In the mid-2000s a simple mod reshaped the gaming world. That mod was Defense of the Ancients or “Dota” for Warcraft III. It was a simple idea: take the best parts of the RTS and MMORPG genres and mash them together into a new genre dubbed the “Massive Online Battle Arena” or “MOBA.” From that new genre sprang some of the most successful video games of all time: League of Legends, Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm, and World of Tanks. Of the games in that list, only one has spawned a spinoff: World of Tanks begat World of Warplanes. WoWarplanes was not as well received as WoTanks, but it still has a decent following. Wargaming, the company behind those two games, launched its third MOBA on September 18th of this year: World of Warships.
I started playing WoWarships in earnest since I had such a great experience with Wargaming’s first MOBA, WoTanks, which I’ve racked up several hundred glorious hours on. Unlike many of the other MOBAs, WoTanks doesn’t use knock-offs of League of Legends most common map: “Summoner’s Rift.” Maps are far more differentiated, where elevation plays a critical role, the controls are easy to learn, camouflage and cover matter, and the game feels realistic even though it isn’t. It was these qualities I hoped to find in its nautical sibling.
So, let’s take a closer look at this title and see how it stands up to Wargaming’s previous titles.
Technical Merits: The User Interface
MOBA and FPS gamers will be familiar with the controls in WoWarships. Players use the WASD keys to move forward, back, left, and right. The mouse controls the camera. Left click fires; the mouse wheel zooms in and out. It’s all very intuitive and fits the conventions of the genre. That’s good, because there are a lot of things for you to learn about your avatar once combat actually begins.
For one thing, compared to a tank, a warship has a ton of inertia. You can’t just slam on the breaks and come to a halt. You’ve got a lot of momentum going in one direction, and that’s hard to change. So, the first thing on the list of new stuff to figure out is how you use drift to your advantage.
When going full steam ahead, you have to plan in advance where you want your ship to actually stop. Islands are great spots to hide behind until you’re ready to ambush somebody. But if you glide past the edge, you’re going to expose your broadside to enemy fire. If your enemy is armed with torpedoes, that might sink your ship in a single salvo.
Also when changing directions, you have to worry about over-steer and water resistance. It takes a while to start turning and point your ship in the direction you want to go. Tapping the “A” or “D” key a couple times won’t cut it, and laying on them too long will over-correct. It takes time to learn the nuances of steering your boat in WoWarships. Wargaming simplified the physics real ships have to contend with, but still managed to capture the essence of how hard it must be to maneuver a naval vessel.
The second part of the UI that a player must acclimate to is the firing sights. Often, in WoTanks, you’ll be stationary when firing. It’s easy to line up your sights with your target which also might be motionless. In WoWarships, this is almost never the case. Ships are constantly on the move as it is so easy to be out-maneuvered. In addition, your target is often moving in an oblique direction, and if it’s a smaller ship like a destroyer, it will be moving fast. These factors make it incredibly hard at times to line up a good shot.
Players quickly become aware that they are going to have to lead an opponent. The gun sights help some, but there are a lot of little details in the crosshairs that take time to learn and understand. I’m still learning them myself. Additionally, ships can often see farther than they can fire. This can be incredibly frustrating as an enemy boat might be just a few pixels out of range and you see your shells fall impotently into the ocean to no effect. Good players will also try to position themselves within a certain range of your guns. If your shells hit the side of their hull rather than the top of their deck, they’ll do less damage. This is called the “immunity” zone in real naval combat, and Wargaming has incorporated it into the physics of its game. I’m not very good at this, so I can’t comment how well it works in practice.
Finally, players have to get used to not seeing where their shots actually go. In WoTanks, you can basically see the trajectory of your shell and note where it hits your enemy. In fact, really good players know where to place their shots to disable a tank’s main weapon, damage an engine, or knock the tracks off the wheels. WoTanks relies on a lot of precision. WoWarships has a lot more guesswork.
When firing shells, you’ll often be traveling in a line parallel to your enemy. Since you have to lead them a great deal, your sight is almost never centered on the enemy ship. It’s several inches away on the screen. As a result, when you pull the trigger, half or more of your cannons, especially those located at the stern, will fire shells you’ll never actually see. You’ll only know if they hit by watching the hitpoint indicators on your target. This can be disorienting and at times frustrating since the tiniest flaw in your aim can send shells off in wild directions that never have a chance of hitting the enemy.
