The biggest war machines the humanity ever built; spitting fire at each other, tearing each other apart with each salvo, enduring absolutely horrifying punishment and somehow keep fighting. . . even though this sounds like your average Battletech battle, this time I’m not talking about Battletech; this is World of Warships.
Just like MWO, WoWs is a game that appeals to a relatively niche crowd (I talked about the similarity of the audiences in my PGI vs Wargaming monetization article). It’s a crowd that wants their ship porn delivered in short but explosive sessions with attention to detail and historical accuracy. In order to combine both, WoWs walks the fine line between arcade and simulation; simplifying things when necessary while keeping certain aspects pretty complicated. It delivers it in a spectacular fashion as well, let me elaborate:
I’m not a naval combat expert, but from what I’ve read (I had several Wikipedia binges while played WoWs) so far, the components of the naval combat in WW2 could be summed up in certain key aspects:
Ships and roles: Destroyers (DD), cruisers (CA for heavy, CL for light), battleships (BB) and aircraft carriers (CV) and other auxiliary ships all had their distinct roles on the battlefield. On top of that, each side had a different doctrine for these ships.
Scouting and intelligence: Scouting played a huge part in WW2 naval combat, keeping track of enemy movements was a huge part in determining the victors in each battle. Radars and cryptologic intelligence won many battles before they even started.
Gunnery and ballistics: Aiming and leading properly, determining the range, adjusting for the pitch and roll of the ship, choosing ammunition. Back then these tasks were performed by fire control systems of varying degrees of complexity.
Damage control and survivability: This basically means dealing with the damage taken. Warships were extremely expensive and strategically important assets and their loss was a huge blow to the fighting capability of their respective nations. That’s why these ships were designed with redundant systems, lots of bulkheads separating watertight compartments, anti-torpedo bulges and the most importantly damage control crews. Compared to the IJN, the US Navy had very extensive damage control training and this paid off greatly in the opening stages of the war. There’s one little fun example of this in WW2. During the Battle of Midway, the damage control of the USS Yorktown was so effective that even though it was badly damaged by the first Japanese aircraft attack wave, the raging fires were quickly put out and her engines were quickly restarted again. When the second Japanese wave came, they attacked the Yorktown again, thinking it was another carrier. After this fight they thought they took out two US carriers while in reality it was only one.
These are pretty distinct and complex aspects to model. How do you simplify and compress them so that you can cram all of these in a 20 minute battle? Let’s take a look at how World of Warships does it:
Ships and roles
Just like in MWO, there are four classes available for play; destroyers, cruisers, battleships and carriers. Unlike MWO, one of the classes play completely differently than the others and the progression between the classes is not in a simple “bigger, better, stronger” way. Each class has a clear-cut role but the game doesn’t force you to play that certain role. Instead as you play more and more, you naturally gravitate towards those intended roles to get the most out of each ship.
Destroyers (DD) are essentially harassers and are the masters of stealth. They have high speed (mostly 35+ knots), decent manueverability, low detection range (more on that later) a torpedo rack and usually small/medium caliber guns which fire at a high rate of fire.Their low detection range means you can be sneaky on the battlefield and sneak up on enemies completely unnoticed to launch surprise torpedo attacks. They’re also the only class capable of deploying smoke on the battlefield which obstructs view and conceals every ship within. This can be used to make quick getaways or you can simply sit in the smoke near the enemy group and just harass with your guns and torpedoes, completely undetected. The USN DDs are focused on guns and have quick traversing guns which are perfect for harassing or picking on weak targets while manuevering. Their torpedoes have a short range which limits them to either suicide runs, surprise corner attacks or smoke attacks. The IJN DDs also have great guns, but they turn incredibly slow so they can’t just maneuver and harass. Instead, they focus on stealth attacks with torpedos. All of them have longer torpedo ranges than their detection range, so you can get very near enemy ships, dump half a dozen torps in the water and just back off while your torpedos reload.
Cruisers (CL for light, CA for heavy) as you probably imagined, represent the best of both worlds. They’re fast, somewhat maneuverable, sport medium sized guns, decent armor and good to decent AA. Some of them also have torpedoes. They’re detectable at medium ranges and usually can’t sneak up on enemies (well some of them can somewhat do it with some unlocks). Their main armaments are definitely their guns which can reach from anywhere inside 14-19 kilometers depending on the gun. Their main role is chasing down destroyers and keeping them away from BBs, giving AA cover for BBs and CVs and overall just maintain map control as much as possible. These are the only ships with the AA suppression ability, which reduces the effectiveness of the aircraft. They can take some punishment (especially the later models) and in overall, I think they make great platforms to learn this game. Up until tier 5, US and IJ cruisers are pretty similar but they rapidly specialize afterwards. Later US CA’s drop torpedos, add lots of armor and focus purely on gunnery and AA. The loss of torpedos hurt their ability to fight off BBs and they become fleet escorts/support vessels. The IJN CA’s retain their torpedos while also having big guns. They’re also faster than the us CA’s but their survivability isn’t the greatest. This makes them much more aggressive vessels than their US counterparts as not only they can provide great long range gunnery support, but they can also close in to fight BBs with their torpedoes and other CAs with their big guns. Their AA capabilities are very lacking though.
