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First Impressions - A Capable Fleet

Chris Swain Posted:
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The seas are silent as my gunboat, the Hashidate, glides across the smooth deep blue waves. To my starboard side I see the USS South Carolina towering above the rest of our fleet. The mere presence of the battleship strengthens my resolve. I cut around an island, skirting the perimeter of our capture objective only to find I am now in range of enemy artillery. As I scramble to get my cruiser positioned to fire, the Carolina unleashes a devastating barrage toward our foe. I navigate my ship closer to the Carolina in hopes that the bigger target will draw my fire while we attempt to hold our freshly won objective. But the enemy is not distracted and my ship is pelted with rounds from at least three enemies. While she is fast and delivers a quick rate of fire, the Hashidate is light on armor and the cruiser explodes into a million pieces. As I sink to the bottom of the Pacific, I’m already thinking of ways to spend my XP to upgrade my cruiser. And, perhaps someday even purchase a battleship of my own. At least the Carolina holds her ground and my fleet wins the match.

This is the beta of World of Warships, a quick, brutal, naval combat game from wargaming.net, the makers of World of Tanks and World of Warplanes. Using its familiar free-to-play model, wargaming.net delivers another facet of warfare focused on dominating the high seas. Warships offers four types of vessel with which to destroy your enemies: cruisers, battleships, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. Each ship type has its benefits. Cruisers have varied load outs to offer a large combination of options for the player. Additionally, the class’s high rate of fire make it an easy go-to for new players getting used to naval warfare. Destroyers are the fastest ships and while they have light armor, they are armed with torpedoes which can be devastating when used properly. Destroyers also have the ability to use smoke screens to hide teammates or cover up their own torpedo assaults. Aircraft carriers provide support to the fleet through scout planes, dive bombers, torpedo bombers, and fighter planes to defend against enemy carriers. Finally, the battleship is the “tank of the ocean.” Battleships have tons of armor and devastating firepower but move slower as a result.

Each of the four classes of ship have a wide array of upgrades which can be purchased with experience points. As you play a match you gain XP. At port, you can purchase modules for your ship as you work toward upgrading it for maximum effectiveness. Beyond upgrading ships, players can research and purchase new vessels as they move through the tech tree. Additionally, three nations are currently available: Japan, U.S.S.R., and the U.S.A. While the ship selection varies from nation to nation properly representing historically accurate vessels, teams are not limited by nation. So a team might consist of ships from all three nations or only one. While this affords greater balance to the gameplay, it does feel odd as your Japanese cruiser sails toward battle alongside a U.S.A. battleship.

The modules are critical, as a vanilla version of each ship is less capable than one with upgrades. While this may seem obvious, I tried saving my XP to research another ship rather than upgrading the modules at first and paid the price. The upgrades expand your hit points, extend you weapon range and rate of fire, as well as increase your ship speed. Each of these tweaks are worth the cost as you progress through matches. They do make a difference in your effectiveness and you will want to provide all the help you can to your team as you battle through your first several matches.

The battlefield is critical in a game focused on strategic combat and the Warships beta offers eight maps ranging from pacific islands, to land-free ocean, to iceberg filled polar waters. Each map has one or more win conditions which generally consist of killing the enemy or taking and holding objectives until the opponent’s points drop to zero. While eight maps are good, there really do need to be more types of environmental effects to ensure battles don’t get stale. Some fog or rain would provide an interesting twist, but the maps do provide a basic environment in which the battles play out well. Navigating the battlefield is as easy as navigating large warships should be. It takes time to maneuver, but not so much it feels wonky. Warships even added an auto-pilot mode that allows players to get a global view of the map and pre-select a preferred route. While on auto-pilot players can attack as desired, allowing for full focus to go toward combat if the player so chooses.

Warships gameplay is really easy to understand. Without any prior knowledge of the game, players know what they need to do to win and the battlefields are laid out nicely to provide a level of strategic depth. That said, combat itself can be a bit difficult to learn. Leading enemy ships is made easier by the targeting reticule’s horizontal assistance but, as with any game, players will need to spend time getting things down. This doesn’t take more than four or five games to accomplish, but can feel so awkward upon first play that some might decide they don’t like the game before they give it a fair chance. Wargaming.net does a nice job providing instruction in the download screen so players can understand the game’s mechanics prior to launching in, but a tutorial is needed if players are going to feel like they have a grasp of the basics before playing with others. That said, it is the beta and wargaming.net has delivered on tutorial stages in both World of Tanks and World of Warplanes.

Another aspect of the gameplay that can be a challenge in any multiplayer game is communication with one’s team. I rarely communicated with anyone during my battles. Other than an occasional cry of help or a warning to watch out in chat, others preferred to remain quiet as well. Even in a division, Warships grouping apparatus, the communication stayed a warning or “help me” level. The game’s signal flag system will probably take care of this, but to date it is only available to level 7 players, which looks to take quite a bit of playing to accomplish.

Speaking of levels, I do like the system Warships has in place. As players play through battles they earn XP and progress through 8 tiers. Each tier opens up new options for players such as the ability to play other real players versus bots, random missions, the aforementioned signal flags, and other perks. The system delivers a pretty nice level of progression in an otherwise battle-centric game. The one caveat being the time it takes to get to each tier. For some gamer types this is a great thing; for casuals, this is a bit more daunting. That said, it doesn’t feel unachievable and the matchmaking ensures players will battle within their tier to prevent a lopsided experience.

The bottom line on gameplay for World of Warships is that the game provides a quality experience for those interested in naval combat. Those who aren’t into the plodding maneuvering of ships on the ocean and the proficiency to master long range artillery will probably want to pass. That said, I fall into the latter camp but really grew to enjoy the game as I developed in skill and began to understand the way naval warfare works. It is a slower pace than a typical shooter. Less volatile that World of Tanks and much slower paced than World of Warplanes. But, it feels perfect for a naval game. Wargaming.net looks to have created a great alternative experience that fits well within their catalog of games.

Warships looks pretty good, too. The graphics certainly won’t win any awards or break any new ground, but the game looks great and appears to scale well for lower end machines. Explosions and fires blaze, waves crash against your ship, the islands look like more than just blobs in the ocean. When I fire up my engines, I can see the propellers spin to life under the water. The game sounds good as well. Music builds as the match loads, the sounds of the ocean and shells smashing into hulls just feel right. However, the lame nasally voice that informs the players when they go into auto-pilot really needs to change. It almost sounds like the developer just said, “Hey, I’ll handle this, we don’t need a professional.” Even with this in mind, the sound and visuals help accomplish the game’s goal of creating a naval war environment.  And again, the game is in beta, perhaps the voice work is placeholder.

Like each of the games in the “World of” series by wargaming.net, the game is free-to-play with the usage of exchange credits and doubloons to pay for things like ship slots, and what can assumed as cosmetic and other services that don’t impact the game itself. Players who have a premium account with wargaming.net will be get premium access to Warships as well.

The beta of World of Warships looks like it is headed in the right direction. Balance issues, little details, and a tutorial beyond videos on the website, will help deliver a great naval warfare gaming experience. The biggest challenge Warships has to overcome is how it will get the masses to join the game, those that might be interested but not as immersed in the concept of naval warfare. Those who are willing to dive in might find that Warships, like the oceans upon which its battles take place, has more under the surface than is first apparent. Anyone mildly interested should give this game a shot.


Chris Swain