Thankfully, information is displayed very clearly and efficiently making it easy to tell when you’ve hit, sunk, or disabled a ship since a corresponding icon appears in the lower left. Your ship’s health is marked in an easy to read health bar in the shape of your vessel. Unlike WoTanks, your vehicles in this game do not have hit locations. However, you can still disable guns, engines, and landing platforms with critical hits. Overall, it’s very easy to digest all the information coming at you, which is good since it can be nearly overwhelming at times.
Technical Merits: Early Game Drag
When I started WoTanks, I was stuck mostly with very weak light tanks. The maps were difficult to learn, and I often died so fast that I barely had time to internalize any information I might have gleaned from the experience. The barrier to learning was moderate-to-high, and at times, it was a real drag. WoWarships greatly improves in this area.
Starting with a cruiser (a medium-size ship) is much better than having to grind out games using weak light tanks. The hull can take a significant pounding before sinking, and there are few if any torpedoes in the beginning tiers of the game. This reduces the chance that you’re killed with a single hit to almost nil. In WoTanks, there were plenty of times I’d round a corner only to have my turret blown off!
The result is that WoWarships is much easier to learn and much less frustrating to play. You have time to take in information as it comes. You’re able to experiment with the gun sights before getting sunk. You get to land at least a few blows before the enemy takes you out. It’s a much better system.
Not only that, Wargaming has provided actual AI in this game. WoTanks is all PvP. WoWarships allows for co-op against computer-controlled opponents. Yep, PvE in a MOBA! It’s great. The AI does a decent job of playing, but isn’t outrageously aggressive. This gives new players a chance to get used to the game before taking on veterans who are trolling the low tiers trying to pick up easy credits or XP.
Within my first hour of playing WoWarships, I’d already unlocked my first new ship. By the end of the day, I had my Tier 3 American cruiser and my Tier 2 Japanese cruiser. I was well on my way to unlocking a destroyer and upgrading all my ships. I had more than enough credits and XP to do whatever I wanted. WoWarships’ early game is very enjoyable compared to its land-based counterpart.
The best part was that none of the warships felt weak. My tier 2 cruisers had lots of guns, could take plenty of punishment, and had moderate speed. I didn’t feel like a guppy in an ocean full of sharks. I felt on even footing with AI and player alike. This is a striking difference from any of the MOBAs I’ve played in the past. I think it will serve Wargaming well.
Technical Merits: Mid-game Fun
Along with tackling the early-game tedium, the developers at Wargaming have to keep people playing. They took a page from their MMORPG cousins and introduced daily quests. Once players get past Tier 2, they are presented with three daily missions. Completing these missions earns bonus credits and XP which are used to upgrade ships. These quests can only be completed in PvP battles, so it is at this point the player outgrows the AI. That’s fine. The game is supposed to be about outwitting human opponents anyway.
Furthermore, at the midgame, ships become more versatile. You get torpedoes for the first time and learning to use them is a whole new challenge. Again, the UI for these is superb and intuitive. The difficulty is concentrated in learning to time your torpedoes correctly, not wrestling with the user interface. Torpedoes add a new wrinkle that really make paying the smaller ships fun.
The mid-game also gives players access to aircraft carriers and battleships. These two classes take more practice to play correctly, so Wargaming wisely holds them off until players have had enough time to master the basics of the game. Still, it took me only a few days of playing until I was able to unlock both classes. Once again, the game never became a slog.
As of this writing, I haven’t reached the upper tiers of gameplay. It is very hard to unlock top tier ships. It took me nearly nine months of consistent play in WoTanks to max out my first Tier 10 tank (admittedly, I never focussed on a single line). I imagine it will take me quite a while to flesh out my first Tier 10 ship as well.
Technical Merits: Wargaming’s Free-to-Play Model
One thing I really appreciate about Wargaming’s Free-to-Play model is that it’s not Pay-to-Win like other massive online games. Buying a premium ship or tank does not give you the best vehicle in the battle. Far from it. Several of the “premiums” are clunkers in my opinion. All of the best tanks and ships are the ones you earn by playing. For those who’ve been wary of trying a MOBA because of the Pay-to-Win reputation they’ve acquired, have no fear. WoWarships does not work that way.
That isn’t to say there’s no reason to spend money. Like its older cousins, WoWarships’ online store offers additional supplies and equipment that make life easier, decrease downtime, or speed up repairs. None of those purchases, though, give one player a big enough tactical advantage to tip the balance of a fight. For the most part, they just eliminate tedium.
Conceptual Merits: The Sounds and the Fury
WoWarships is a beautiful game. The maps have striking sunrises and sunsets. Clouds are dynamic moving and changing color. The ocean is a sumptuous blue – the water near the ships is crystal clear and even foamy in your wake. Ships are drawn with great care and detail. Tanks in WoTanks tend to be very drab and utilitarian. WoWarships’ vessels have all the embellishments and artistry of their real-life counterparts. They really are quite a sight to behold.
