Do you have the tactical chops to face down the dark forces of the Nazi hordes? Command your brave squad of Polish partisans in war-torn Warsaw. A turn-based experience not for the faint-hearted.
Developer: Pixelated Milk
Publisher: gaming company
Release Date: 2 Oct, 2019
Use everything at your disposal to help a team of accidental heroes survive the onslaught in their home city and overcome tremendous odds stacked against them in this tactical rpg set on the streets of occupied Warsaw of 1944.
Enlist the help of men and women, soldiers and civilians, the young and the old and use their unique skills, expertise and abilities to challenge the enemy. Meet people from all walks of life united in their attempt to overthrow the German occupiers.
Any fans of the stellar Darkest Dungeon and Deep Sky Derelicts will have noted the announcement on Steam of a new tactical RPG. Warsaw draws obvious parallels from both games, both in art style and fundamental game mechanics. Pixelated Milk has taken inspiration from their hometown’s battle-scarred history and melded it into a compelling strategy experience. You are the commander of a brave bunch of Polish partisans, battling against the dark forces of the Nazis besieging Warsaw, at the tail end of World War 2.
Your primary objective is to keep the uprising momentum & moral high, by carrying out various guerrilla missions within the six districts of the capitol. These operations can consist of such tasks as raiding supply caches for vital equipment and medications. Taking out enemy gun emplacements. Repairing damaged communication lines and ambushing Nazi patrols.
Good planning is key to any successful operation. During a couple of my early run-throughs, I ran out of ammo for two of my crew who relied on heavy ordnance for their bazooka and grenade attacks. This can lead to a total squad wipeout or a perplexing stalemate where the only option is to retreat and forfeit the mission. This is not only a waste of resources but also impacts negatively on the morale of the district. I am not the only to run out of ammo. Reading the posts on the steam forum it is a common topic of discussion. This area of the game needs more fine-tuning to get the right balance. The learning curve is pretty steep as it is, without the extra complications of supply management.
A boarded-up house acts as your operation headquarters. Here you can resupply by clicking on the quartermaster, visit the nurse for healing options and check out the map room for details on future missions into the war-torn streets. During this downtime, you can check on your character stats and change their loadout of unique skills.
Once you have selected your mission you are dropped into the mean streets of Warsaw. This is displayed as a faithful recreation of the city layout as it was back in the day. Think of a semi 3D overhead google maps view and you get the idea. Any fans of historical cartography will marvel at the detail that has gone into this feature. Main streets and grand squares all have their real name labels taken from archives. Your crew is depicted as a tabletop game counter piece than you can maneuver by either the mouse or keyboard.
Each mission you start with a finite number of AP(action points).These tick down as you make your way among the ruins of the city. Enemy patrols and outposts have a red zone of awareness. Venture too close and you can trigger an unwanted engagement. Surrounding your player counter are pointers that grow more distinct as you get close to points of interest. Besides the enemy squads, you can stumble on arms caches and random events. These chance events play out as mini-adventure gamebook episodes. Like a small snippet from the classic book series by Ian Livingstone or Joe Dever. These little bursts of text add a great deal of authenticity and insight into what it might have been like to live in these desperate times. Where every waking moment you are forced to make fraught decisions that could not only impact you but also your fellow comrades in arms.
Once an encounter has been triggered you enter the main battle screen. Your crew is always shown lined up to the left and the Nazi troops to the right. Each combatant takes turns to take a shot at the opposition. Enemy patrols can be from anything from 3 to 7 troops in total. There’s a great deal of variety in the Wehrmacht ranks. Ranging from bog-standard machine gunners, single-shot riflemen, to flamethrower specialists, officers and even attack dogs. Knowing what unit to take out first is key to a successful outcome. Luckily, every new unit you come across gets added to a codex, which you can peruse at your leisure once to get back to your headquarters. Knowledge is power in every strategy game and Warsaw is no different.
Your squad formation differs from the darkest dungeon formula. Warsaw uses two rows, four columns system. Placement of your character is key according to their abilities. Front line troops need to have decent health and resistant statistics. I’ve found machine gunners such as Karol and Martin have the right attributes for these points of the spear positions. Weak support classes such as Jadwiga the paramedic, fair better at the back of the group.
By placing two troops in the same column they support each other with a flanking buff. Other factors come into play with support passives for characters placed close together.
