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Previews: Captain on Deck

By Gareth Harmer on August 26, 2014

Captain on Deck

I’m used to the obsessional level of detail that Wargaming put into their games, but World of Warships, the latest in their military series, took me by surprise. It wasn’t so much the ships themselves – they looked intricate and lifelike, glinting in the evening sun. No, it was the mesmeric, uncanny water that really surprised me. And apparently the studio isn’t done with it yet.


I’m piloting a US Navy destroyer of some sort, with two sets of guns fore and aft. It’s a large ship, which makes steering an interesting art. I push the engines up to half, making my way to a small cluster of islands where I’m likely to find some action. Our team is fighting against the Japanese, champions of close-range naval combat. I spy one, out on it’s own, just creeping over the horizon, and turn to broadside it with all barrels. A couple of volleys and it’s out of action, burning beautifully.

Wargaming’s certainly hoping to pull in big numbers with WoWS. World of Tanks has notched up an incredible 90 million players worldwide, while World of Warplanes managed to attract over 10 million. Even their first foray into tablet gaming – World of Tanks Blitz – is now in the hands of 6 million gamers, without even arriving on Android.

I can see flak in the air – it’s an automated response to torpedo bombers launched from a nearby aircraft carrier. They somehow found a target, as I can hear sonar pulses rapidly ring towards me, their white streams in the water leaving a telltale wake. Hammering the keyboard, I ram the engines to full and order a sharp turn to get the stern out of the way, the torpedoes missing by inches. It’s a close call, but I’m not out of the woods yet – the whole region is teeming with Japanese ships, and I’m in danger of getting pinned down in this small island chain. Worse still, I’m pointing the wrong way, and can only get a single gun on the nearest target.

Moving into deeper water, I start coming under heavy attack, and tap away at the fire suppression systems before my ammo stores catch. But it’s enough to get more guns on target, and I start returning some heavy hitters of my own. Wargaming tells me that they’re looking at keeping rate and control of fire as historically accurate as possible, but also want it to be a fun game. That’s understandable – I feel like I’m in the thick of it, but that I still have options if I can keep this armor-clad bathtub afloat.

It’s then that I notice the sun has moved, dropping lower in the sky and bathing the clouds in an orange-red glow, gleaming as it hits the water and scatters. It’s all presented using the studio’s proprietary BigWorld engine, with a full suite of weather effects already in the pipeline. The sight is enough to distract me, before the pulse of incoming torpedoes brings me back to the fight.

For a game currently in early alpha, the St. Petersburg-based team has already managed to cram a lot into World of Warships, including six giant maps and 75 ships. That fleet includes battleships, aircraft carriers, destroyers and cruisers, each with their own perks and play styles. Each ship takes between 6 and 9 months to create, drawing on an extensive range of documentation, photographs and other reference material to produce an accurate model that’s made up of some 500 thousand polygons. And while the game will only include US and Japanese ships at launched, other nations will make an appearance, including those like Brazil that never got beyond blueprints.

I’m then shown a couple of neat tricks. By bringing up the map, I can set up to three patrol waypoints, charting a course for my vessel. While this is great for getting around, it’s disastrous in the heat of battle, as it makes your ship movement very predictable. And although I can zoom in before firing the cannons, I can also follow those same projectiles as they speed toward their target, helping me get my aim perfect.

It’s enough to lead me to victory, with the team mopping up the rest of the Japanese forces. And, while there’s a queue building behind me, I’m itching to play again. The action hasn’t been fast-paced or frantic, but I’ve definitely felt immersed in the experience. Unfortunately,  Wargaming weren’t sharing their course plans for World of Warships, except to say that it’ll sail into both closed and open beta phases before finally launching. At the moment, it’s down to refining the experience – several changes had been made between E3 and Gamescom, particularly with improved camera management.

When it finally comes out of Dry Dock, World of Warships will also likely use a similar approach to other games in the series, including the classic 15 vs. 15, although other modes are also being tabled. It’ll also be using the same flexible free-to-play model that the firm has championed previously. But even though we probably won’t know more until later this year, I’m definitely looking forward to getting back on the bridge.

Gareth Harmer / When he's not blasting or fireballing his way through a virtual world, Gareth "Gazimoff" Harmer can be found dissecting the mechanics of online games. Chua at heart, he's also our resident columnist for all things WildStar.