Review: Warsaw is Dour, Crushingly Difficult, and Often Just Soul-Crushing

Screenshot: Warsaw

During World War II, when the Soviets were finally pushing the German forces back, an uprising in Poland was getting ready to kick off. The exiled Polish government gave the go ahead for the local paramilitary forces in Warsaw—known as the “Home Army.” It was a ragtag group of freedom fighters. While they would be no match for the Germans occupying the Polish capitol, the Home Army only planned to fight for a few days, at which point Soviet forces would be there and Warsaw would be liberated. That outside help never came as the Soviets intentionally left the Home Army to fend for themselves, and eventually, despite the passion and some of the heaviest fighting the German forces ever faced, the Home Army fell. Warsaw is a game that depicts these events, and you’ll experience it from the narrow perspective of a group of freedom fighters.

Warsaw is a turn-based role-playing game (with rather impressive hand-drawn art) where you guide a small group of fighters and their support staff through the darkest days of their lives. You don’t command soldiers–rather, normal Polish citizens who hope to rise up and put down their occupiers. It’s very Darkest Dungeon inspired. You guide a group of fighters through war-torn Warsaw streets, completing objectives, and sometimes running into German patrols.

Screenshot: Warsaw

In most games, taking out groups of enemies is the norm. In Warsaw, every encounter has the chance of catastrophically ending your campaign. If one of the few fighters you have dies, they are permanently dead. Each combatant you face has about as much survivability as a single one of your soldiers—and often, they’ll outnumber you—and be better armed. It’s very apparent that the odds are stacked against you in Warsaw—and there is never much chance for improvement.

It’s best to avoid most combat, then, for fear of losing progress. Luckily, there are a good amount of missions that you can accept that allow you to avoid combat altogether—like helping civilians mediate disputes, or finding supply drops to bolster your own efforts.

Screenshot: Warsaw

Between missions, you can use your home base to gather recruits to fill up your ranks (often with lesser skills than “named” soldiers), gather information about the war effort and how the districts in Warsaw are holding up, as well as swap out gear/skills for your characters. You can also barter for new weapons/items, and use your supplies to fix broken weaponry.

When your fighters die, they are dead permanently. This means retreating is often the more sensible decision—but any retreat means an instant failure to any mission you’re undergoing. When your fighters die, they are replaced very slowly. You can get recruits to fill in where absolutely necessary, but the unique “named” fighters only show up in the between mission events, and sometimes only when an event goes in your favor.

Screenshot: Warsaw

You’re often outgunned, too. Ammo is always in short supply. If you are on a combat-centric mission, even if you pack your inventory full of ammo, you might end up missing one or all three of the different ammo types before you’re done. The amount of inventory space your group has is limited, so even if you bring a bunch of ammo, you might not be able to pick up any loot along the way.

Moving around the streets of Warsaw can be dangerous, and the overhead map is where you’ll be spending your mission time while you’re outside of an encounter or combat. You are limited to the amount you can move around, and this is represented by a number of “action points.” Using a compass (one –time use item) can make depletion of action points slower, but nothing can stop their usage as you move around. If you run out of action points, your mission automatically fails—putting another layer of difficulty on an already oppressively difficult game.

Screenshot: Warsaw

The turn-based combat in Warsaw is nothing special. Each character has a set of abilities, that sometimes don’t include any sort of attack—meaning there are sometimes characters that exist purely in support capacity. When an enemy or ally is shot, the visual representation is impressively visceral, but even direct hits end up feeling a little weak. There are several lanes to place your characters in, and objects can work as obstacles, or provide cover. Fights are slow, drawn-out affairs with emphasis on strategy—but it all feels so RNG based, that even when I feel like I make no mistakes, I can still be defeated. That’s life, sure, but it’s not always fun for a video game.

Screenshot: Warsaw

Between every mission, win or lose, you are subject to a narrative encounter. Choices here can outright kill your fighters, but, if you’re lucky, you can meet others who are trying to join your ill-fated cause. It felt like a gut punch when, after losing my main fighters in one campaign, I got a new recruit—that was about 13 years old, or even younger. Helmet barely fitting on his head, he would play with a train set at the home base in-between missions. Warsaw really knows how to elicit a strong sense of pathos—especially since you know that poor kid is about to get ripped apart by German gunfire or their awful war hounds.

I’ve never won a game of Warsaw. I don’t even feel like I’ve come close. Each time I’ve played, to even survive, I was forced to retreat from most encounters, and watched as attrition slowly ate away at my forces. I don’t know if it’s possible to change the historical outcome of the Warsaw Uprising, but it feels appropriately impossible to do.

Despite how new it is, Warsaw is already getting content updates. Just today, the “Ruczaj” update was released. This update includes a new battle location (a ruined church), a new narrative event, a new minimap feature, and other balance and quality of life and balance tweaks.  It’s always a good sign when a developer continues to support their game.

Screenshot: Warsaw

Warsaw is crushingly difficult, and often just soul-crushing. It depicts a war you aren’t really supposed to win. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really translate into fun, and despite its important depiction of a notable historic event, and beautiful art, it’s such a dour, depressing game.

Warsaw is available now for Windows.


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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, video game historian, and small streamer.
He is also the editor of the Games and Tech section but does not get paid for his work at 3CR.
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