Those unfamiliar with the project would be forgiven for thinking that Warsaw was a World War 2-themed successor to Darkest Dungeon. Both games share a hand-drawn aesthetic, a gritty coat of paint, and punishing turn-based combat. But Warsaw is a different beast entirely, coming from the minds over at Pixelated Milk. And while Warsaw isn't a perfect game, there's a solid base worth exploring for those that enjoy strategy games, even though it may not be one of the most anticipated games of the fall.
As many can probably guess, the game takes place in occupied Warsaw, Poland in 1944. Players take control of the Warsaw Uprising as they work to reclaim the city from the Nazis. It isn't that unique of a premise, but this type of strategy game isn't really something that's been explored before, as far as World War 2 games are concerned. But the unconventional mashup works surprisingly well, for the most part. Dodging and weaving through the city streets looking for supplies and avoiding Nazi patrols sells the experience as authentic, and the backdrops to most combat encounters are interesting enough to be a pleasant distraction from the otherwise repetitive character models. The setting itself is one of the main draws of Warsaw. It effectively portrays the city as desperate and battered, which makes it feel all the more worth fighting for.
Other than the city, players have access to the hideout, which serves as a general hub for accepting missions, recruiting new soldiers, and trading supplies. It's a bit like This War of Mine, but with less customization and room to explore. At first, it can take a bit to unravel all the hideout has to offer, but knowing its toolset is incredibly important if players want to last more than a few weeks in Warsaw.
Surviving in Warsaw can prove to be rather difficult, both on an individual level and for the resistance as a whole. The key is finding a solid composition of characters to take out on missions, though early on this can be a difficult balancing act. It requires an equal emphasis on firepower, weapon types, and healing capabilities. Lose the wrong character early on and not only is the mission jeopardized, but the entire Uprising. Not to mention, leveling up characters can take quite a bit of investment, though the skills they unlock are usually more than worth it. For instance, leveling up a specific medic unlocks a skill that heals adjacent allies pretty much whenever they take damage. It made some difficult segments much more survivable, but losing her began a rapid downward spiral to a game over screen. In some ways, it's nearly as difficult as some Souls-like games.
Warsaw's main issue is that the game simply isn't that well balanced. More often than not, it's a difficult experience but not a rewarding one. On one hand, hard-fought victories felt well-earned, but the rewards for completing them simply weren't good enough. It's a frustrating oversight that nearly kills the entire experience. The primary issue is ammunition, which feels far too scarce for how much players need to actually win a battle. Most fights involved taking down 4-5 enemies with around 65 health each and about 150-200 bullets in the reserves. The issue is that most attacks take 3-6 bullets to perform, and only whittle enemies down by 11-20 health points, though some attacks do slightly more or slightly less. However, shots miss at an incredibly regular rate, the world is scarce on ammunition, and missions that require fighting usually involve several encounters. This makes it possible to run out of ammo during battles, forcing players to flee and fail missions at a high rate.
This wouldn't be as much of an issue if players had a bit more leniency when it came to exploring the map, which is where players will find the majority of their supplies for the Uprising. But moving about the world uses up Action Points, and they wind down pretty rapidly. Players get 100 of them at the beginning of a mission, and each movement lowers the bar. If the bar dwindles down to zero before completing a set of objectives, players fail the mission. It's a bit too restrictive, as players don't have that much direction as far as where to go on the map. There are ambiguous objective markers that will point players to encounters on the map, but its impossible to tell what those encounters are. This leads to quite a few mission failures where players are left to helplessly stumble around the map, looking for their objectives and hopelessly scavenging for supplies.
Fail a mission and the Uprising will lose momentum. Plus, the District that the mission was failed in will slowly be overtaken by the Nazi forces. Continue to fail repeatedly, and the game will end - the Nazis having regained control of the city. Players will likely encounter this situation during their first few playthroughs. After all, Warsaw is pretty much always in meat grinder mode. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. Warsaw's difficulty will undoubtedly be one of its biggest draws, though that doesn't necessarily make it fun. It does force players to make smart decisions and know when to take a loss. Not every encounter or mission is going to have a path to victory, and that's something that more games should draw inspiration from, even though it doesn't feel like an intentional design choice.
After a mission, and sometimes during, players will get a text-based event. These events are one of the more interesting aspects of Warsaw, as they offer players a bit of narrative to spice up an ongoing campaign. They're pretty straight forward, but getting them correct can yield some bountiful rewards. Most of the time, this simply means choosing the character with the highest chance of success to complete it. It isn't particularly challenging, but it can add a little bit of extra depth to the characters under your command.
All in all, Warsaw is a solid foundation, but the balancing issues may make it difficult for players to love. There are a lot of interesting ideas present here, though the execution, in some instances, has been flubbed. Still, the hand-drawn art style, challenging battles, and interesting backdrops are enough to make it worth experiencing in most cases. There are other, better challenging games out there this fall, Like The Surge 2, but Warsaw will be a good experience for those with lots of patience looking for a challenge to overcome, so long as they can get passed its multitude of issues.