The music and sound effects are great too. I cannot describe just how exhilarating it is to unleash a salvo of twelve naval cannons at your enemy. The BOOM is enormous! It echoes in your speakers or headphones and instantly provokes your body to dump massive quantities of adrenaline into your bloodstream. If there is one thing WoWarships has over WoTanks and probably every other MOBA out there, it is the ability to shock you into awe at the sound of a massive broadside triggering all at once. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it in a video game.
The music in this game is fantastic too. It’s a mix of heavy metal and classic 90s alt rock with occasional interludes of soft melodies that fit the scenery. The effect of those broadsides I mentioned before is accentuated even more as you fire them off to what sounds like the soundtrack from The Matrix. If sound effects and ambiance are important to you as a gamer, then WoWarships will be a feast for your senses.
Conceptual Merits: Limited Options
WoTanks launched with only Germany and the USSR represented. WoWarships, likewise, has launched with two factions: Japanese and American. Each country has four classes of ships available: destroyers, cruisers, battleships, and aircraft carriers.
Players start with a cruiser and then branch out from there. Very quickly, you’ll be able to move into a destroyer line if you like fast ships and torpedoes or into the battleship line if you just want to fire giant cannons. Aircraft carriers play very differently than the other ships, and therefore, take a little longer to unlock.
There are no Patrol Torpedo boats and no submarines. I was a little disappointed that the latter didn’t make it in. Even if they arranged the mechanics to only allow a player to stay submerged for a brief period of time, having submarines as an option would have added a whole lot to the game. Perhaps they’ll make it in at a future date.
Even though there aren’t a lot of ships and nations to choose from at the beginning, veterans of WoTanks and WoPlanes will attest to the fact that Wargaming has an excellent track record of adding more content on a regular basis. Fear not! More will be coming to WoWarships in the future.
Conceptual Merits: A Nod to History, Not a Chain
WoWarships is not meant to be a realistic simulation of 20th century naval combat. If it were, it would have failed as a commercial enterprise. Much of naval combat in WWI and WWII was spent waiting around, occasionally taking shots, and rarely getting close enough to the enemy to see any real detail. You’ll see more action in a single game of WoWarships than a real battleship would have experienced in six months in the Pacific.
This is important. WoWarships is first and foremost entertainment.This may be a letdown for some naval history buffs, but fun is the ultimate goal, and Wargaming hasn’t let accuracy get in the way of a good time. Still, the studio does strive to provide historical and technical fidelity in its games, within reason, and WoWarships is no exception.
Conceptual Merits: Strategy and Tactics
There are definitely a number of different strategies and tactics players can employ in WoWarships. I’m still new to the game, and, in fact, most people are, so no one’s really figured out an optimal strategy. I’ve seen ships team up to form wolf packs and try to concentrate fire on a single ship while ignoring the others. I’ve seen lone wolves sneak through the middle of the map to capture a flag totally unnoticed and unscathed. I’ve seen groups hunker down in protective locations behind islands and ambush other ships as they come around a corner. All of these seem to be viable at this point, but as the game matures, the community will come to a consensus on the best strategies. So far, though, Wargaming seems to have designed a game that allows players a good degree of freedom in how to engage the enemy.
Aside from that, each ship has its own set of tactics players can employ. Keep in mind that I am a beginner when it comes to this game. I don’t have nearly enough experience to prescribe how players should use their ships in the game. I can only describe how I’ve done it.
Destroyers: Super fast and maneuverable, they can be difficult to target if the player weaves and bobs while tracing along the battlefield. Destroyers are also armed with torpedoes that they can use to devastating effect. It is possible to sink a battleship in one hit with a destroyer using a well-placed (and rather lucky) salvo of torpedoes.
Cruisers: These have a lot of anti-aircraft (AA) guns that are supposed to balance out the power of aircraft carriers. So far, I’m not convinced that cruisers do a good job of shooting down planes. A separate AI controls the AA guns, so the player has little control over which plane is engaged and how accurate the fire is. Cruisers have a nice mix of guns and torpedoes but don’t specialize in either. They are much like the medium tanks in WoTanks – decent scouts, decent support, but not ideal for anything. Finally, cruisers are fairly maneuverable. They can’t turn as fast as destroyers, but with a little situational awareness, players can get out of a jam easily enough.
