I hate destroyers.
These nimble, speedy ships may be small, but with their torpedoes, no battleship is safe in World of Warships — even if you’re at the helm of some of the steel behemoths that roamed the seas at the end of World War II. I have plenty of first-hand experience with this after playing Wargaming’s third free-to-play multiplayer online shooter (in its closed beta, open beta, and now release states), watching dozens of times as my battleships and cruisers blew up in my face.
But destroyers are not undefeatable, and as I learned better tactics for battleships and cruisers, I found ways to weave through their walls of torpedoes and send them to the bottom. And if you’re clever (or just good), you can sink them first. And I also learned even more about why players enjoy team-based shooters so much — yes, this is a shooter, even if you’re firing naval rifles instead of infantry guns.
I also discovered just how annoying an objective-based game can be when you’re trying to learn how to play new ships on a regular basis. And you’ll like World of Warships even more if you go premium and plunk out some cash for this free-to-play game.
What you’ll like
Wargaming prides itself on replicating the looks of its units as well as it can. The work shows, especially when it comes to the replication of vessels that are still afloat, such as the Russian cruiser Aurora (which is just down the street from the publisher’s St. Petersberg studio) and the U.S. battleships Texas and Iowa. It sends camera crews to document these museum ships, down to the the fittings you may not even see in the game.
The designers go a step further, contacting naval departments, museums, and other sources to get the blueprints and as many other documents as possible to help it replicate the ships. This results in ships that are true to their historical counterparts — you can see specific pieces of hardware on a deck or even rivets holding armor plates together.
A mostly congenial player base
Wargaming’s players (at least in my encounters) don’t come into chat and just start throwing around ethnic slurs and F-bombs. As ships are powering up their engines, it’s common for someone to wish all players luck — and you’ll see others return the good wishes. Others applaud good moves, type a “gg” as their ship sinks, and offer other bits of sportsmanlike chat.
Every now and then, you’ll get a jerk who complains about their teammates “playing like idiots” or someone who picks a fight with a player from the other team in chat. But I keep thinking upon a few matches: In one, a veteran carrier player provided tips on how to play the ship to a neophyte. In a number of other bouts, players coordinated with me on placement and plans of attack.
And my favorite: I got a “BRUTAL!!!” when my poor St. Louis, burning in multiple places and with its main battery knocked out, slammed straight into an opponent’s unscathed destroyer — and sent both ships to the bottom.
You even get some fun player names, like battleship player I saw with the handle “Igetkildalot.” (I can sympathize with him.)
As I continued playing over the six weeks, the player base remained mostly helpful. You will still get jerks, but mostly, I found others were willing to answer questions and coordinate in chat.
Will Wright called World of Tanks “a first-person shooter an old person like myself can play” almost two years ago while onstage at our GamesBeat 2013 conference. In many ways, World of Warships is even better suited to those who don’t care for games that require twitch reflexes.
Plowing straight into the fray when you’re not at the helm of a destroyer is the best way to get your ship sunk. Cruisers are adapt at the scouting role, but they are support vessels; think of them as the backup that hangs behind the destroyers, ready to help sink whatever ships they find as they sprint ahead on the hunt.
Battleships must hang back — or they can feast on a hullful of torpedoes. And carriers must always find a place to hide, sending up waves of fighters and bombers to support their fleet (and sink the enemy).
So, how do you keep yourself from rushing across the map, when you’re not a destroyer? Best thing to do is buddy up: A lot of players don’t coordinate with their teammates, so talk to yours, or if no one is answering, shadow a couple of vessels. Form a battleline, with cruisers escorting the battleships and looking for opportunities to chase off destroyers and chew into the armor of the battlewagons (as some lovingly refer to battleships).
I rather like this measured approach. I like planning, and while I get that players in other shooters do carry out plans, I’ve always found the frantic shooting to be beyond me. Here, I can compete and even last to the end of the match.
Over six weeks of playing, I learned that cruisers take the most patience. These are fast, and they can smash destroyers, but they have issues when they get too close to battleships. Get under a battlewagon’s guns, those, and you can humble one of these floating fortresses.
