World of Warships Closed Beta – A Treasure or a Shipwreck?

I have played many beta tests in my gaming life. I have seen the good, the bad, and the most assuredly ugly along the way (believe me, I was there for Battlefield 3). With this in mind, I was guarded. Wargaming’s new ship combat arcade game is the newest of the ‘World of ——-‘ family, but will it be the best?

In recent years Wargaming have had a bit of a rocky road. World of Tanks has undergone vast (and completely necessary) improvement, with the developer coming under lots of fire for various customer relations and gameplay issues. Don’t even think about mentioning the debacle that was Warplanes. I, like many others, was skeptical when Wargaming announced their upcoming addition to the franchise – World of Warships. I had hope, but the weight of the recent failings did nothing to help. However after  just under two years of hype building and closed supertesting, the public can get their hands on and see for themselves the state it is in.

From when you open up the game and log in you are presented with a well laid out UI, copied over from Tanks and Warplanes (if it ain’t broke…) albeit with some welcome new additions and reforms. You will find two ships in port, one from each of the two factions currently playable . Those are the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and the United States Navy (USN). Several additional factions have been confirmed to be added at a later date, including the Kriegsmarine and the Royal Navy (HMS Hood and Bismark anyone?).

The first thing I noticed was that the game is strikingly beautiful, everything from the sun playing off the water to the detail of the ships was simply awesome.

The game menu is shown, with the currently selected ship floating in the centre of shot.

A very attractive game menu

You will be pleased to know that this graphical fidelity carries through to the battles, the core of the game. From rusting around portholes to the particle effects when firing a Battleship’s guns, the effort and skill put into the visuals is evident. Even the terrain is not entirely ugly, which is nice as immersion is not destroyed by a mountain that looks like a dodgy block of cheese. The sea swells around your ship and is carved by the bow as you move through the waves.

 

Close up of a Destroyer, showing it's aft main armament and anti aircraft guns.

Close up of a Destroyer’s aft

In short, with a high end gaming rig, this game will blow you away with it’s incredible effects and textures – check out some gameplay videos and see for yourself.

Now then, onto the ships. The starter ships are the Erie and Katori, both tier 1 cruisers. The game is tiered like others in the franchise, with tiers 1 through 10 providing the separation between matchstick gunboats and giants like the Yamato. Currently there are 4 classes of ship with 3 available to each nation (every nation will get every class, don’t panic). The USN get Carriers (CV), Cruisers (CA/CL) and Destroyers (DD), while the IJN get the Battleships (BB) to compliment their Cruisers and Destroyers.

Cruisers are a jack of all trades, and are the class that most represent their nation’s specialities. The Japanese Cruisers are fast and armed with powerful torpedoes, whilst the US get bigger guns and stronger armour (comparisons must be made with WoT’s medium tanks here, the role is similar). Cruisers may be specialised by modification, perhaps choosing to focus on gunnery and forgo torpedo upgrades. Generally having good to average stats all round, they are a good starting class to choose – especially if you are not familiar with naval combat and ship roles.

A badly damaged USN Cruiser fires it's main armament. Shell impacts are visible on the hull and citadel.

Badly damaged Cruiser fighting to the last

Destroyers are small, very fast ships that are heavily specialised into torpedoes. They are extremely fragile and a good salvo from a BB’s big guns will sink them instantly. The stealthiest ships of the game, Destroyers are primarily used to stalk enemy ships and capture points, before quickly steaming in for a torpedo attack. They are the exact opposites of Battleships, and as such are regarded as a hard-counter, though this really depends on how one plays the game. Additionally, Cuisers are really bad news in Destroyers, as they have the speed and rate of fire to hunt you down. You have been warned. I wouldn’t reccomend DDs as a starting ship unless you really wanted to go in at the deep end and see if you sink or swim (sorry).

A Destroyer with it's aft blown off sinks rapidly. A Battleship is visible in the distance.

1 Battleship salvo is all it takes to send you to Davy Jones

Aircraft Carriers are the long-range support ships of WoWs, with capability to scout and sink enemy ships with torpedo and dive bombers and also protect friendly vessels from the same fate with fighter squadrons. The seemingly obvious comparison to make gameplay-wise here is WoT’s artillery, however this would be a tarring CVs with a bad name. The gameplay becomes more of a 3D strategy, micromanaging your squadrons of planes onto several targets at once. Most importantly, when a CV targets you, one is not left with the feeling of helplessness or frustration that was apparent in WoT when hit by artillery – ships can actively manoeuvre to avoid incoming ordinance. Nor is it as dull to play, as the intense micro of squadrons in combination with having to look after your ship provides a fun challenge (though there is an auto-pilot in game to assist with this). Carriers add a new dynamic to the traditional ship combat and are well worth a look, even as a starting player.

Battleships are the big boys of the game. Built to take hits and deal them out with their big guns, these are the main force in any fleet. Armed with secondary weapons and multiple AA defences, they are able to hold their own in almost any combat situation. They are very slow, so take this into consideration when setting off in one, as once you commit to a fight you are there till the bitter end. Battleships will take multiple volleys of gunfire to sink, and smaller guns like those of destroyers have very little hope of doing any considerable damage. Battleships are also capable of healing themselves mid game, with a limited use ability designed to keep them in the fight longer. They are a formidable foe and ace fun. I would recommend BBs as a ship for starters, mostly because it is hard to go wrong with lots of big guns.

A large salvo impacts a Battleship, igniting the engines.

It takes many salvos to bring a BB down

The maps are samey, but this may be forgiven as adding variety to a sea based game is a real challenge. Various archipelagos give way to open sightlines, and generally the maps feel well designed. Currently, players see different maps as they progress up the tiers. I do like this concept, though in the beta it can mean that the maps grow stale – especially when the real tier grinds start. At the moment there simply are not enough to make this model work. Upon reaching tier 6 one may see the most unique map – a level based around icebergs on an Arctic ocean. I hope Wargaming come up with more maps soon, and it seems to me the easiest way to diversify the player experience would be to add more environmental effects. Rather than a sunny and  calm map followed by a clouded over and still one, I would love to see rough seas and storms – big waves throwing smaller ships around and making gunnery more difficult.

The soundtrack is very good, with enough variety that I have not yet got bored of it despite playing for a few days. The usual orchestral fanfares and stirring crescendos are now complimented by some digitally generated overlays, with a few inception style ‘bwaaaaaaaaaaa’s thrown in for good measure. The in game sound effects are decent, but I feel something is missing. The big guns sound great and the sea is also disturbingly relaxing, but I somehow just expected the whole thing to be louder. I just feel slightly underwhelmed when I get close to my ship to hear the turbine engines change pitch slightly. Maybe it is just me, I haven’t really spent enough time on boats to know their running level of noise.

There is so much depth to a game only in closed beta that I cannot go into it all, but you can be confident that Wargaming will continue to stuff this title with content as it moves towards release, and even during it’s time on the seas. I hope my brief overview will pique your interest.

I highly advise you to check this game out, either in open beta or on release, as I think it will be something special in the end. See you on the waters!

(Sorry about the title)

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