I’ve always been interested in history and World War II tends to be one of my most favorite topics to discuss. It probably helps that I’m also a Filipino who had relatives a couple of generations ago who fought the Japanese. Manila, at the end of World War II, was considered the most bombed-out city in the Pacific Theater. Its counterpart in the European Theater during the war was none other than Warsaw.
That brings us to Warsaw — a game set during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, depicting the harrowing events of the period. Made by Pixelated Milk, the developers behind Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs, Warsaw presents quite a unique challenge, though it does have noticeable flaws which I’ll enumerate in our official review.
The Story Back Then
Warsaw, the capital of Poland, was subjected to devastating attacks when the conflict began on September 1, 1939. The German offensive from the west was followed by the Russian invasion from the east halfway through the month. The Polish armed forces, hemmed in a two-front war, collapsed almost immediately soon thereafter.
But, despite its people being subjected to the ravages of destruction and inhumane cruelties, Polish spirit persevered. Brave men and women did their part to continue the fight. By mid-1944, the Wehrmacht was reeling. The US, UK, Free French, ANZAC, and other Allied forces have already landed on the beaches of Normandy. Europe’s soft underbelly, Italy, was already in Allied hands. The Soviets had pushed back the Nazi advance at the Eastern Fronts and were on Polish hinterlands.
As the Germans retreated, beleaguered Poles prepared to liberate the capital. What came to be known as the Warsaw Uprising lasted from August 1 – October 2, 1944. This event, which marks its 75th anniversary this year, was the largest campaign undertaken by any European resistance movement during World War II.
Warsaw starts out with a brief narration of events. Then, you’re suddenly dropped in the middle of the game’s overworld map (depicting a district of the capital). Various tutorial messages tell you about the different informational tooltips and game mechanics such as exploring districts, picking up and managing resources, and engaging in combat.
With regards to the exploration, you’ll have an action points (AP) bar at the bottom right-hand side of the screen. It starts out at 100 and it will dwindle down as you keep navigating through the city’s streets with your squad. The goal is to complete all the objectives on the map before your AP runs out. There are also various other tidbits you can find such as crates of loot or random encounters seen below the AP bar.
If you’re unable to complete the objectives (or you run away from a battle), the mission will be considered a failure. This will cause a significant drop in the “Uprising Momentum.” Think of this as akin to X-COM‘s global threat level (or other similar concepts in strategy games or roguelikes). Once momentum drops to zero, it’s game over. Other factors can also affect momentum such as mission encounters, post-mission events, or completing missions successfully.
After the tutorial, you’ll be able to select which missions (out of three) you’ll deploy your squad in. This will automatically fail the other two missions which leads to a drop in morale for those locations and their eventual surrender. In all actuality, the first brutal challenge you’ll have while playing Warsaw is that you’re not likely to win the game at all on your first try.
Fighting in Warsaw
Every mission you commit your squad to in Warsaw will, invariably, lead to numerous face-offs against the Nazis. Let’s say that your objective is to eliminate two specific artillery units, well, these are not the only German units in the vicinity. There are over half a dozen of them at various spots, and each German squad will have a detection radius.
Should you end up in their sights, or if attacking them is part of your objective, then you’ll start Warsaw‘s turn-based combat system. Warsaw‘s battle presentation and aesthetics will remind you of Darkest Dungeon. For those who remember a game I reviewed previously, it’s a bit like Vambrace: Cold Soul as well.
Your characters are arrayed against the opposing troops in a side-view presentation. You and the AI take turns with your “activations” (actions). There are, however, some noticeable caveats:
- You can act with any character as often as possible as long as you have the stamina for these actions. For instance, if you have a paramedic, she can heal three times (using three out of four possible team-wide actions for that turn) if she has full stamina.
- Losing stamina below the default 3 points will have adverse effects such as a drop in accuracy, taking more damage, or simply being unable to act. This means using the same character several times each turn can also be detrimental.
- Each skill you use will have a requisite positional placement (represented by the eight squares or pips on the screen).
- Each skill will also have a designated area it can affect. Certain skills can only affect one spot. Others, meanwhile, can affect multiple spots in the row or column.
Bullet stocks in Bialystok
You can choose from a number of skills in Warsaw. Some are passives (yellow) or support skills (blue). Many, however, are offensive skills (red). These are dependent on the weapons your characters have equipped and they also use up different types of ammo:
- pistols and SMGs use short ammo
- rifles and machine guns use long ammo
- rocket launchers and other explosives use heavy ammo
Bullets are quite limited (depending on how many you bring each mission or whatever you get as loot). As such, you’ll need to plan ahead on the types of rounds you’ll bring.
In your HQ (which looks a little inspired by This War of Mine‘s presentation), you can buy additional bullets from the quartermaster NPC which would cost you supplies. You’re less likely to do this since everything in the game will cost supplies from repairing any damaged weapons you obtain to boosting the morale in other districts. You also use supplies to recruit other partisans.
