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World of Warships: Hands On With Submarines

Mitch Gassner Posted:
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Players got their first taste of submarine warfare in World of Warships with last year’s special Halloween event, and now Wargaming has announced that submarines will be coming as the fifth playable ship class to the game. The submarines ability to submerge and resurface in unexpected places to unleash a sneak attack behind enemy lines adds a new dimension to the flat earth gameplay we have all been accustomed to. Destroyers will also be getting some new mechanics of their own to counter this new threat.

During a preview event for the recently launched World of Warships: Legends (PS4 and Xbox One) at Wargaming’s Austin studio, I was treated to some hands on time with the new submarine and destroyer mechanics. Read on to find out what I learned.

Balance Of Power

Balancing the power and gameplay of submarines has been a hot topic on the World of Warships Reddit since  Wargaming announced that subs would be coming to the game. During the presentation we saw the lengths the team is going through to get it right. Whether it’s just adding a new ship to the game or a whole new class like the subs it all starts with months of research on the ships. For the subs being added that included everything from historical researchers hunting down blueprints and other technical data to making the trip to visit floating museums of the actual ships where possible. From there it goes into the planning phase of how a ship will fit into the game and the 3D modeling of the ships. Then, and only then, do they actually start on the content phase of the project.


“This is where we actually start making it into the mechanics of the game. This is where the armor of the game, the damage model of it, and then finally the ballistics of how it’s going to work,” said Ray Haslip, Regional Publishing Producer for World of Warships in North America. He continued, “That can take several weeks because that is actually making the ship appropriate for the game. Then finally comes balancing. Now this is going to be based on player feedback, Supertester feedback, and community feedback once we lead it into the public test.”

The balancing Ray mentioned is what most players are concerned about. While some are taking the announcement to mean the testing phase will be very short to get the subs into the game as quickly as possible, the truth is it will be much longer than they are speculating. As mentioned last week, testing will start soon with the closed testing from the Supertester group (NDA enforced, so don’t expect to hear much) followed by an extended open testing period. All of this is expected to last through the rest of the year, with the full release of the submarine class into the live game sometime in 2020.

Diving Deep Into Sub Gameplay

During my hands on time I was able to get a feel for the current mechanics of the sub class. For anyone who has spent time with WoWS the basic controls haven’t changed. Subs have the same movement keys and camera controls as any other ship. They also use the same basic torpedo mechanics as other ships with one added function we will cover later.

There wasn’t a need to reinvent the wheel here, but there are a few new mechanics that submariners (and destroyers} will have to master. The most obvious change is the ability to submerge, and all other functionality revolves around this. Subs will be able to operate at three depths:


All of the basic controls are here, and everything operates just like a surface ship. Expect to have a maximum cruising speed of 17-30 knots depending on which sub you are in, with a turning radius similar to that of battleships. On the surface you can be detected by all normal means, but due to your smaller size you have concealment similar to a destroyer (minus the smoke of course). You don’t have a deck gun so the only weapons available are your torpedoes, 2 forward and 1 aft.

Periscope depth

Hitting the ‘C’ button will begin your descent to periscope depth. You have greater concealment at this depth but you can still be hit at this depth by shells and torpedoes but pinpoint accuracy is needed. You still have full visibility with regular camera movement, but there are some negative side effects of submerging. Your maximum speed is reduced by 50% and you begin using up a very important resource - oxygen. If you allow your oxygen to become depleted you will perform an emergency blow and find yourself easy pickings for any ship nearby. Oxygen can be replenished while on the surface but it is extremely slow, so don’t expect to add much to the amount of time you can spend submerged during a match.

Periscope depth also grants you an additional ability - hydro-acoustic waves. After launching a torpedo you can send out a wave to ping the target ship. Successfully hitting one of two target points will engage the torpedoes homing mode, effectively altering the course of the torpedo to adjust for any evasive maneuvers. A second successful ping will then submerge the torpedo, allowing it to hit the target below the surface for increased damage and chance of flooding. Like every new mechanic introduced with the subs there is a downside: using the hydro-acoustic wave will immediately alert all enemies to your position.

Deep Water

Tapping ‘C’ will send you down to your lowest depth possible (hitting ‘F’ will take you up a level). Your speed is once again cut in half, and although you still have use of your external camera the distance you can see is limited. You will also lose the ability to detect nearby ships for yourself and the rest of your team although you can see ship hulls as they pass over your position. This lack of visibility goes both ways, though,  leaving you undetectable by the enemy.  You are no longer susceptible to normal attacks (more on how destroyers can hunt you down in a minute), but the trade off is you are not able to launch torpedoes either. Just like in all those war movies you’ve seen, going deep is your one chance to evade the enemy and re-position for another attack.

Alas, going deep doesn’t make you invulnerable. This is where destroyers and their use of depth charges comes into play. When you dive deep your last known position will be marked on the map. Any destroyer coming across this ‘hunter circle’ will then receive another ping along your route. If they catch you then all bets are off as they automatically drop depth charges and it’s game over. Going lone wolf will make you easy prey so each sub captain will have to weigh the risk vs. reward of leaving the safety net offered by other friendly ships.

Final Observations

As I mentioned earlier, gameplay balance has been a concern of many players since the submarine announcement last week. Although I only had a couple of hours to test out the subs I was able to get a good feel for how Wargaming is doing on finding a place for subs in the game, and I am glad to say it feels like they are headed in the right direction. Every new gameplay mechanic that could be considered overpowered has a good counter and each running depth has its own unique positive and negative effects. There is enough meat to the mechanics for both submariners and destroyer captains to formulate multiple strategies.

No matter how hard the Wargaming team tries, I am positive players will find a way to break the game. Gamers are always unpredictable, and if they don’t throw a curveball or twenty at the dev team I will be disappointed. How the devs respond will ultimately determine the success or failure of the new ship.

My first impressions with sub warfare were positive, but I had a few ideas and tweaks I would like to see in the future. Right off the bat I wanted some control over where on the map I started and at what depth I would begin the battle. Obviously starting on the enemies side of the map wouldn’t work, but destroyer captains will quickly learn the few starting positions available, and the flexibility to pick from a few different starting position would give a little more surprise to your first attack.

Another change would be to the fully submerged view. Totally blacking out the screen may be more realistic than the current 3rd person view but isn’t really feasible since players would frown upon staring at a blank screen. A good compromise would be limiting the viewing angle. Instead of allowing full rotation of the camera, limiting the range to a forward facing cone of 30-40 degrees would still allow players to see while adding to that feeling of claustrophobia and vulnerability of the unknown.

The final thing I thought of during our playtime is just how much submarines lend themselves to additional PVE and PVP modes. Wolf Pack warfare against convoys with destroyer escorts, whether player or AI controlled, would be a blast, as would sub versus sub battles. While neither of those were being worked on at this time (I asked) with special events like the Warships in Space or the recently completed Rogue Wave anything is possible.


Mitch Gassner

Part-time game reviewer, full-time gaming geek. Introduced to Pac-Man and Asteroids at a Shakey's Pizza in the '70s and hooked on games ever since.