When it comes to awe-inspiring war machines, it's hard to beat a battleship. Even the most menacing Jagdtiger or iconic Supermarine Spitfire can't hold a candle to thousands of tons of floating death bristling with cannons, torpedoes and air support.
And yet so few games have managed to do justice to naval warfare -- and fewer still have made it fun. Partly this is down to the slower speeds and stand-off bombardments involved with ship-to-ship engagements, plus the advent of the unsportsmanlike air-to-ship missile in the last few decades.
Thankfully World Of Warships plans to change all that. Set during World War II's escalation of legendary sea battles and truly iconic vessels, Wargaming's latest free to play project manages to capture the grandeur and majesty of sea power while providing a fun and engaging moment-to-moment gameplay experience. Damn the torpedoes and let's take a look.
Like World Of Tanks and World Of Warplanes, World Of Warships toes the line between simulation and accessible shooter, which is no mean feat considering that battleships weigh in at tens of thousands of tons. Wargaming's compromise is beautiful in its simplicity: you can easily cycle through preset ship speeds using the W and S keys to select your desired knottage, then steer with A and D much like any traditional shooter. Meanwhile your mouse reticle controls the ship's turrets, which automatically swivel to follow your movements depending on their firing arc. Right click to lock target, left click to bring the pain and the rain.
This makes World Of Warships an incredibly accessible proposition for even inexperienced gamers, but crucially it still feels authentic. This is down to a pronounced feeling of inertia, momentum and delay depending on your ship's weight and displacement, making you feel like you're controlling a massive war machine rather than a flimsy pedalo. It's a sweet spot between instant action and hardcore simulation, providing compelling depth and a high skill ceiling without the associated brutal learning curve. Better yet, armchair admirals can use a tactical map to set courses and waypoints, letting your crew take the helm while scanning the horizon and planning your assault with your team.
Team-work is crucially important whether you're playing cooperatively against a fleet of bots or locking horns with other players, since World Of Battleships hinges around situational ship classes that all compliment each other. Your choice of warship is more than just a cosmetic choice, as both your weapons, handling and optimal combat role completely changes depending on what you leave port in. Both American and Japanese fleets are available in the beta, meaning that you've got some tough choices to make before even weighing anchor.
Battleships are the big beasts of naval combat seeing as they're designed to hit hard, pack the most ridiculous cannons possible and take what they dish out. Bristling with up to 14 guns and protected by 25-inch armour plating, they're liable to cream any smaller vessel foolish enough to enter their engagement range, but their slow speed leaves them vulnerable to being harried, harassed and outmanoeuvred by packs of nippier vessels backed up by air support. Naturally the Japanese excel in this department since their navy was obsessed with building the biggest and most menacing battleships around, naturally crowned by the iconic Yamato.
Which was my first port of call. Taking advantage of my fully-unlocked press account, I naturally went straight for the legendary battleship and quickly demonstrated my complete ineptitude with a ship of that size. It was embarrassing and humilating, but at least I learned a valuable lesson: having the biggest guns doesn't guarantee you the win when your enormous bulk acts as a torpedo magnet!
This is where Destroyers come in. Fast and agile, the likes of the Farragut and Nicholas excel at getting into position to speculate with long-range torpedo fire and devastating torpedo broadsides, or flanking around to take care of any undefended aircraft carriers. Capable of using islands as cover and reaching impressive speeds, they're immensely useful but undeniably fragile, especially if dive bombers or a battleship dials them in. In my experience, it's best to resist charging straight into battle, instead letting more durable ships lead the charge and soak up punishment while looking for opportunities to make the difference.
Speaking of Cruisers, they're probably the most versatile ships in the game, including the Atlanta and Kongo. Packing decent if unspectacular firepower and armour, they can be built to a number of different specifications including Heavy variants, Light faster vessels for raiding runs or specialised Anti-Air. You'll ideally need at least one of the latter, since air power can be utterly ruinous when used correctly.
Which brings us to the Aircraft Carriers, perhaps the most unique ship class in the game. From the legendary Independence and Lexington to the Sapian and Langley, these hulking monsters are sitting ducks for enemy cruisers and destroyers even if smaller variants can be surprisingly speedy, meaning that they'll need to be zealously defended. However, they're also the eyes, ears and long-range fangs of an effective fleet, capable of deploying reconnaissance vessels to locate the enemy, followed by squadrons of bombers to take them down. Doing so is fantastic fun thanks to the tactical map, with battles playing out like a real-time strategy game as you locate and decimate priority targets, relaying info to your team and searching for an isolated battleship to terrorise. Seeing as you're equally vulnerable to aerial or naval counter-attack, though, it's a nervy and frankly fantastic change of pace.
This being a Wargaming title, naturally you won't have to stick with stock options. Each ship can be modified with loads of upgradeable modules ranging from main batteries to fire control systems, engines, damage control systems and even specific types of plane for carrier captains. Even your crew can be upgraded by way of Commanders who earn experience and bring useful perks when attached to a ship. Warships pack a punch straight out of the shipyard, but a little tinkering will pay dividends.
The careful imbalance between ship classes makes World Of Warships a uniquely compelling cooperative experience, hinging around effective communication and team strategy to succeed but leaving room for lone wolves to excel. Support for Divisions is built right into the HUD, and since Wargaming's titles are unified into a single account, you'll be able to play with the friends you made in World Of Tanks and World Of Warplanes too.
World Of Warships is still in beta, where it will likely receive plenty of tweaks to damage, torpedo range and the stats behind the scenes to incorporate player feedback. It's set to launch as a fully free to play title offering over 75 warships at release, with British and Soviet fleets in the offing over the coming months.
- Make sure to enter our World Of Tanks competition for a chance to win an exclusive Sherman M4A3E8, Fury Blu-Ray and tickets to The Tank Museum! Ends Tuesday March 24th.