World War II has long been a popular backdrop in video games, particularly in the genre of first-person shooters where players get to experience virtually recreated warfare from the turbulent period. Still, this genre in particular, despite benefiting from an immersive first-person perspective, rarely ever captures the gravity and magnitude of what it would have been like to navigate one of the cruellest periods in human history. Whether it was Medal of Honour or the many World War II-themed Call of Duty games, over time these games became more about player empowerment via blistering multiplayer action, rather than experiencing the hopelessness of that era.
The real-time strategy genre found itself to be better suited to World War II, particularly when communicating the historical context of it all. Still, the experience is largely impersonal given that all troops and personnel are watered down to mere resources and nothing else. This is where WARSAW on Xbox One by Pixelated Milk becomes such an important release, as it is perhaps one of the few video games which not only functions well as a combat-driven experience, but also respects and appreciates the context it is set in, allowing the player to better appreciate the gravity of history rather than simply trying to win at a game.
WARSAW, as the title suggests, takes place in the very capital of Poland itself, Warsaw – a place scarred with many tragic events. Set during the 1940s, the game takes place in the streets of the capital as a group of unlikely freedom fighters try to band together to survive Nazi occupation. The game is largely a strategy affair where players need to navigate troops and manage limited resources, but it is also a deep role-playing game complete with an intricate turn-based battle system. This helps humanise WARSAW’s many characters as you can relate to them more than just faceless foot soldiers; these range from medics to gunmen, all serving a valuable purpose in the overall strategy.
This WARSAW release is the Console Edition, as the game has been available on PC for quite some time. All things considered, the game maps comfortably to Xbox One and the default controls do the job well enough. There are essentially three segments to the gameplay: 1) the city map 2) the combat 3) the camp. The city map has players navigate an icon representing their current troop, and using the stick you are essentially moving an icon around the map, touching resources to collect and initiating enemy encounters. This feels like a rather pointless user interface, as even though it gives off the impression of being something out of a tabletop strategy game, the execution of it all feels rather out of place, and if anything it comes across like filler between the combat and story segments. There’s nothing inherently broken about it, but it all feels like it lacks genuine gameplay substance.
The turn-based combat is the main component of the experience in WARSAW, and fans of the genre will sense many similarities between WARSAW and Darkest Dungeon, especially in terms of the depth of the core turn-based mechanics. Of course, WARSAW isn’t nearly as difficult or nefarious as the latter. The combat variety is bolstered thanks to the variety of character classes that players get to use, plus there are different planes and barriers that influence the range and type of attacks. It’s an engaging and tactical chess match between two units.
Then there are the camp segments where players can take stock of their freedom fighters and resources, and these segments can certainly help with the immersion as you get a feel of the cast of characters and better sympathise with their plight. This is where players also get a sense of the story progression, which progresses on a day to day cycle where players need to decide how they wish to proceed, whether it is to gather more resources or engage more with the enemy. This gives the progression a bit of a rogue-lite feel, and part of the overarching strategy is planning out a long-term victory.
What brings it all together is the presentation, as the game possesses a detailed art style with memorable character designs. The music really creates a genuine sense of atmosphere and captures the drama and weight of situations in the game and story. While WARSAW is situated in a historically rich setting, it doesn’t necessarily communicate too much history, but rather focuses more on the experiences of the characters living through those difficult times. The presentation style overall is a little bit like the Ubisoft release, Valiant Hearts: The Great War, but sans the detailed history lessons.
WARSAW on Xbox One is a welcome release even though there are no shortage of games set in World War II. From its strategic turn-based RPG combat, to the focus on characters within the backdrop of a war-torn Warsaw, this is a unique take on historical warfare – one that will leave you appreciating the worth of each individual life as they try to change the course of history.