Speaking of recruitment, Warsaw does provide you a number of unique heroes and heroines after a few in-game days pass. They can be leveled up, and you can customize their load-outs and skills. They even have a mini-bio which you can read. However, many of your recruits will be partisans instead. They’ll come with their own loadouts and skills which cannot be changed, and they can’t be leveled up. The partisans you recruit will also be like Forrest Gump‘s box of chocolates — you’ll never know what you’ll get because they’re randomized.
Like XCOM, you’ll have to rotate the characters you use in various missions. That’s because similar to a number of roguelike games, Warsaw has permadeath enabled for all characters. Even random encounters that you fail can lead to character deaths. Sure, you can heal units during and after each fight, but they will remain injured once you return to HQ (the lowest HP they had during the mission regardless of healing), and will need several days to recover.
Gdansk? God damnsk!
I’ve been talking quite a bit about Warsaw‘s mechanics, but the question is if everything gels well together. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and a number of game design decisions will leave you scratching your head.
The use of an AP bar during missions does become restrictive. Although you do have a compass consumable which temporarily lowers the rate at which AP is spent, your interactions and exploration will feel limited. You’re going to need a bit of RNG luck, hoping that all the objectives are close by. If they aren’t, then you’ll simply need to cut your losses.
In the same vein, while Warsaw does denote that you’re exploring different districts or sectors, almost every map looks and feels similar (and the game’s music is also fairly limited). This leads to that feeling of repetitiveness that you’ve been here before and you’re only going through the motions.
Your squad’s healing at the HQ can also be downright strange. For instance, clicking on the hospital panel/nurse NPC will tell you that certain characters need X days to recover. You do a mission that’d last those number of days, and come back to see that your characters still haven’t recovered. Then, oddly enough, the deployment screen shows that they’ve actually fully recovered their HP.
Some mechanics and features are also not yet working, although we’ve been told that there’s an incoming fix once the game is officially released. These include sound effects and voices for characters, as well as district bonuses you’ll see in your HQ such as income and war supplies gained.
Wonky in Wrocław
The use of ammo and skills tied to the types of guns and positioning also becomes odd, at least in practice. For instance, let’s say you’ve got several skills that hit only the front ranks of enemies, but these skills will consume a lot of ammo. So, you decide to save up by trying to “push” that last remaining hostile to the back ranks. That way, you can use a skill that spends less ammo. Here’s what you need to do:
- Have a character that has a skill which can push back enemies.
- Move that character to the correct spot during combat so the skill can be used.
- Hope that character does not get moved around when the enemy attacks.
- Use the skill and hope it hits a target.
- Once the enemy gets pushed back, use it again so the mob’s at the back ranks.
- Hope that the enemy doesn’t move forward.
- Shoot it with your other weapons.
- Oh, and if you need the enemy to move forward towards you, well, pray that you do have a different skill that can do that.
Speaking of hitting something, the accuracy in Warsaw can be downright confusing that I’d consider this concept a misfire (pun very much intended). Characters have their own accuracy stat (which can decrease if you lose stamina) and skills also have their own accuracy. However, even with an accuracy of around 75-90%, you’ll still find yourself missing often. There were even moments when I missed three to four shots in a row for no reason. If you’re lucky, then great. If not, then prepare to be frustrated.
Some skills also don’t work such as Jadwiga’s Soothing Presence. It’s supposed to restore an extra point stamina for herself and adjacent allies at the start of each turn. Sadly, only her teammates are affected.
The above leads to an obvious disconnect while you’re exploring and battling in Warsaw‘s streets. On one hand, some of the game’s restrictive mechanics will make you enjoy the challenge. At times, you do feel as though you’re following the journey of Polish resistance members who were undermanned and undersupplied throughout the whole ordeal. Then, once you’re in a firefight against Nazis, you’ll see that everyone’s unnecessarily missing shots, your medic needs to go to the frontline just to cast a skill, all while everyone’s just healing each other to survive multiple bullet wounds. It’s a strange mix of harsh reality and weird arcadey gameplay.
While you want to protect your characters at all costs, you’ll also realize that you’re not getting attached to them because of their quirky personalities (they have none) or their backstories (which you’ll rarely read). It’s simply because they offer you more options in combat compared to generic recruits. There are certain characters or recruit archetypes that are also extremely useless since they can’t heal, or they don’t have support skills that are helpful.
Overall, though, Warsaw does have flashes of brilliance. Some of the concepts and mechanics in the game provide tactical and strategic depth. Numerous enemy units are in the game from panzergrenadiers, engineers, snipers, armored personnel, SS officers, R.O.N.A. forces (Soviet collaborators), and even German shepherds!
Warsaw‘s main flaw, however, exists in its execution. Still, there’s hope that additional improvements will make it a game worth your while. It does deserve as much given how Poland is commemorating the Warsaw Uprising’s 75th anniversary this year.
Warsaw releases today, October 2nd. You can find it via its Steam store page.