage peace talks, but also attacking NATO liaisons accompanied by AAF soldiers attempting to retrieve humanitarian aid. On top of that, they encouraged the Oreokastrans to take up arms and resist, making their town and its citizens a target for retaliation. When preparing the town for the AAF attack that was to come, the FIA had requisitioned civilian vehicles without their owners' consent, including an IDAP ambulance. On top of that, they placed APERS (Anti-PERSonnel) mines right next to AT (Anti-Tank) mines, making the demining process that much more time-consuming/dangerous.
Iran/CSAT (Canton-protocol Strategic Alliance Treaty): After multiple assaults by the AAF failed to take Oreokastro, CSAT took advantage of the tense situation and offered their services in an attempt to curry favor with the Altis government. A small fireteam of spec ops parachuted near the castle that overlooked the town, killed the FIA garrison one by one, and proceeded to use their superior position to call in a laser-guided cluster bomb on Oreokastro. Dozens of insurgents and civilians were killed in the air strike, including an IDAP doctor who had stayed behind to care for the wounded. Due to the lack of any shell casings save those in NATO mil-spec, as well as the only living witness being a simple goatherd, there are doubts that CSAT was even present.
AAF (Altis Armed Forces): Previously, the AAF has had plenty of blood on its hands. Following the coup d'etat that put him in power, Colonel Akhanteros had used the AAF to keep the people in line through fear and repression. The more outspoken critics of his regime were hauled off in the backs of government vans, and those towns who gave shelter to or aided the FIA in any way could expect harsh retaliation. Many months after the siege of Oreokastro and during the NATO invasion, an AAF major and his adjutant had been chased into the local church and had deployed APERS Mine Dispensers. Following the firefight, NATO and FIA wounded were executed (Optional). It was those same mines planted at the church that would kill the civilian from the opening who was looking for his brother.
So...who's to blame for the lives lost at Oreokastro?