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Originally released on PC back in October 2019, gritty turn-based RPG Warsaw is now making its way to consoles. If you've played the game already, you'll be pleased to hear that developer Pixelated Milk have managed to lift the experience almost seamlessly onto consoles, at least in my experience with it, playing on the Nintendo Switch.
Warsaw is a tactically challenging RPG set, unsurprisingly, in the Polish capital of Warsaw in 1944, during the peak of the Second World War. With the German army closing in from all sides, you play as the Uprising, who have rallied to overthrow the crippling might of their Nazi oppressors, and to bring about the liberation of Poland.
The overall objective of the game is to hold out long enough for the Nazis to relinquish control of Warsaw. To do this, you must balance the fine-tuning and stats of your plucky resistance fighters both in and out of the field of battle. Gameplay in Warsaw is split into three distinct sections as I see it: The Hideout, the overworld map, and the battles.
In The Hideout you conduct your resistance-y business and prepare your plucky Polish Home Front fighters for a mission. Checking in with your characters to upgrade their stats with experience points earned in the field and through commendations will feel very familiar for fans of the genre. Tinkering with their skills and weapons is par for the course in RPGs and there's a plethora of different builds to try out, but the game's tutorial doesn't go far enough in explaining how things work for my money, and it took me a good while until I was distributing experience points properly, and working with setups I was happy with.
Other things to do in The Hideout include managing your supplies, weapons and ammo, and recruiting new soldiers. The latter is something you'll want to become very familiar with, especially if you're playing the game for the first time or on a higher difficulty, because battles can be merciless affairs - and once a character is gone, they are gone for good. But, we'll get to that in due course.
Once you're all squared away with your duties at home, it's time to head over to the planning phase. You'll be presented with a number of possible missions set in the various districts of Warsaw. Each district has meters that represent morale and attrition in them. If these drop to zero, the district will surrender, and your endeavours will lose momentum (a quantifiable percentage in Warsaw, that you'll want to keep as high as possible to maintain the war effort) and eventually the city will fall.
Undertaking missions will delay this, but it only ever feels like you're delaying the inevitable. Morale and attrition will dwindle almost helplessly no matter your efforts, making it seem like you're constantly fighting a losing battle. Is this by design? Almost definitely yes. The Warsaw Uprising was the single biggest undertaking by any resistance movement in World War Two, who found themselves completely cut-off from Allied help. Something the game goes to great lengths, in my opinion, to mirror in its gameplay.
Once you've crossed the t's and dotted the i's selecting the mission, squad and equipment, you'll enter the next phase of play - the overworld map. Here you guide an icon around a top-down view of Warsaw, in search of your objectives, which are represented by icons of their own. Enemy positions, loot or events are dotted around, guiding you toward them with arrows placed around your position. Items like the flare gun, compass and camouflage aid you by lighting up the immediate area for potential threats or points of interest, honing in on a particular item or allowing you to sneak past or get the drop on entrenched Nazis, respectively.
What's unfortunate is that this part of the game isn't particularly fun or inventive. You move cautiously through a flat, grey map, and it can be difficult to figure out where you are and which parts of the topography can be walked through and which can't. An annoyance compounded by the fact that you have a limited number of movement points to find your objectives before it's mission failure.
Once you do decide to (or are forced to) enter combat, Warsaw really shows its RPG teeth. Your squad of four will face down squads of varying German infantry and later artillery, as you trade blows in the turn-based, two dimensional action. Once you've learned the basics and built up an understanding of fighter placement, how combinations of buffs, healing, and attacks can all work together, it's hugely enjoyable and incredibly challenging. The controls are largely smooth on the Switch, and you'd be hard-pushed to recognise that this wasn't a natively built game for the console. The only slight gripe is that it can be kind of fiddly to select which character you want to attack (made more frustrating by my Joy-Con's horrendous drift issues) but that's by-the-by when the combat rolls along so well.
I really like that the difficulty of Warsaw seems intrinsically tied to the plight of the Polish people during the Uprising, even if it does at times make the game more punishing than fun. Having never played it on PC (or for that matter the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One) it's difficult to say whether the Nintendo Switch is the way to experience the game, but I am happy to concede playing it there felt like a completely natural experience. If you're in need of a new roguelike and have an affinity for World War Two history, Warsaw is well-worth a look.
Pros: Tactical turn-based action, historically accurate, fun for RPG lovers.
Cons: Cripplingly hard, dull overworld sections.
For fans of: Darkest Dungeon, Slay The Spire, Into The Breach.
Warsaw is out September 29th on PS4, October 1st on Nintendo Switch, and October 2nd on Xbox One. Nintendo Switch code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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