Updated: Oct 11, 2020
Publisher: Crunching Koalas Developer: Crunching Koalas Release: October 1, 2020 Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch Also on: PS4, Xbox One
When you hear the term “World War II video game,” what immediately springs to mind? For most gamers, we are immediately drawn to action-packed set pieces prevalent in such first-person shooter games as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Medal of Honor. When you hear the term “RPG,” what games do you think of? Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Fire Emblem are pretty much knee-jerk reactions to that term. It’s not too often that we get a game that bucks the trend of both these genres, so that’s why when we do see one, it’s worth a second look. And this is where Warsaw comes in.
Warsaw is exactly what is stated above: an RPG that takes place during World War II. You won’t see any dragons, magic, or monsters here (unless you count the Axis forces as monsters, which we all do). You also won’t see run-of-the-mill soldiers, blasting their way through trenches and swarms of enemies. No, Warsaw is a much more real game that throws you into the horrors of being a civilian caught in the middle of one of the worst events in the history of mankind.
From the very opening, you’ll be drawn into this horrible situation. The opening sequence is raw with emotions. You follow an animated short story of a woman, desperately seeking her loved one, running through the city streets. She finally finds him, hunkered down in a blown-out building, fighting off a platoon of Nazis. But it’s too late – as he is dead, holding a picture of them from a happier time. Soon after, Nazis converge on their location, and as the scene fades out, the last thing you hear are gunshots. It’s a brutal reminder of how terrible war is, and it only gets worse from there.
In this game, you play as a group of Freedom Fighters, living in the titular city as it is being occupied by the Nazis. Gameplay starts from an overhead perspective. Your group is designated by a circle, and you must find your way from point A to point B within a certain amount of “steps.” However, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. The game incorporates “fog of war,” and you won’t see any obstacles or blockades in your path until you are close enough. To make matters worse, you will also come across enemy soldiers. Often times, your way to the exit is blocked by these groups, and you must enter a turn-based battle to move past. Luckily, you can make use of flares, and get a better view of what’s in the area by shooting one off.
Battles are pretty traditional if you’ve played an RPG in the past. These can get pretty intense. You have characters that have specific traits, such as snipers, power shots, and healer classes. Each of your characters has “action points” that you can spend to perform different tasks based on the character. You can strategically move around the area, take cover, line up a better shot, or flush out an enemy from their hiding spot. Each character also has special attacks and different skills that can be added through leveling up. Once you emerge victorious, you may move on with your mission.
Luckily, you start the game with a pretty detailed tutorial. Tutorials in RPGs can be difficult to master; either they are too in-depth and boring or not enough to give you an idea of what’s going on. Thankfully, Warsaw does a nice job of incorporating the tutorial as part of the story, as it walks you through your first mission – returning back to base.
There is a bit of exploration as well, as you’ll need to locate boxes of ammunition. Yes, your ammo is tracked, and it’s possible to run out of it during battles. Additionally, littered across the battlefield are side missions, which could lead to bonus items or attributes, or on the flipside, injuries and death. And death is permanent in Warsaw. If a character in your group dies, then you can not bring them back. No restarts, no revives – just death. While this decision by the developers may turn off gamers more prone to anxiety – myself included – it is a good choice. Despite its cartoonish art style, Warsaw is meant to portray the horrors of war; and in war, death is rampant. I felt a bevvy of emotions when I lost my first fighter: guilt, despair, and regret. This game hits you right in the gut with its gritty realism.
In between missions, you’ll spend time at your hideout and progress the story. You are shown a dashboard, outlining the results of your last mission, overall morale, supplies, and status. In the base, you can recruit new characters, level up, heal characters, manage resources, and map out your next mission. An interesting aspect that occurs when you are back at base are the events. Events will present you with a situation and several options on how you want to solve the situation. For example, in one such event, I was given options on how I wanted to handle a prisoner of war that I had just captured. The options ranged from letting him go, to interrogating him, to just flat-out shooting him. Having to select only one of these can be rough, as it may go against your own principles and beliefs.
This is another way that the game feels so heavy. You select which team member you want to carry out the action you selected. Some characters have a higher stat in a skill you are trying to execute, so it’s to your advantage to select the character with the higher stat to increase your chances for success.
As the real-life events that inspired Warsaw were hell, so can be the difficulty. This is not an easy game, and you’ll find yourself getting pretty frustrated at the constant battles you’ll have against enemy troops. There’s also a lot of maintenance to do, so those of you who aren’t a fan of micromanagement may find this a little too daunting.
Although Warsaw is a well-made game, there are a couple annoyances. The biggest one for me was the fact that you have a certain amount of “steps” in the overhead map. If you do not complete your mission within these steps, the mission will be a failure, and although you will continue with the game, failing a mission will use up some of your valuable resources and bring your group’s morale down. This adds another layer of stress in an already-stressful game. Also, the game is really tough. I would highly suggest playing it on easy, unless you really want a brutal challenge. The permadeath can also be a turn-off, but I am not going to knock the game for this design choice, as it is meant to accurately portray what was happening during this time.
Final Grade: A-
War is hell, and innocent people get caught in the middle all the time. Warsaw takes this feeling of loneliness, despair, depression, and hope, and makes a game that’s unlike all other WWII and RPG titles I’ve played. If you can handle the seriousness of the game, the difficulty, and the constant reminder that death is very real, you will have an experience like no other.
Review code provided by Crunching Koalas.