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Warsaw (PC) artwork

Warsaw (PC) review

"Darkest Poland"

Warsaw (PC) image

Poland really got the shit end of the stick in World War II. It was the first country to be invaded by the Nazis and one the countries to be occupied the longest. The Polish people were the first to witness the terrifying tactic of blitzkrieg; that is, being attacked from all sides simultaneously, both from ground and air. It only took a month for Poland to be captured despite their best efforts to fight back, and they received very little help from their allies. Warsaw is the story of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, a resistance operation spearheaded by the Polish Home Army, intended to push the Nazis out of the beleaguered city. The Home Army was a militia comprised of soldiers and ordinary citizens alike. Outmanned and outgunned, they faced a brutal and unyielding enemy. They were perhaps doomed to fail, but they had to try.

Warsaw has been compared to Darkest Dungeon, and it’s little wonder why. The art style and combat system are very similar. It is obviously less zany, as it has no fantasy elements whatsoever. Warsaw sticks strictly to history, so its tone is a bit more dry, but it is comparably bleak. The horrors of war can be just as frightening as any Lovecraftian monstrosity, especially when they are true and actually happened. The Nazis did not take kindly to the uprising, and you will learn all about that as you play this game.

Warsaw is a strategy game, in a sense. The goal is to keep the uprising alive for as long as possible. You start with 100% momentum, and it drops by a certain percentage each day depending on how healthy the city’s districts are. Successfully completing a mission will slow the rate of decay, but it’s a bit like bailing water out of a sinking ship. You are only allowed to complete one mission for a single district at a time, and any missions not chosen will inflict morale penalties on the other districts. If a district’s morale gets too low, they will surrender to the Nazis and stop providing you with resources. Less resources means less momentum. There are quite a few moving parts to this system, but the short of it is that you need to complete your missions as flawlessly as possible and keep a good balance to ensure that no districts are neglected, because you need as many districts supporting the uprising as possible for as long as possible. In reality, the uprising lasted 63 days; you need to keep things together that long in order to “win” (more on this later).

Warsaw (PC) image

Once you’ve selected a mission, you control your squad on a top-down map and seek out various procedurally-generated objectives. These include eliminating Nazi patrols, collecting salvage, delivering letters to resistance members and so on. You only have a certain amount of time to complete your mission (as represented by an action point meter), so you need to be careful about which paths you take through the city. Taking a detour down the wrong street to search for loot may sacrifice too much time and prevent you from completing an objective. Or, if you find yourself pressed for time, you may need to risk combat by sneaking through a Nazi patrol’s line of sight instead of going around them.

Along the way, you will encounter procedurally-generated events where hard choices will need to be made. Should you try to capture that lone, wounded Nazi officer your team spotted in the ruins of a building, or is it too much of a risk? Should you try to sabotage that column of Panzer tanks that hasn’t noticed you yet? The RNG can be particularly punishing here. If things go wrong, it can easily mean death or injury for one of your insurgents. There are also less combat-oriented events to be encountered. You may need to mediate civilian disputes, rescue lost families who are scrabbling through the ruins, or perhaps discipline some troops who aren’t pulling their weight. Skill checks on traits like “intuition,” “dexterity,” and “charm” may help you secure a favourable outcome, but failing these events can mean a morale penalty for that entire district.

But most of what you do in Warsaw is kill Nazis, and you do that in a combat system that works very similarly to Darkest Dungeon’s. It is a positional system with four columns, but the difference here is that there are also two rows, making a total of eight spaces on each side. Thus, not only is it possible to push enemies back and forward with the right skills, but you can also move them from side to side. This allows you to flush enemies out of cover or flank them. This actually works better than Darkest Dungeon’s combat system in most respects. The ridiculously tacked-on “corpse” mechanic of Darkest Dungeon has been adopted and improved here, too. Enemies do not spawn corpses, but stationary obstacles randomly appear in battles and can be used as cover – Or you can build them yourself. These obstacles reduce damage to any unit hiding behind them, and can be destroyed with enough concentrated fire. Otherwise, the same positional combat elements from Darkest Dungeon have been inherited. Certain skills will only work if your insurgents are positioned on certain spots on the field, and will only be effective against enemies who are also in certain spots. Rifle skills generally work best against the back columns, while small arms and machine guns work best against the front. Building a team that synergizes well in the field is crucial to achieve victory. All in all, the tactical aspect of Warsaw is deep, challenging and a vast improvement over Darkest Dungeon.

Warsaw (PC) image

Other aspects of Warsaw leave something to be desired, though. The UI and menus are clunky, cumbersome and glitchy at times. There is very little feedback from your mouse clicks, and swapping skills or weapons at your base camp will sometimes cause the game to hang for a few moments. Certain quality-of-life things present in Darkest Dungeon are also completely absent here. For example, you only get one chance to set your insurgents’ skills and formations before a mission begins, and then they are stuck that way for the entire mission. This can be highly unfortunate if you’ve accidentally placed an insurgent in a position where they can’t use most of their skills – you will have no choice but to waste a turn at the start of every battle to put them back into proper position. Worse, if you forgot to equip a skill you need, you will have no choice but to go without it for the entire mission. This game is also locked in ironman mode, so there is no way to load a previous save to fix this.

