WARSAW, by the indie studio Pixelated Milk, is a turn-based strategy game that highlights the often-forgotten Warsaw Uprising during WWII — aiming to depict the sacrifices and the struggles of the Polish Underground Resistance. Unfortunately, and perhaps somewhat realistically, the game at the current stage feels like a hopeless grind without much to strive towards.
Although the game takes heavy influences from the indie hit Darkest Dungeon, WARSAW’s approach to the style feels shallow and underdeveloped. Before we get into the discussion of the differences, I’ll lay out the base gameplay that they share. Both revolve around controlling a group of four characters with unique strengths and weaknesses. You create a formation as your characters’ abilities can only be used while standing in specific zones and only affect targets in preset areas, making some better at hanging back, while others are better on the frontlines. That combined with healing, buffing, debuffing, and formation disrupting abilities, creating the right party with the right skills is critical, and as the game goes on, it will also test your adaptability when the optimal choices aren’t available for you. To increase the stakes, deaths are permanent and almost inevitable, lending a hand to the bleak themes of both titles. Finally, both feature a home base where you plan out much of your meta-improvements, individual character upgrades, and select your missions.
One of the significant differences between the two games is how they choose to deliver a compelling narrative. In DD, your heroes are expandable and without a story of any sort — they are a means to an end. To alleviate the fact that the game doesn’t have a protagonist, it utilizes the (incredibly memorable) narrator to carry the story as you play. In WARSAW, your characters are given a significant backstory and are the faces of the narrative. I honestly love the approach here, and I think, although it’s a bit more conventional, it can deliver a stronger story. Unfortunately, the execution just isn’t there. These characters don’t receive any moments within the game, personal quests, narration, or character arcs of any sort, meaning that there is nothing to carry the story other than the narrative you are building in your own head. This also comes with the consequence that since your characters are unique, once they are dead, you can never get another character that does the same thing gameplay-wise. The storyless recruits you can buy only exist to fill in empty slots, as they are much weaker than the characters, and are unable to level up. So unlike in DD, where you can always rebuild from the deaths of your characters, in WARSAW, you are better off restarting your save once you start losing much of your cast. This is not how permadeath should be implemented.
Speaking of punishing elements, there should be enough reward in the game to incentivize players to push through. This game is all stick and no carrot, as I found myself constantly seeking things to look forward to. The thing I feel is missing the most is rewarding character progression as the rewards of leveling are very minor, and the lack of traits/stats/equipment (other than weapons) meant that there are no builds to tinker with or work towards. Additionally, the home base can’t be upgraded in any significant way either. The lack of these mini-objectives meant the only thing I was fighting for was to see the war end, and although I found that to be somewhat realistic of the grim mentality of Nazi-occupied Poland, it didn’t make for a compelling game.
Potential for Growth
The upside is that, although the game feels underdeveloped, what it has is a great base to build upon, and the devs have promised ongoing support for the game. I found the art charming and expressive, and the unique characters are brimming with great stories just waiting to be told. The voice acting makes the battles feel alive with commands being shouted in Polish and German, backed up by great sound effects. Finally, there are many strategic gameplay bits that differ from its predecessor that I can see being developed into a full feature to help WARSAW really stand apart.
With all that being said, I can’t recommend WARSAW to you in the current state. I’d give it a few months wait before checking it out again.
***PC code provided for review by the publisher.***
- Potential for growth
- Core gameplay is strong
- Great sound design
- Too punishing
- Lack of compelling short-term objectives
- Many underdeveloped elements