Battleships (BBs) are undying warships with very hard hitting guns. They have tons of armor (so most of the oblique angled shots will deflect), very high penetration guns that can reach very long ranges (more than half of the map for higher tier ships), incredibly powerful secondary armament, good AA and awesome manueverability for dodging torpedoes. Their weaknesses lie in their sluggish nature; they’re usually pretty slow and it takes ages to shift their rudders. Their guns also take a long time to reload (usually near 30 seconds) so their damage output is fierce, but not consistent. Wargaming also added tons of dispersion to their guns, so they will spread their shots a lot which is the reason I don’t like playing with them. The RNG factor is really high with the BBs. Though when RNG gods take your side, the damage you can do is ridiculous. Since the guns penetrate so much, you have the potential to one-shot pretty much every ship in the game. I haven’t played the BBs much, but US BBs focus on firepower and survivability early on while being painfully slow and having very short range. IJN BBs usually have longer reaching guns and they’re faster.
Carriers (CVs) are incredibly powerful support ships. Again, I don’t have much experience in these ships and they seem to have some balance problems currently. Though, their role is to maintain presence on the whole map, assasinate enemy ships with torpedo bombers, keep harassing with dive bombers while keeping the enemy aircraft at bay by using fighters. I’ve seen some players pretty much solo the entire enemy team which brings balance thoughts in mind. Currently the IJN carriers seem to focus on torpedo bombers while the US carriers seem to focus on dive bombers and superior fighters.
Scouting and detection play a huge role in WoWs. Each ship has a certain detection range (in kilometers). DDs have the least followed by CAs and then BBs and CVs. Even then, you have to be in someone’s line of sight to be seen.
Since the gameplay is somewhat slow, it’s extremely important to scout in the beginning to have an idea of where the enemy is going. It’s important because once you commit and be greeted by a whole enemy fleet, there’s little you can do to make a quick getaway. This job mostly falls on the shoulders of DDs and CAs which can afford to get closer to the enemy formations without being detected.
Detection is also affected by other factors. If you fire your guns, you instantly get a penalty added to your detection range which instantly reveals you to the enemy. By shooting at that juicy destroyer at a cap point, you might find yourself quickly primaried by the whole team. Some ships also have reconnaissance planes which circle around your ship and reveal nearby ships. Lastly, smoke can be used to obstruct view at open sea.
Gunnery is the heart of this game and it just feels good. I can’t believe how much polish the gunnery already has in this closed beta state. The mechanics are very simple; you lock a target, judge the speed, bearing and range of your opponent, look at what he’s doing and give proper lead.
It sounds simple but it’ll take a long whole before you learn to lead properly and even then, you’ll start coming against opponents who use little mind tricks against you like randomly changing speed and course. Add the randomness from the dispersion into the equation and you have yourself a pretty fun mini-game inside the game itself. It’s just too much fun shooting bullets and watch them fly anywhere from one to fifteen seconds all the while wondering if they will hit at all.
That being said, there’s another mechanic that I don’t agree with much; the dispersion. Each gun has a dispersion expressed in meters, which means your bullets bullets will change their direction as soon as they leave the barrel. This is not a huge problem with the DDs and CAs, but it starts to get outrageously large as you move up to BBs and higher tier CAs. In my opinion, this adds too much RNG to an already RNG filled gunnery; you can have the perfect lead but the dispersion gods will say no and you will end up missing with most of your bullets. Yes it prolongs the battles, but sometimes it’s simply frustrating. This is why I didn’t like BBs, their dispersion values are so high that BBs I felt like I was shooting shooting shotguns rather than long barrel guns. Take into account that it takes about 30 seconds to reload BB guns, you’ll find yourself quickly frustrated with the game screwing your shots for no reason. I hope the developers lower dispersion in overall and let the player skill and only skill dictate the gunnery. Yes, I know in real life BBs had trouble hitting targets too, but in a game it’s just not fun.
Aside from that, the gunnery is perfect. What I really like about it is the interface and the concept of “locking”. When you lock an enemy ship, your viewpoint automatically starts following that ship. That means as the enemy ship moves, you don’t need to track him manually. This lets you focus purely on leading which is completely fine.
