On 7 April it will be 70 years since the Japanese warship Yamato was sunk off the coast of Japan, with the loss of nearly all her crew. An epic naval monster, the Yamato was the pride of the highly advanced Japanese fleet. For years, naval enthusiasts, World War Two buffs, and intrigued gamers have dreamed of captaining her. With the soon to be released World of Warships, they finally can.
World of Warships is the third instalment from Wargaming.net — the acclaimed Russian developer that has reinvented online tactical game play, and in doing so created a new way for competitive gamers to game.
World of Warships looks and feels much like other titles in the Wargaming canon. Wargaming's GUI is tried and true, so they've stuck with their simple formula. You begin each engagement in your port, where you can upgrade ships, assign experience points to crew and captains, and research and purchase new ships. The line up of ships is impressive, with the beta delivering a solid salvo of crusiers, destroyers, battleships and aircraft carriers, all from different eras of the war.
At the time of writing, neither the USSR, the Royal Navy or the Kriegsmarine are available — but there is more than enough firepower in the US and Japanese fleets to throw around. U-Boats are noticeably absent, however, and while they did not play a massive part in the Eastern naval theatre, a bit of Das Boot tension would certainly spice World of Warships up a bit. It's also a shame that the Germans and British aren't immediately available, pitting the indefatigable Hood against the indomitable Bismarck would be a truly amazing online experience.
However, even without sneaky submariners and Atlantic battleships, World of Warships is gorgeous to look at. There are still a few glitches in the beta (such as planes taking off through islands) but overall it's an impressive array. The sea is artfully rendered, the maps to play on are well designed, and the ships have been crafted with historically accurate detail. It's a real treat to play out.
But what's not completely historically accurate, and for damn good reason, is the gameplay. Wargaming has made some interesting decisions to simplify a lot of the complexity of naval ship combat - and so far their choices seem to have struck that balance between simulation and competitiveness. It's easy to park a Tiger Tank behind a crumbling wall; it's not easy to park the Yamato — it's hard enough to turn the damn thing. By taking this path, World of Warships offers a new spin on the established World of Tanks formula without losing its intricacy.
What this means is that the early beta game play is dynamic and very tactical. If you camp behind islands you're going to have a bad time, and fast. Instead, gamers naturally gravitate into convoys with the Battleship class ships doing most of the tanking. To win, players need to coordinate routes, use each class' natural advantage (well played aircraft carriers with vicious torpedo bombers can be especially deadly) and flank the hell out of the enemy's fleet. This 'always on the move' style requires a lot of skill, it's pretty damn hard to land a full salvo of armour piercing shells across the map, when you and your target are both steaming at full speed. This style will also punish the unfocussed gamer. It's all too easy to spend the entire match with your eye down your artillery sights and completely ignore the two or three destroyers that have snuck up on you, or the island you are about to run aground on.
Even since it was announced at Gamescom in 2012, there has been a lot of hype about the title that completes the World War Two "set". Our hands on the beta has shown off a very interesting style of online gameplay that is fundamentally different to Wargaming's earlier iterations, but that still pays homage to its tactical teamwork roots — and it looks as if Warships will lend itself very well to clan warfare and streaming.
World of Warships has been a long time coming, and our early play through of the beta has whet our appetite for this much anticipated title. With a few graphical tweaks, the odd balancing here and there, and with a wider variety of countries and ships on offer, Warships will demonstrate that Wargaming.net has saved the best to last.