World of Warships hands-on: captaining a warship is easier than it looks

Written by Chris Norris-Jones

As a kid I always wanted to one day command a battleship. That dream died when I couldn't tell port from starboard. Thankfully, didn't ask me about my nautical background when I got a chance to sit down with a demo of World of Warships , the latest in its line of free-to-play World War II explosion simulators.

World of Warships takes the team-based vehicular multiplayer template from World of Tanks and puts it to sea. Initially focused on PvP, Wargaming is also looking into including player versus AI modes, which is what I got a chance to try.

My demo opened on the ship selection menu, staring straight at a massive battleship in the water. There were three different warships available in my demo, with enough differences to make them feel like distinct character classes as much as vehicle variants. Battleships are slow but hit hard, while destroyers play as scout units, dealing massive damage with torpedoes but dropping quickly in a firefight. Cruisers split the difference, fitting the medium armor and damage role.

If for some reason you consider yourself more of an armchair Nimitz and less a naval Rambo, World of Warships will also have available a fourth and final vessel type, the aircraft carrier. While not available in my demo, Wargaming told me the carrier will have very little weaponry of its own, but will instruct teammates on their movements and coordinate strategy, all while spewing out warplanes to swarm opposing vessels.

There will be more than 75 vessels in the final release, from both American and Japanese fleets, all of which have unique stats and weapon loadouts. Some battleships may be faster than others, for example, or a certain type of cruiser could come with torpedo tubes. And in typical Wargaming mode, each ship will also all be fully customizable, although the team tells me the scope and depth of each vessel's customization is still being developed.

Every ship will have as many as 500 different separate parts, from gun turrets to engines, decks to rudders—all of which can be separately damaged or destroyed. A well placed shot directly on an enemy vessel's main gun, for example, can knock it out of commision for the duration of the ten-minute match. Or if an enemy aircraft carrier's planes are harassing to your team, a high-explosive round going off on their deck could set it on fire, leaving them unable to send out additional aircraft.

I chose a Japanese destroyer for my round, and set out of port. While the seascape was beautiful, the vessel itself is the graphical focus. It tore through the water and shuddered when firing, just as I'd expect from an era-accurate warship. A developer told me each specific ship used more than 270,000 polygons, and required months of research and design before it was complete. The effort showed as the destroyer rumbled through the ocean.

The controls feel familiar to anyone who's played a modern FPS. Warships uses standard shooter controls: WASD moved my ship through the water, and aiming is controlled with the mouse. There were a number of different ammo loadouts and weapon types set to hotkeys, as well as utility actions such as repairing damaged vessel sections.

World of Warships makes line-of-sight extremely important, and fog-of-war shared within both teams. This, combined with the differing vessel classes, leads to a number of strategic opportunities, such as organizing your faster destroyers to scout ahead, sight enemy vessels, and relay that to the rest of the team. Meanwhile the haymaker that is your team's battleships can angle into proper position to try and catch your opponents off guard. All vessels will also be able to use the map to set waypoints, to better plot out movements and tactics on the fly.

My own strategy helming a destroyer, however, could be classified best as “run-and-gun.” I bolted forward—alone—into the enemy's position, managed to get a few shots off, and was just about to send out my torpedoes on a battleship's broadside when I quickly sunk. I was told my lone wolf “strategy” likely wouldn't win me many matches (or praise from teammates), but it's still possible for some to play like a shooter and ignore the more strategic elements. Just not recommended.

It's gorgeous and easy to play, but my demo left me feeling with many unanswered questions. Wargaming isn't sharing details on what the team size limits will be for a match, or details on any of the game's additional modes, nor any details on customizing and upgrading vessels. And when asked about what the game's monetization plan would be, it wasn't ready to go into any detail. While none of this detracts from what I saw, I would have liked a bit more information on specific details about the game. I am also still not convinced about World of Warships more strategic elements, particularly around the described “RTS elements” of the aircraft carrier class. What I played felt far more fast and arcade-y than strategic.

What Wargaming would tell me is that it hopes to put World of Warships into closed beta by the end of the year. By then, we should know more on the strategic elements the team wants to put in place, and if the experience will continue to feel more like a shooter than a sim.

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