Two years ago, looking to branch out and expand on their hugely successful World of Tanks franchise, the folks at Wargaming took us to the skies in World of Warplanes. Set in the greater World War II time period, Warplanes was a multiplayer shooter that introduced some new elements given the switch in vehicle types—but one which still felt, in many ways, like its predecessor. Now, Wargaming has unleashed the next chapter of the World series, and given we’ve already taken both to land and sky, it’s no surprise that the next step was to venture out onto the open sea.
Even though this was the obvious next step for the franchise, Warships is unique given how barren the market has been for titles focused on naval battles. I generally do a light bit of comparison against competition for multiplayer games, and in this case I couldn’t find any recent titles that cover this period’s surface ships outside of strategy games. It’s refreshing, to say the least, to do battle in a realm that has been underrepresented in gaming since the late 90’s.
Jumping into the game will feel familiar to players who have tried Tanks or Warplanes: First you sign into your account or make one for free on the Wargaming.net website. Then, you pick a ship from your roster, select from two flavors of a single game mode, and click the “Battle Now” button. You’re then whisked away to the game’s matchmaking, where you’ll be grouped in randomly selected teams of players with vessels of around the same Tier level and given the goal of either destroying the enemy team, or seizing control of all territories on the map.
Battles take place between four different classes of ship: Destroyer, Cruiser, Battleship, and Carrier (with ten Tiers of increasing power across all). The first three classes control similarly, but the exact traits are different for every ship, even across ships in the same class. There are a few general truths: Battleships are slow but powerful; Destroyers are quick and lightly armored, but generally have some ace up their sleeves; Cruisers are a middle-of-the-road class with decent power, armor, speed, and with a mix of heavy guns, light guns and sometimes torpedoes. The slower pace of these vehicles makes planning your moves far more important in Warships than it was in the previous two games, where making quick adjustments was easier. Complicating things further is the fact that engagements are typically measured in kilometers instead of a few hundred meters, adding to the need for smarter traversal. These complications open up the possibility for some great fights between well-coordinated teams if you’re part of a well-oiled group (or the gods of random chance have smiled on you).
The fourth class of vessel—Carriers—are where Warships mixes up the formula. With the other ships presented here, as with the tanks and planes of the previous titles, opponents were engaged by directly targeting them with your available weapons. Carriers, however, project their power out with their squadrons of aircraft.
When controlling a Carrier, your default view shifts to a top-down command view, which feels more like you’re playing a simplified RTS than Wargaming’s other projects. At first, this is a great change of pace from the repetitive aim-shoot-wait-repeat formula of the other ships, but unfortunately, you quickly realize that there’s not much substance to the endeavor. Issuing commands breaks down to pointing at the map and saying “do this,” and beyond moving your ship or telling your aircraft to attack a target, there’s little depth to the task. Planes fly themselves, and always attack as a formation. You can’t split fighters up, nor have bombers individually target multiple ships. The end result is you spend most of your time watching the map instead of being directly involved, which can be hard as you watch the round unfold, wishing you could do more to make a difference.
The other classes feel more like a traditional World fare, and control well enough. All of your guns are linked to the same targeting point and controlled by your view. Your smaller deck guns, meanwhile, are automatic—and aside from a few power-ups, you can’t do much in the way of damage control. You do have some more advanced maneuvers at hand, but I found most of them awkward due to the ships feeling more like oversized tanks than the ultra-complex machines that they are.
The matchmaking system highlights some of the best aspects of the Wargaming experience. Like in previous titles, the wait for matches is generally short, taking on average (for me) less than two minutes to get into any round. There was rarely any lag, though I did try the game on an older machine and found that it tended to lag a bit when the computer was near the lower end of the game’s requirements, even with all settings dialed down and framerates appearing stable. If the machine isn’t a concern, everything works as it should. It’s fast and easy to use.
Similarly, graphics are excellent if your PC can support them. With all the settings turned up to the highest option the game looks spectacular. The ships are detailed, the world is colorful, and the lighting and particle effects work exceptionally well. There are some oddities here and there, however: the ships have no visible crew, the scale of the world itself seems weirdly “off,” and damaged areas of ships have obvious lines where textures end. Overall, though, the game is quite the looker.
Player advancement in World of Warships, like other Wargaming titles, is controlled by a range of systems, interlinked with Free-to-Play (F2P) products, in a series of nebulous mechanics that is difficult to understand and even more difficult to describe. When starting to play Warships, every player is given a rank. As a player moves up in rank, features and products previously hidden will become available. It isn’t until later into the game that the first real F2P mechanics make their appearance. None of them are mandatory, but at Rank 6, the game appears to shift its focus.
After Rank 6, the in-game currency, Credits, can be used to buy permanent upgrades on individual ships that give the player some advantages in matches. These range from boosts in repair speed to giving your guns a sizeable increase in range. These are more numerous, more powerful, and more expensive on higher Tier ships. Even further on, Credits can unlock temporary paint jobs that make the player harder to see or hit, that must be replenished every round. Credits can be earned through gameplay—with bonuses for winning—at a relatively slow rate for free. Credits, however, can also be purchased in bulk with real money or converted from a premium currency called Dubloons (Warships’ name for what is Gold in other Wargaming titles).
This all leads to the conclusion that real money can immediately buy a player upgrades which give them an advantage faster and more easily than if that same player did not use their own money. It means that players who pay cash have the opportunity to win more often against those who don’t at the same level.
This is where the game falls down. Once I can see a chance for money to affect the outcome of rounds, it colors the results. Money can act as steroids for players, giving any who use it more strength much faster than they would have gained otherwise. There’s no penalty for using cash—except the line items on your bank statement—so anyone could spend as much as they want to upgrade as many ships as they own at any point after the option is available. To do that without using real currency would take more time than anyone could hope to spend on any one task. It creates an arms race between players with and without money that players with money will always be ahead in.
Balance is my primary concern when I go into a competitive multiplayer game. If the game isn’t fair for all players equally, I can’t see it as being any more than a cautionary tale for future game designers. The ability to buy Credits that can be used to gain some advantage makes me question the outcome of every match. The automated matchmaking may account for this, but I’ve found no evidence it does; the descriptions in the game and in the copy for the paid currencies heavily implies it doesn’t. I can’t tell if the game is fair or not. The gameplay is fine, though it is not good enough for me to want to play it if I can buy my own odds.
World of Warships has a lot to offer. It looks great. It plays well. The net code is phenomenally stable. It comes so very close to being the first, great naval action game of a generation, but all of its positives are marred by its inclusion of a gameplay altering Free-to-Play system that can tip the balance against players who don’t pay. If you can look past that fatal flaw, World of Warships is good for a short diversion. The early hours are mostly devoid of any of the by-products of its F2P system. That’s when it’s at its best, and that’s what the rest of the game should’ve been.
|Developer: Wargaming • Publisher: Wargaming • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 09.17.15|
World of Warships starts out well. The game is fast, it looks good, and it’s fun. Progress soon comes to a crawl, however, and the repetitive grinding, off-set only by a convoluted Free-to-Play system, dampens the experience in ways that the superb graphics and quick multiplayer matchmaking do little to offset.
|The Good||Great graphics; Good gameplay; Fast multiplayer matchups.|
|The Bad||The game becomes a grind; Few game modes; The controls are overly simple.|
|The Ugly||Its F2P system may alter the outcomes of matches in the late game.|
|World of Warships is a PC exclusive. A review account was provided by Wargaming for the benefit of this review.|