Battleships: This is the lion of the fleet. They have heavy guns that can shred the smaller ships. However, they aren’t very maneuverable and they can take forever to stop if you aren’t paying attention. It’s easy to get overconfident in one of these only to be humbled later by a couple destroyers who have all their torpedo tubes locked and loaded.
Carriers: These play similar to artillery in WoTanks, but there are a good number of differences. First, you don’t just fire a shell and forget it. You have to take an active interest in the flight path of your planes. I mentioned that the cruisers don’t have great AA capabilities, but they’re still a danger. You have to learn to route your planes over mountains where AA guns can’t reach them, and then have the planes approach the targets from the right angle. Torpedo bombers can’t just drop their load directly on a ship – runs must be timed so that the torpedoes hit the broadside at just the right moment. This takes practice, but I have no doubt that carriers will be a very popular ship type.
Besides the nuances of individual ships, players have to learn how to avoid torpedoes, advance their tech trees to upgrade their ships, and avoid getting so laser-focussed on their target that they lose track of other ships that might be outflanking them. It’s a lot to take in, but that’s all a part of the fun. WoWarships is a much slower game than WoTanks or WoWarplanes. It doesn’t require as much “twitch” skill, so players have ample opportunity to learn and grow with each battle. At no point did I ever feel overly frustrated by the game.
Like all MOBAs, WoWarships lets you level up your avatars as you go. The XP and level-up mechanics will be familiar to anyone who’s played an RPG. You will earn XP for your ship and your crew for each battle you play – win or lose. Ship XP lets you upgrade a ship’s components like its guns or motors. You also use ship XP to purchase new ships once you’ve upgraded the old one enough. Crew XP lets you add special abilities. For instance, you can decrease your reload time or get a special notification for when you’ve been spotted (a very useful ability). The system in WorWarships is similar to its siblings’, and I find it quite serviceable.
WoWarships provides players with three different types of encounters or “battle types.” The first is a simple capture-the-flag scenario. Each team has a “base” represented by a circle of buoys. Your job is to defend that territory while parking your ship inside your enemy’s circle long enough for a timer to fill up completely. This is very basic and pretty much everyone understands how it works. The second encounter type provides one “base” and both sides have to fight to control it. It’s more of a “steal the bacon” style encounter. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, is something called Domination.
In a Domination game, there are three to five bases but instead of winning when you capture one, you earn points for how long you have one (or more) captured. You get three points per second. The first team to 1000 points wins. It’s the most entertaining battle type, in my opinion, because lone wolves and wolf packs are equally advantaged. If you can sneak behind enemy lines and capture a base, you can really put your team ahead. Ships are so slow that you can earn a ton of points before the enemy has a chance to do anything about it. This is a real change from the standard battles in WoTanks, and I really enjoy it.
The final interesting tactic players can use is an autopilot feature. In WoWarships, you can preprogram a sailing path for your ship. Once you do, an AI takes over and will steer your ship along your predetermined path so you don’t have to worry about it. This can be really nice at times since it is so easy to get myopic when looking through your gun sights. I haven’t mastered this art yet, but I can certainly see myself using it in the future.
Overall Impression: Too Much Missing
Despite all the good things I’ve said about the game, there are a number of things I don’t like. Chief among these is the repetitiveness. The maps all have different names and historical references, but they are not varied enough for me. WoWarplanes also suffered from this problem (I mean, how many different ways can you change a map where you’re confined to the sky?) I was hoping Wargaming could have come up with a better solution for WoWarships.
In WoTanks, maps are widely different. You may have some that take place in very crowded urban areas. Some might happen in rolling fields. Others might have both city and pastoral zones. Elevation plays an important role, and if you have a tank with superb gun declination, then you can pop over the crest of a hill, take a sniper shot, and pop back down while opening yourself to minimal return fire. You can dig yourself into a bombed out structure and wait to ambush another unsuspecting tank as it rolls by. If you’re in a fast tank, you can use your speed and agility to outflank an opponent and shoot them in the back where their armor is weakest. There are so many different strategies and tactics you can use. WoWarships lacks most of this.
The fact there is no third dimension in WoWarships greatly limits the tactical choices in the game. There is no firing above or below an enemy. There is no gaining the high ground to get a better view of the battle arena. There’s just gliding across the ocean. Because there are no hills, mountains, high-rise buildings, man-made walls, or underbrush, the maps all run together. There seems to be little variety in them, and what variation there is has only a minimal effect on play in my experience. Hiding behind one particular island is not much different from hiding behind a dozen others. Wargaming has a lot of work to do in finding ways to make nautical maps more interesting and engaging.
