When Warsaw was revealed earlier this year, gamers and major outlets were quick to compare it to Darkest Dungeon due to the similar gameplay. Both games, even with their major setting differences, share one common theme: the despair and hopelessness of fighting an enemy against insurmountable odds.
The prospect of playing as a group of resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Poland was exciting, and the beautiful reveal trailer paved its way to becoming one of this year’s sleeper hits. After that, the hype for the game kind of died. It was released this month without a lot of fanfare.
The thing about Warsaw is that, were it not for the rarely adopted, very specific setting – Medal of Honor: Underground and Saboteur are the only resistance-themed games that come to mind – you’d have a hard time distinguishing it from the indie-darling Darkest Dungeon. Sure, it comes with a couple of interesting spins but not nearly enough to justify a full-price purchase. We’ll get into the issues later.
The game is set during the 1944 Warsaw uprising. During its two-month duration, 16,000 members of the Polish resistance were killed. Another 200,000 civilians died, mostly from mass executions. Knowing the real historical facts before delving in is important because it gives a certain amount of weight to your in-game actions. The animated resistance fighters you’re min-maxing could have very well been real, breathing people – lawyers, teachers, factory workers, university students, and tailors who were risking their lives for a better future.
The game is split into two phases: management and combat. During the management phase, you will spend your time overseeing the resistance at your HQ, training and equipping your fighters, and sending them out into the streets to accomplish missions, which can vary from burying civilian corpses to sabotaging various pieces of infrastructure.
Accomplishing said objectives requires navigating a painstakingly recreated 2D map of 1944 Warsaw, which – apart from doing much of the thematic heavy lifting – is littered with Nazi outposts, supply caches, and events. You have a limited pool of action points that slowly tick down as you’re navigating the maze. While encounter locations are hidden, the compass will give some general directions as you’re closing in on one. You can also spend some action points to reveal encounter locations, but use them lightly. If you run out of action points before accomplishing the main objective, it’s game over.
Right from the get-go, it becomes quite apparent that the map-navigation phase is essentially a cat-and-mouse game where you’ll try to accomplish as much as possible while avoiding detection. Nazi groups will have a certain detection range which can be altered by various environmental elements (building blocks, for instance), and they pop-up as you’re navigating the map.
Danger lurks behind every corner of Warsaw’s dilapidated and war-torn streets. The game basically forces players to make split-second decisions as they slowly creep through the rubble and destruction. Do I risk going around a Nazi patrol to reach X thing? And if they see me, can I defeat them?
Combat is the meat of the game and the place where its Darkest Dungeon influences are most apparent. Parties attempt to spread fascism and repel it respectively in polite, turn-based order. The party arrangement system is similar to Darkest Dungeon but with a catch. There are two parallel rows of four positions instead of one with some classes, weapons, and abilities having positioning requirements.
The game includes a wide variety of weapons, from machine guns, pistols, grenades and bazookas with their assigned abilities, buffs and debuffs. There’s also a cover system that gives some defensive bonuses.
The essence of the combat revolves around a stamina system. You can activate the same unit and the same ability more than once, but each ability costs stamina. Each unit comes with three stamina points, and they get one stamina point back per turn. The less stamina a unit has, the greater the damage and aim penalty it suffers.
Like I’ve previously mentioned, some abilities have positioning requirements. This applies both to the player and the enemy. Players can use various methods to knock the enemy off-position, triggering a chain reaction and messing up their entire party configuration and vice-versa. In short, there’s a lot to experiment with, and it’s up to the player to decide which configuration of weapons, abilities, and positions renders the most benefits.
The combat and enemy types are varied enough to satisfy even the most ardent tactical RPG aficionados. Warsaw does a great job using historically accurate information to capture the despair and hopelessness of the resistance and translating it into game form. You’d think that the game would be severely crippled by its very specific setting, but the classes and abilities are as interesting as any sci-fi or fantasy setting.
Between missions, you’ll spend time at your HQ where you’ll engage in a metagame that consists of raising the morale of the resistance city-wide and handling various logistical aspects. The hideout is also the place where – after being shown a story event – you’ll repair weapons, buy ammunition from the black market, and hire recruits. Said recruits periodically join your team at various intervals. They are treated separately from the main characters, as you can upgrade the latter only using medals acquired in missions.
The cartoonish graphics and the overall quality of the animation also deserve special praise. The game constantly stresses through various means (thematically and mechanically) that these are not highly trained mercenaries but regular people who probably haven’t even held a gun before, let alone shot one. Their scared, determined expressions reinforce the idea they were forced to join the resistance in a last-ditch effort to liberate their homes.
Sadly, this is where the list of positives abruptly ends. While Warsaw is designed to mechanically mirror the hopeless situation of the resistance, it can cause a great amount of frustration when the course of a run is affected by events outside of the player’s control.
I’ve had one run end because the randomized sequence of events was ordered in such a way that ammunition was nearly impossible to find. During another run, I saw the morale of my troops dwindling for no apparent reason. Granted, I’m not dismissing the possibility that I screwed up somehow, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. I’ve also noticed something off about the hit percentages, but I don’t know if their inaccuracy is a bug.
Similar to the poor resistance fighters I sent to their untimely death, I had to fight an equally bleak battle with the myriad of bugs I encountered – from soldiers not recovering from injuries between battles, characters floating in the air, corrupted saves to outright crashes. However, keep in mind that I’m writing this review after several post-launch patches have been released, which have seemed to have quashed most of the bugs. Props to the devs.
But Warsaw‘s biggest flaw is undoubtedly its glaring lack of content. This – together with the bugs and the dubious hit percentages – makes me think Warsaw was released a few months shy of being ready. I can’t wrap my head around why they were in such a rush to drop it, but if it were released in Early Access, I’m 100% positive that Warsaw could’ve been spared of most of the mixed reviews it got on Steam.
Fortunately, Pixelated Milk has revealed a content roadmap for October. Two updates have already dropped, with three more to follow on a weekly basis. The updates include stuff like new weapons, bonus story missions, new narrative events, new features such as stealth, melee, and so on. They even went so far as to name each update after military units which took part in the Warsaw uprising. So, yeah, they’re pretty dedicated to the theme.
Wrapping up, do I recommend this game? In its current state, personally, no. In a month or two? If they keep up the current pace with updates and fixes and improvements, without a doubt. The devs have been so far super receptive to feedback, so I’m optimistic about the future of this game. Until then, keep this game in your crosshairs. Siekiera, motyka.
Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy.
Reviewer Bio – Marco Giuliani
I write articles about gaming for the enjoyment of strangers on the Internet. If there’s something niche, I’ll probably write a 2000-word piece about it. Lead editor at UnleashTheGamer; I sometimes tweet.