Wargaming has gone a long way since the time in which it used to release small strategy games. The massively popular World of Tanks basically created its own genre, prompting the publisher to release World of Warplanes, which unfortunately wasn’t very good and didn’t manage to replicate the success of its predecessor.
They say “third time’s a charm,” and now Wargaming has released World of Warships, adding the last stage to the land, air and sea trilogy.
The first thing that jumps to the eyes when you start World of Warships up is that it’s a really, really pretty game. The models of the ships are beautifully detailed and the environments and lighting make every scene the perfect screenshot material.
To be fair, this probably isn’t too hard to achieve, considering that the engine has to render a quite limited number of models, but the result is definitely very pleasing, as you can see in the screenshots included in this review. They’re no bullshots. They’re all taken from my own battles by using the replay feature. What you see is what you get.
Incidentally, the replay feature is not implemented officially, and you’ll have to fiddle with the files to activate it. The replay controls are also quite awkward. Considering that the game is extremely technical, the feature is very useful to learn from your past battles. The half baked implementation of replays is definitely a problem, that hopefully Wargaming will soon solve.
Back to the graphics, as you have probably noticed, the only little problem with the game’s visuals is that the anti-aliasing really struggles to cope with the many cables that decorate the ships, even at maximum settings.
The audio part of the game is adequate, but not exceptional. Music is reasonably atmospheric, and sound effects do their job, but the voice acting is monotonous and at time misleading on what is actually happening. You’ll often hear “The enemy team has taken the lead” when they really haven’t, simply because they captured more flags, even if your team is way ahead in points.
Little technical flaws aside, gameplay is what really makes a free to play title like this shine or die, and luckily World of Warships offers a quite unique and definitely satisfying experience.
The basic concept of the game is fairly simple: two teams of ships are matched against one another, and need to either reach 1000 points by destroying enemy ships and capturing flags, or completely annihilate the enemy team.
The reality of the game, though, is that World of Warships isn’t simple at all, and if you underestimate its mechanics, you’ll end up decorating the bottom of the sea after a couple of minutes of each battle.
If you’re used to World of Tanks, you better prepare for a completely different style of gameplay. While the game is very far from a simulator, just like with real ships, control inputs take quite a while to take full effect.
If you order full speed ahead, acceleration will take quite a few seconds. Your rudder will shift slowly, and your ship will respond to it even slower. To that you have to add the fact that turrets take time to turn on your intended target. And that’s even thirty or more seconds if you’re on the heaviest battleships. I’m really not joking here: if you want to handle the biggest guns fired in anger by mankind, prepare to wait a long while before they’re lined up with your victims.
I’m sure that many, used to twitchier gameplay, will instinctively think “how boring!” But here is the deal: it really isn’t.
The semi-realistic slow execution of your instructions forces you to think tactically at all times. Mastering the art of the ship captain requires you to always be two steps ahead not only of the enemy, but also of your own actions.
To bring a very simple example, if you can predict the side of your ship that will face the most enemies, you can start turning your guns in that direction. That can make the difference between spending just a few seconds refining your aim, and waiting for half a minute under enemy shelling, without being able to return fire because your weapons were pointed at empty sea.
An extremely precious skill in World of Warships is being able to read the flow of the battle. If you manage to understand beforehand where your enemies and allies will go, you can plan ahead and position your ship in the most advantageous place, facing the best direction, with your guns already trained towards your victims. The difference between effectively predicting what is coming and playing catch-up, will almost inevitably determine whether you’ll win or loose.
Even when your guns are aimed at the right direction, hitting your target isn’t exactly easy. Shells don’t just hit the target in your crosshair like in a normal shooter. They follow a semi-realistic ballistic trajectory, and at extreme distances they’ll take over ten seconds to hit their destination. This means that you’ll have to learn to give your shots the right lead, predicting where you’ll target will be in the time necessary for your shells to reach the impact point.
Wasting shots isn’t exactly a good idea, mind you, as some of the bigger guns will take ages to reload. If you waste all your batteries hitting empty water, and then you have to wait thirty seconds to get more shells in the air, you’re going to die really quickly.
This also leads to the problem of having to predict what you’re going to be firing at, because different targets require different ammunition. If you have the wrong kind in your barrels, you’ll find yourself having to go through a full reload cycle before you can damage your target effectively.