Warsaw has also been touted as an RPG, but there is very little in the way of character progression. Most of your insurgents are scripted characters with unique names, personalities and backstories. You cannot change much about them, and they are only allowed to level up three times. Each time they do, you only get to choose one new skill. The rest of their skills are determined by their equipped weapon, and they are only allowed to specialize in one or two weapon types. I found this to be very restrictive. For example, a unit that specializes in revolvers apparently cannot figure out how to use a semiautomatic pistol. Surely the resistance could train them how to do this? In fact, I would be willing to spend some resources to make this happen, but sadly the game will not let you. This severely limits the types of builds you can load into each insurgent.

It is also not possible to design your own units, aside from a very limited framework available when you hire a new recruit. Note the distinction here – “recruits” are different from insurgents, they are simply procedurally generated cannon fodder with no backstories and randomly assigned names. You are allowed to choose two skills for them upon creation, then they are stuck that way – they cannot level up or equip different weapons at all. Thus, I really can’t say that Warsaw fits into the RPG category. There simply isn’t enough meat on it to be considered as such.

Warsaw (PC) image

However, the unique insurgents are very interesting, and you will grow as attached to them as you can. There’s a bit of a This War of Mine vibe about this game. Warsaw really wants to tell the story of what it was like during the uprising, and it does so through well-written vignettes that introduce each character. Additional story bits also fill out in the game’s “codex” as you go along. The stories are quite diverse; many of the insurgents are simply civilians who want to put their skills to good use for the resistance. Some of them are already seasoned for combat, others are not. A telephone operator is useful, as she can interfere with enemy communications. A doctor is invaluable as a field medic, even if he refuses to use weapons at all. A deaf-mute is not rattled by explosions or enemy gunfire, and is therefore resistant to enemy suppression. A lot of care and research has gone into the character designs, which is admirable.

The codex also fills out with interesting entries on enemy units and weapon types. These contain real facts about the tactics used by the Home Army and the Nazis during the uprising. The codex does not hold your hand about this; it throws all sorts of historical terms and designations at you with limited explanations of what they are. For example, did you know that the Nazis had a unit called the “Dirlewanger Brigade” that was composed of convicted murderers, rapists and arsonists, and they used it as a terror unit during the uprising? Holy shit, I thought, that is super fucked up. What the hell else happened during the war that I never heard about? A lot of the entries serve as little prompts for you to do your own research, and I didn’t mind this at all.

If Warsaw has a major fault to it, though, it is the fact that it rarely feels like it has any sort of payoff. Even if you are extremely careful not to fail any missions (like I did), and never have a single insurgent die (as I did), you never seem to gain any ground. The momentum score is always falling, and your reward for success is simply to ensure that it falls slightly slower. Completing a mission grants you a single commendation that you can use to level up one of your insurgents, but it takes six commendations to completely level up one character, and thus many missions will go by without being able to gain any new skills at all. Your other rewards for completing missions include “broken weapons” that you must spend resources on in order to repair, and these usually end up being a useless copy of a weapon you already own. The loot you find during missions is equally lackluster, comprising mostly of ammo, health packs and other essentials that you can easily buy in between missions anyway. There is very little sense of reward for anything you do, and that’s kind of a bummer.

Warsaw (PC) image

I understand that they are trying to keep things historically accurate here. In reality, the uprising ultimately failed. The Home Army put up a good fight, but it came at a tremendous cost. About 150,000 to 200,000 civilians were killed during the fighting, mostly from retaliatory strikes and mass executions at the hands of the Nazis. The Home Army eventually surrendered, and about 60,000 of Warsaw’s remaining civilian population were sent to concentration camps. It would have been nice to be able to change history by playing the game well, but then its message would feel like a bit of a moot point. In this sense, Warsaw is an effective history lesson, but falters a bit as a game. People generally like to play games to win, but there is no way to “win” at Warsaw. No matter how hard you try, you will only arrive at the real, ghastly conclusions that history wrote. The message is clear: World War II was far worse than any of us can possibly imagine. “Lest we forget,” indeed.

Still, Warsaw has a lot of things going for it. It has a beautiful art style and well-composed music. It appears to have excellent voice acting, though most of it is in Polish and German without any option to turn on subtitles, so I am just making a guess here. The combat system is superior to Darkest Dungeon’s. Its writing is excellent and well-researched. However, all of this belies a game structure that is hopelessly stacked against you and lacking in any sense of reward. The UI and menus are a pain to navigate; they feel like prototypes or placeholders. The current user rating on Steam stands at “mixed,” and that seems about right. I don't regret playing Warsaw – It’s just not a game I’d like to play twice.

Nightfire's avatar
Community review by Nightfire (November 11, 2019)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access.

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EmP posted November 25, 2019:

You there. Yes, you. More of this. One a year is insufficient.

I really like this review. It's long, but it doesn't feel like it. And it details a misery simulator, which we can never have enough of.
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Nightfire posted November 26, 2019:

Aw, I missed you too, you cuddly bucket of slime.

And you'll be happy to know that I have a few more articles in the works, and I should be able to get at least one of them posted before the end of the year. Fingers crossed.
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honestgamer posted November 26, 2019:

I'll be rooting for you to make it happen, especially if this review is a fair indicator of the sort of stuff you're working to put together at the moment.

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