Arma 3's latest DLC explores the harsh realities of non-combat casualties in war

Since launch, Arma 3 has grown its military simulation sandbox with a string of DLC expansions. While previous expansions focused on jets, helicopters, or long-range infantry mechanics, its newest focuses on a more sobering part of modern conflict: civilian casualties.

The Laws of War DLC, available now, adds a new campaign featuring workers attached to the International Development and Aid Project, or IDAP, a fictional non-governmental organization based on the International Committee of the Red Cross. The update also brings a lot of new vehicles and tools that will help players bring a more realistic, civilian-focused dimension to their Arma missions. 

The humanitarian faction is important because it unlocks a different kind of perspective on the battlefield.

Jay Crowe

“The humanitarian faction is important because it unlocks a different kind of perspective on the battlefield,” said Jay Crowe, creative director for Arma 3. “It's a viewpoint that has a specific role and mission, but one that's non-military. Four years on from Arma 3's original release, it challenges us as designers to create new kinds of gameplay, and enables us to present players with a new experience.” 

In the crosshairs

Unarmed civilians and vehicles have always been a part of the Arma universe, but they've usually been little more than decoration or as an added challenge for players: Go here, kill the bad guys, but remember to watch your fire. In Laws of War, players can step into the civilian role in a new way, with briefings and missions that don't involve direct combat.

By doing this, Bohemia brings the specific challenges of International Humanitarian Law directly into focus. For the first time, players can drop cluster-bombs on an area, knowing that these messy weapons (which are banned by international treaty) usually leave behind unexploded pieces that can kill civilians months or years after the war has ended. “All three of the new faction cluster bombs also leave behind unique [unexploded ordinance], so you can identify the faction behind a strike—unless it was a deliberate ruse,” said Joris-Jan Van ‘t Land, the project lead for this DLC. Leftover pieces of cluster bombs might go off when someone steps on or near them, while other pieces might detonate randomly minutes or hours after the bomb was dropped.

We encourage players to explore the idea that actions have consequences.

Jay Crowe

Players on the edge of losing a battle might be tempted to deploy these powerful weapons, but the DLC is also focused on what happens next. “We look more broadly at the convergence of International Humanitarian Law and the tactical decisions military and paramilitary forces make on the battlefield,” Crowe said. “Through that, we encourage players to explore the idea that actions have consequences.”

Clearing away old mines that threaten civilians long after the war has ended is also a big focus for the DLC. Detecting and disarming mines is a more involved process, and a chunk of the DLC’s singleplayer mini-campaign is played from the perspective of an explosives disposal technician.

Another part of International Humanitarian Law involves warning civilians about upcoming battles and major military movements, and the IDAP faction includes a leaflet-dropping drone for players to use. “[The leaflet-dropping drone] works together with other systems so, for example, a community creator could define their own leaflets, drop them in a custom scenario, and other players could pick them up and read them,” said Crowe. “Even if that does imply 'dick pic confetti', it—in an odd way—fits with our approach to the topic and our platform in general: players can engage with the basic ideas … and then use the feature however they like.”

Laws of War still follows what has become Bohemia’s standard practice for DLC. The update adds tweaks, fixes, and new content for all Arma 3 players to use, but you have to buy the DLC to play the mini-campaign or to design custom missions using the new cluster-bombs or IDAP units. 

The problems involving refugees, civilian casualties, and unexploded ordinance are still very real today, and that’s why Bohemia will be donating half of the revenue from Laws of War to the ICRC. “The ICRC have always stressed they do not want to limit player freedom or add artificial restrictions,” said Crowe. “We've really appreciated this pragmatic approach, and it clicks with the tone of voice we've tried to strike with this DLC.”

Arma 3 Laws of War is out now.