You can fire either high explosive or armor piercing ammunition. High explosive ammo deals less damage, but its effectiveness is rather flat on all ships. It also has a chance to set your target on fire, causing consistent damage until the flames are extinguished.
Inexperienced captains often think that they can fire high explosive ammo at everything, allowing them to cause damage with every hit, but truth is that such a course of action is highly ineffective, unless you are on a lightly armed destroyer.
Armor piercing shells have much higher damage potential, provided that you can penetrate your target effectively. This means that you’ll have to constantly predict (yes, you’re reading this word a lot in this review, because World of Warships is indeed a game of prediction) what target you’ll fire at next, and whether your guns are big enough to penetrate its armor. If they aren’t, then you better start loading those HE shells.
Armor penetration is a whole little game in its own right. If you’re shooting AP shells, the game will match them against the armor of the area that you’ll manage to hit. If you hit the top of the deck due to long distance plunging fire, penetrations will be easier even against heavily armored ships.
If you hit the sides, things become more complex: the more the trajectory is perpendicular to the armor plating, the more it’ll have a chance to penetrate. The reason is simple: if your shell hits at an angle, it’ll have to go through more armor in order to pass through. The more angled the hit is, the more armor, the less penetration chance there will be.
Ideally, in order to effectively penetrate heavily armored ships, you’ll want to fire at them when they’re showing you their full broadside. Of course that also means that they can fire more of their guns at you at the same time.
An additional caveat of armor angling, is that if you hit the side of an enemy ship from extreme distances, the shell will come almost vertically, creating an extreme angle with the armor plating and maximizing the chance of it bouncing off harmlessly.
Lastly, you can also use armor angling as a defensive technique. If you’re under fire, and your opponent is shelling you with armor piercing ammo, you can angle your ship as much as possible, maximizing the chance that his shells will fail to penetrate your own armor plates.
Once your shell finally got inside that pesky enemy ship, there’s still more to consider. If you manage to hit the areas of the engines or of the ammunition magazines, which are generally under the smokestacks and under the turrets, you’ll score a citadel penetration. That will deliver devastating damage to your opponent, possibly even one-shotting smaller ships, or those that already suffered some damage.
On the other hand, if you fire large armor piercing shells at lightly armored targets like destroyers, they will actually overpenetrate. That means that they will pass clean through the whole ship, and deal little to no damage.
On top of your cannons, certain ships are also equipped with torpedoes, which are the potentially most lethal weapons in the game. They can deliver devastating damage, but they’re easier to avoid, and require very careful aiming.
Torpedoes involve the additional problem of friendly fire. All weapons in the game can cause damage to friendly targets, but in most cases you have to aim at someone intentionally in order to hit him with your cannons. Torpedos are more of a “fire and forget” weapon, and they’re much slower than shells. If your line of fire isn’t completely clear of friendlies, this can result in the very unpleasant situation in which a ship on your own team that is focusing on its own target might steer into your deadly fishes and get blown up.
For this reason, destroyer and cruiser captains that tend to fire their torps without paying attention to their surroundings are particularly despised within the community.
The tactical situation is, of course, made even more complex by the presence of islands that can act as cover and block line of sight. Even when line of sight is clear, every ship has a minimum range at which can be spotted, and that increases if they’re firing their guns. This means that you won’t always see the enemy, unless you’re close enough. Efficient scouting and spotting is crucial to the victory of a team.
While the mechanics of the game can be approached very scientifically, there is still a random element in the effect of your attacks. A perfectly aimed shell can still miss if the random number generator doesn’t go your way, due to shot scattering, while a slightly badly aimed one can still land right on target if if the game generates a favorable number. This adds a degree of variety to the situations you’ll encounter, but a sizable part of the community sees it as potentially unfair.
I talked about smaller and bigger ships, and this brings classes into the picture: in World of Warships you can play destroyers, cruisers, battleships and carriers, and that choice changes the title’s gameplay massively.
Destroyers are your light scouts. They have paper armor, generally small guns, but they are extremely fast and nimble. They also have the smallest spotting range, and loads of deadly torpedoes. This means that they’re basically World of Warships‘ stealth ships.
The basic tactic with most destroyers is to stay just outside of the spotting range, completely invisible to the enemy, carefully aim your torpedoes, and deliver devastating stealth attacks before slipping away undetected. Of course, this is easier said than done, but very, very effective and satisfying when you can pull it out.