Aside from that, there is no real camouflage in this game as there is in WoTanks. There is smoke that some ships can use to obscure themselves, but it’s minimally effective. In Tanks, you can knock down trees and hide behind the foliage to conceal yourself. It’s an effective trick. WoWarships offers nothing that correlates to that. Tanks can also have camo nets and crewmembers that can gain camouflage abilities that help keep a tank hidden, but how do you hide a battleship that’s floating on an ocean? Camouflage is a minor mechanic, but if you’re coming from a game where it’s an available and important strategy, you miss it a great deal in WoWarships.
Battles also seem to drag on longer in WoWarships than in WoTanks. When I’m playing my main tank, if I die early in a game, I can usually jump in another tank, run another battle, and my main tank will be ready for me when I get done. In WoWarships, I often have to run two battles before my main ship is ready once again. This problem arises when each side gets down to one or two ships each. Since ships are agonizingly slow, it could take three to five minutes to steam from one end of the map to another. If you’re on the south side of the map heading east, and your last opponent is on the north side heading west, it could take forever to realize you’re just obliviously passing by each other instead of hunting one another. Similar things can happen in Tanks and Warplanes, but it seems less frequent in those games.
I’ve found chatting is more difficult in this game, as well. You have your hands on the controls at all times and there is little down time. However, I can tell that some are mastering the art as you can see from the juvenile discussion in the image below. WoWarships, unfortunately, is not immune to the stereotypical jr. high discourse for which MOBA’s are famous.
My final complaint regards the transparent menus for upgrading modules on a ship. They keep the UI clean and pretty, but they can be awfully hard to read. Contrast WoWarships’ menus with WoTanks’, which aren’t as pretty, but are more legible.
I’m sure that the developers at Wargaming will address all of these issues. I am confident that new nations will join the lineup soon. There’s already a German premium ship available. I also hope that they’ll add new ships such as submarines at some point. The camouflage might be hard to add, but the transparent menus should be an easy fix. The game launched on September 18th, so it’s very new. In six months, I’m sure a lot of improvements will be made.
WoWarships is absolutely a fun game to play. There is nothing else on the market that will give you the kind of rush you get from firing 12 cannons at once. The graphics are gorgeous and the soundtrack is pitch perfect. I have no doubt it will be a very successful title for Wargaming.
The game is not without its warts, however. Gameplay can be repetitive. Maps are little more than rearranged islands on a square map. Tactics are varied in scope but limited in number, so it doesn’t take long to learn them. Battle fatigue can set in quickly since you feel like you’re running the same encounter over and over.
In the end, I think anyone who wants to try a MOBA should consider WoWarships. It’s a great entry into the genre. The free-to-play model Wargaming uses rewards good play and hard work, instead of spending obscene amounts of cash to buy wins. Since it doesn’t require lighting reflexes, it’s very forgiving to new players. Wargaming is making sure to take care of new gamers as they learn to play. However, if you’re a veteran of WoTanks or WoWarplanes, WoWarships might disappoint somewhat. You’ll certainly enjoy it for a time, but if you’re anything like me, after 50 battles or so you’ll wistfully long for the options available in Wargaming’s previous titles… at least for now. I have confidence that Wargaming will greatly improve this title in the next 6 to 12 months, but until then, it doesn’t take long to feel like you’re in a rut.
TL;DR: World of Warships makes clear improvements on its predecessors in the area of playability. A painless early game and PvE battles make getting into this MOBA a lot more fun and accessible for new players. WoWarships is not as much of a twitch game as others in its genre, so it should appeal to more mature gamers who do not have the fast reflexes of their younger peers. It does however lack in diversity when it comes to maps, nations, and individual tactics. The almost total absence of a third dimension greatly limits options during play. Overall, World of Warships will provide users with a satisfying experience; however, it does not have the level of depth and engagement other MOBA’s like League of Legends, Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm, and World of Tanks possess.
You might like this game if:
- You want to play a MOBA that doesn’t require “mad twitch skillz”
- You enjoy Pre WWI – WWII naval history
- You want a free-to-play game where money doesn’t buy success
- You’ve been timid about getting into the MOBA genre in the past
You might not like this game if:
- You prefer fast matches that are decided by quick reflexes
- You enjoy deep strategy in your MOBA experiences
- You’re a MOBA veteran looking to improve your skills with difficult new challenges
- You don’t want to mess with early/mid game grinding and prefer to buy your way to the end game
Troy played roughly 30 hours on his Windows 8.1 Dell Inspiron 7000 Series 7537 BTX 17” laptop with Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-4500U CPU @ 1.80 GHz, 16GB Ram, 64 bit Operating system, x64 processor, and 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M graphics card.