Each character starts the game with three stamina blocks. Each round you can select one skill from their individual equipped abilities. Skills can use more than one stamina block according to their effectiveness. For example, a powerful one-shot sniper attack uses two blocks whereas a machine gun volley only uses one. Careful management of your stamina levels is extremely important. Once a unit has none they cannot use any actions and are virtually a lame duck, ripe for picking off by the enemy hordes. Each turn refills one block of stamina.
A Victorious mission forwards you on to the summary screen. This details the current status of all the districts and how your assignment has altered the course of history. Another random event is also activated. These play out much like the encounters on the streets. If you have lost a comrade in the last battle and lady luck is shining on you, then another brave soul will announce their willingness to join your ranks.
Back at your hideout, you will notice that your troops have not had their stamina or health level restored. This is yet another brutal portrayal of the guerrilla fighters fragile plight. I know the devs are trying to illustrate the life and death struggle but this mechanic I feel is a bit too severe. Given all the other factors that you have to manage within the games key systems. Limited ammo supplies, permadeath and random encounter that can hugely impact your small squad’s chances of survival. An unsuccessful mission can result in a death spiral of events than you can not pull back from. A depleted crew with limited ammo will not fare very well in any future operations.
That, in a nutshell, are the core components of the game. Prepare your characters, choose a mission. Take on Nazis troops in a turn-based arena. Rinse and repeat. It’s a solid foundation for game design but needs more finessing in key areas, to attain a challenging yet enjoyable balance. The combination of management squad health, supplies and random fatal dice rolls, soon dulls any enthusiasm for the campaign.
The graphic novel presentation the devs have gone for is superb. As a kid, I was an avid reader of comics such as Battle and Warlord. This aesthetic has been faithfully implemented and converted into the digital form. Using a gritty subdued colour palette gives the whole project an authentic sheen. This allows the primary colours used on items like medical bags and partisan armbands to really pop. The ink etched backgrounds on the fight scenes have subtle fx added to them. this allows the foreground action to jump out of the screen. Skies use gradients and bloom to add drama to the tableaux.
During the action sequences blur and zoom FX breathe life into the characters’ animations. Bold outlines for all your troops and foes bring them to the front of the stage. The clever use of colour tones between the various background layers adds a 3D cardboard theatre dynamic. Conjuring images of Chinese shadow puppet productions.
Sonically the game is rather underwhelming. The pre-release trailer had an American voice over to go with the visuals. The actual game is devoid of any spoken narrative and I feel this is a missed opportunity. It leaves the game to deliver the story via text which makes the whole vibe a sparse and solemn affair. If this was the intention, then the devs nailed it. I personally would have spent some money on a decent polish actor to give the project a fitting, authentic feel. Perhaps budget constraints didn’t allow for such luxuries.
The soundtrack is also rather barren. Time spent in the partisan camp is accompanied by a music hall tune with a low-fi valve radio treatment. It’s a pleasant ditty that brings light relief in between the stressful battle sequences. Speaking of which, the skirmish music is a Shostakovich style piano piece. It’s a great track but seems at odds with the nature of the visuals. It’s a slow-paced score which doesn’t add any drama to the carnage displayed on the screen. I’m not familiar with Polish classical music but a more bombastic choice would have been more in keeping with the overall vibe.
Updates and support
Warsaw had a bit of a rocky launch. Various show-stopping bugs got through the QA process and left the release build in a bit of a mess. Fortunately, the devs have been very proactive and have squished the major ones such as the save game glitch in a recent patch. They have also announced a roadmap for future content and support. This gives me great faith in the viability of the game and its long term prospects.
Some balance issues have been tweaked. The original goal was to depict the desperate times of a war-torn Poland with character permadeath and brutal difficulty level. The latter has been amended to some degree due to feedback from the community. RNG rolls for some of the battle mechanics have been balanced with reduced enemy health along with the overall squad numbers for the nazi patrols you encounter.
It’s heartening to see the devs open and receptive to all the feedback on the Steam forums. Every post is answered and any good thoughts on improving the experience have been taken on board. Any project worth its salt will have a shaky opening phase once it has been unleashed on to the general populous. Kudos for the team at Pixelated Milk for great communications with their fanbase. This all bodes well for the future.
Warsaw is a good game but a brutal pedagogue. Don’t get too attached to your characters, as a couple of false moves and some cruel RNG rolls will result in their demise. This permadeath feature acts as a sword of Damocles, hanging over your band of partisans. This adds to the tension and adds extra drama to every skirmish with the dreaded Nazis. If you are up for the challenge then the game with truly test your resolve and battle tactics. It’s a decent turn-based strategy experience but only for the hardcore.