Playing a real-time strategy game as the others around you take aim and fire is a hectic experience.
With World of Warships entering closed beta recently, developer Wargaming recently took a moment to show off the near-finished product, and it sure looked good. Completing the trifecta of land-sea-air free to play arena simulator battles that Wargaming has been working on for years, Warships also shows off one of the most interesting mechanics among any of those games - a true class-based system of ship, uh, classes. Most notable to me during my hands on demo and preview at PAX East were the game's carriers.
See, Carriers were the absolute pride of any 20th Century naval operation, capable of disrupting enemy formations and wrecking fantastically expensive battleships by deploying relatively inexpensive dive bomber and torpedo bomber aircraft. For a Naval geek like me, taking on the breadth of real and imagined fights was exciting. What I didn't expect are some of the superb mechanics Wargaming uses to make you feel like you're really in command of a huge machine with hundreds of sailors on board. Of all of these, the design of the carrier really stands out: When you're in control of your plane wings, your view expands outwards into a facsimile of a real-time strategy map, allowing you to direct their actions from on-high as though you were really telling your pilots what to do. Many games have attempted the RTS-FPS split in the past, but something about World of Warships' go at it just works.
It feels wholly natural to the genre: From the bridge of a carrier you're the scout and sniper for your team, striking over islands or icebergs with deadly force against unexpecting foes - and woe to the battleship that chooses its course poorly when your planes are in the air. On the other hand, your ship is a floating bonfire waiting to happen, and a single volley of battleship fire or enemy planes slipping past your fighter defenses can ruin your whole day. Adding to the skill required, each attack run of your planes still has to be placed on the map like any other. Your planes' only limitation is ammunition - they have to rearm after every attack run. While no fuel limitation may not be the most realistic, the devs said, it turned out to be unnecessary for players to deal with given Warships relatively small map' scale. While I only had a short time to develop my carrier tactics, I was bowled over by the attention to detail and lovely scale of the game - watching individual shells impact a ship and leave flaming craters was a treat!
What makes the ships a pleasure to play is the ease with which the camera, weapons, and movement control. Like a real world captain, you can check your map and plot a course for your helmsman to automatically follow, letting you focus on directing your gunfire or figuring out the emerging tactical situation. As you pan your camera around the ship, whichever gun batteries can point that direction automatically traverse to follow your aim. Torpedoes, the most misrepresented weapon in naval games, are shown to be the deadly weapons they are through precise skillshots. You line them up using a simulated arc that rotates around the ship. You can broaden the arc for a wide spread of shots or tighten it for a straight line barrage of rippling death. The map type that Wargaming showed off was based on a pretty standard shooter control point game mode.
Other ships in the game are cruisers, battleships, and destroyers. Hulking battleships live up to their name, taking a shocking amount of punishment before going down and bringing tens of small batteries and AA guns to bear. Destroyers occupy a middle niche, fast enough to do the job of plugging the line but with enough firepower to be a threat to every other ship on the field. Cruisers, meanwhile, act as torpedo-hauling scouts, attempting to strafe other ships and release their deadly payload and then skirt away - with some cruisers carrying a seaplane as a scouting buddy and auxiliary torpedo launch vector.
Warships still has no release date, but will be free to play when it releases. The game will include 75 Japanese and American ships at launch, with plans to include soviet, british, and russian boats in the future. Players will begin with a small stable of ships and unlock more by either playing the game or putting in real money for instant unlocks. Unlike World of Tanks, a few ships will be from eras earlier and later than World War 2.