Rewards for more than just sinking ships
Some players aren’t going to have chances to sink ships. Sometimes, it doesn’t even make sense to do so, especially if you’re in an older, weaker vessel. Instead, World of Warships rewards you for defending the base or for helping to grab an objective. You still get lots of XP for sinking your foes, but you can also do well by snagging objectives. Pair both together and you can get more than 1,000 XP in a match — and when some ships requires thousands of experience points to research, that’s important.
What you won’t like
Obsolete ships are boring — and deadly to you
One bad thing about World of Warships’ matchmaking system: It puts worn-out rust buckets against ships decades more advanced. And this sucks.
Let’s look at the United States’ Tier 3 cruiser, the St. Louis. It was designed in 1900, making it a predreadnought-era ship (the point in warship development that revolutionized ship design with the “all gun” battleship). The designers wisely kept such obsolete predreadnought battleships on the sidelines, as they’d be underpowered, underarmored, and outgunned. But they didn’t do so with cruisers.
Sporting a 6-inch guns instead of 8-inch guns that were standard for cruisers even then, the St. Louis was supposed to give up armament for speed. But the idiots who designed the class added more armor so it could be a “protected” cruiser (the terminology is so archaic, showing that this sort of cruiser shouldn’t even be in a game that sports dreadnoughts). Yet shortly after launch, the vessels were considered to be underprotected. So the ships were undergunned, underarmored, and slow. How bad were they as fighting vessels? The U.S. Navy used the St. Louis as a troop transport and escort, not a warship, in World War I.
Now, when you’re battling lower-tier ships — Tier 1 to Tier 3 vessels — the St. Louis can hold its own. It can survive even against a South Carolina-class dreadnought battleship, another Tier 3 ship, in the right hands.
But thrown into a battle with Tier 4 and Tier 5 vessels? You might was well just hang back — or ram a destroyer. The ship doesn’t have the armament to chew into a battleship nor the speed to be much of a deterrent to more advanced destroyers or cruisers. And it feels awful when you’re in a battle and you note you and one other person on the opposite teams are the only ones with such obsolete ships. The matchmaking should prevent such bouts — but because it’s looking to balance both ships and players, it throws you into a gunfight with a rusty knife sometime.
Figuring out your main guns’ range is hard
Historical accuracy is important to Wargaming, but sometimes, it has to make concessions for gameplay. The range of your main cannons is sometimes hard to figure out because of this.
Let’s take a 12-inch naval rifle. These usually could reach a maximum range of nearly 23,000 meters. But if Wargaming replicated the reach of these massive guns, battleships would have an such an advantage that they could hit targets in many areas on many maps, rendering most tactics moot. This reduced range further renders older ships ineffective — the same St. Louis class that I bemoaned above had a maximum range of 14,000 meters, but in World of Warships, it can barely hit targets within 10,000 meters.
You ship has a circle around it showing you the range on the map, but this is sometimes hard to gauge. You must also take your ship’s speed and course over your target’s as you fire as well — this is critical when facing destroyers. Wargaming doesn’t give you many tools to help you figure this out. You have to play a lot of games with a specific ship to figure it out.
Going Premium makes a difference
I don’t mind buying microtransactions in a free-to-play game, but some players don’t want to do so. Yet it makes sense to go Premium if you plan on playing daily — you get twice the experience if you buy this 30 day “subscription,” and that helps you get higher-tier ships quicker.
Some may frown at this, seeing it as buying experience points — but if you aren’t good and don’t contribute to your team’s victory, you’re still going to gather XP at a slow rate even if you are premium.
World of Warships builds on Wargaming’s worldwide hit, World of Tanks. It offers something no other game does — seeing what happens when some of the biggest, most impressive naval vessels ever built (or designed, in some cases, of ships that existed just as blueprints in history but are in the game) take on each other.
It has some issues with the how it matches up players and modifies naval history for game mechanics. But it’s a strong complement to World of Tanks, giving those of us who loved these massive, beautiful ships a chance to take our model-making hobby to another level and play with the ships we love in a game. It’s also a lot of fun to play, and some of the battles can be intense — and it feels great to slug it out with another ship and sink it because your navigation and accuracy is better than those of the other player.
Just remember it pays to go Premium for at least one month if you plan on making this something you play regularly.
World of Warships is now available. The publisher provided GamesBeat with closed beta access before it released, but the reviewer used his own money to test the microtransactions.