Cruisers are bigger and better armored, they carry bigger guns, and they’re the most flexible ships in the game. They have enough armor to withstand some punishment, guns big enough to deal it, some of them even have torpedoes, and they often come with powerful anti-aircraft armament, giving them the ability to escort other ships that are less protected from air attacks.
Battleships are your heavies. They have massive armor and massive guns. The biggest battleships can fire enormous shells all the way to the other side of the map. The problem is that they’re also as fast and maneuverable as a turtle. They’re the class of ship that will require the most predicting, the most patience and the most tactical thinking. Yet, those massive broadsides literally blowing enemy ships out of the water are extremely satisfying.
Aircraft carriers are basically a whole game of their own. They have no offensive guns, and they rely on dive bombers and torpedo bombers to attack other ships, and on fighters to defend their aircraft squadrons and to shoot down enemy attack planes. They’re played from a top-down perspective, and their gameplay is more similar to an RTS than to an action game.
I would define aircraft carriers an acquired taste. I find them really fun to play, especially because they afford me a wider control of the battlefield. Yet, I know many that find their gameplay dreadfully boring, even because you miss on most of the eyecandy due to the perspective.
On top of the different classes, there are also tiers. You start at tier I, and you can progress up to tier X in each class and nation. The higher the tier, the bigger and more powerful the ship you’ll get to control.
In order to progress in each branch of the tech tree, you’ll have to unlock ships and their upgrades by spending experience, and then to purchase them by spending credits. Both are earned at the end of each battle, depending on your performance.
The scoring system, from which your earnings will be determined, is a little too reliant on damage done for my taste, pretty much ignoring crucial actions like spotting, and underestimating flag capture.
World of Warships is a free to play games, so the business model definitely figures in its enjoyability, and here I have good news and bad news.
The good news is that in the lower tiers you can basically play for free without a single care in the world. The bad news is that things get harder and more grindy as you advance through the tiers.
After tier VI, you basically hit a soft wall in which long weeks of grinding and a lot of patience are required to progress. Granted, being very good at the game can considerably speed up the process, but many players will probably feel that progression is too slow without the help provided by a premium account and other goodies in the cash shop.
To be fair, Wargaming is a business, so it’s pretty normal for this mechanism to be in place. They need to make money somehow. Yet, you may want to be careful, because it’s very easy to get sucked into the vicious circle of consumables, exchanging credits for doubloons and similar wallet-hurting actions that can potentially cause you to spend quite a lot more than you would on a normal buy to play game.
There’s also the sale of signal flags (that normally would be earned through high impact actions during gameplay), some of which effectively affect gameplay. They have a very limited effect, but they can definitely be defined a small “pay to win” factor. This is mostly prevalent on the European server, as different region have different items on sale.
Wargaming also loves to lock some premium ships (basically unique ships that you have to purchase) behind some very pricey bundles including doubloons, premium time and consumables. For instance, those who wanted a Tirpitz on the European servers had to drop a massive 60 Euros to get the ship together with a lot of other goodies. There was no way to purchase it on its own.
Granted, the goodies are useful, and summing everything up you’re probably still saving money. Yet, truth is that many might not want all that junk at all (without mentioning that the price of a full AAA game for a ship and some consumables seems to be really excessive), and pushing people to buy it in order to get the ship, is a practice that raised a lot of eyebrows within the community.
Ultimately, World of Warships is a truly unique game. It’s a refreshing change of pace from your usual fast-paced shooters, and the mechanics under the hood are really interesting, encouraging tactical thinking, battlefield reading, situational awareness and intelligent approach to competition.
Provided that you’re either patient or you are at least able to properly pace your spending (unless you have a lot of disposable income and don’t care about overspending on a game, I guess), Wargaming’s latest is definitely a great experience.
Even those who are bothered by the business model, can still experience the first five or six tiers of all the available nations without really needing to spend a dime, and enjoying a metric ton of great content and fun gameplay. There are some flaws here and there, but obliterating a cruiser with shells that weigh as much as a car is too satisfying to pass up.
Full Disclosure: Wargaming has kindly provided DualShockers with a press account with all the content unlocked for review purposes, but this review is actually based on the author’s own user account, that did not receive any artificial progression advantages. This was done in order to properly gauge the progression pacing, and the influence of the business model.