Speaking of gunnery, let’s talk about torpedos too. Torpedoes are dropped from torpedo racks mounted either on the sides of a ship or centrally on a turret. There’s an aim assist for the torpedos because otherwise aiming them would be extremely difficult. Though the aim assist doesn’t mean a perfect hit every time, the torpedos can travel for dozens of seconds or even minutes before they hit a target and it’s very rare for a target to hold their speed and course during that. Because of this, you need to drop your torpedoes in such manner that you also cover any countermeasures your opponent may take. Though, by spreading your torps you also let your opponent find gaps between your torpedos and evade them. As a last resort, you can close in with your enemy and simply leave them no time to react but risk being gunned down in the process. I think the torpedo gameplay is almost as interesting as the gunnery, simply because the RNG factor is pretty low. Both the offensive and counterplay is pretty predictable.
This is one of the most impressive areas of the game; the damage modelling. Just like the ‘Mechs, each ship has different components on it that can be destroyed or disabled. Each ship also has its armor modeled and depending on the circumstances, may take no damage from a volley at all. “Overpenetration” is also a thing, if you’re firing huge 16″ AP shells at a DD expect to do no damage as those shells will simply pass through the ship, doing minimal damage. Therefore, the game forces you to use HE and AP depending on the situation.
AP offers the highest damage potential if you can penetrate the enemy citadel and damage stuff you’re not meant to damage (like magazines, boiler rooms), but these penetrations depend on the range, angle and armor and it’s really hard to do them repeatedly. HE on the other hand offers steady damage, but its maximum damage is very limited. Though, repeated HE shots will keep disabling guns and have the chance of starting fires. Fires do damage over time to enemy ships and you can start multiple fires at the same time, essentially consuming the enemy ship in the meanwhile. Currently the fires are especially pretty nasty and managing fires is a very tricky subject. Similarly a torpedo hit may cause flooding which is even nastier than fires if left unattended. There are also different types of damages; light, moderate and major.
Though when you’re damaged and something is broken, they’re not gone for good. Here comes the “arcade” aspects of the game into play. First, broken components/fire/flooding has a timer on them so provided your ship is still floating after those timers run out, they’ll go away. Additionally there’s the “damage control party” consumable in-game which runs on a timer. After you activate this, it’ll start counting down and during this time everything that gets damaged will be fixed. When the countdown finishes, another countdown will start indicating when you will be able to use it again. It’s about two minutes between each use, so you have to use this ability very wisely. Use it too early and you’ll be disabled/set on fire again. Use it too late and you risk giving away too much free damage.
There’s another health ability on the BBs and higher tier CAs, which lets you repair yourself. This repairs all the light damage and a little bit of moderate damage and is especially useful recovering health after major battles. It can only be used 3 times per match but when you use these wisely, it can keep you in the game for a long time.
As you can see, WoWs delivers on all fronts. It falls a bit short on some, but on overall the developers clearly had a lot of time to think about what and how to model.
So much polish
I must touch upon this. Even at its closed beta state, this game is extremely polished. I’m accustomed to MWO’s crude UI, obscure mechanics and its netcode ductaped together. On the other hand everything in WoWs looks smooth and slick. The UI is minimalistic and seems to have been designed with ease of use in mind. It has “unnecessary” features PGI would never take time to implement (like clicking on weapons and zooming onto their location on your ship).
The ships are faithfully modelled after their real life counterparts and also have the each major modification of the ship as an upgrade. It’s almost like WG tried to make it an interactive ship museum rather than a commercial product. Without a passion for your product I don’t think this would have been possible.
Aside from the game itself, WG also comes up with really interesting promotional content. They regularly release FAQs with the developers, long videos where they talk about ships in the game, pretty long historical videos in which they visit museum ships and document their history . . . if you have an interest in naval combat this is pretty much the old History Channel quality stuff. Some may think of them as wasted money, but I think these videos generate a lot of hype and interest for the game itself. Here’s an example:
As a long time MWO addict, World of Warships is surprisingly fun. I’m not fond of WoT and its arcade tank combat, but WoWs stroke a chord with me. It’s neither extremely arcade nor too much of a simulation. The naval battles feel very satisfying and play like I imagined them they would. When compared to MWO, it loses on the depth side though. MWO has layers mechanics above mechanics, much higher skill cap and a big game changer called “the Mechlab”. Still, I can see myself playing this game more and more beside MWO. It’s familiar yet different and is a fresh breath of air in my case.
Check out Rak’s other articles: for example, a critique of WG monetization: