Ever since discovering P.T.O. IV during the heyday of the PlayStation 2 era, I have enjoyed the very sparse genre of naval simulation and strategy games. If you’re not a fan of this relatively obscure genre, that’s okay, but what you might not know is that the naval simulation and strategy games aren’t exactly flooding the market these days, and there is a history of some wonky-ness (random sci-fi elements in some WW2-based games, for example) and poor quality within the genre. So when I had the chance to play World of Warships in open beta last year, I was pretty excited. Recently I had a chance to spend some more time with World of Warships, and while I’m still hopeful, my excitement has been tempered a little bit by the realities of what the game is like more than half a year after its official launch.
World of Warships is a free-to-play game by Wargaming, the same developer behind World of Tanks and World of Warplanes, also free-to-play. If you play any of Wargaming’s other games, your account is automatically linked and premium time is shared, as is your clan affiliation, if you belong to one. Getting what is effectively a triple value with premium access to all three games if you decide to pay for premium is pretty cool, but the linked clan feature can be a bit of a headache if you’re in a clan that is active in one particular game and not others, but you want to play one of the games your clan doesn’t actively play. Besides those unique features, World of Warships resembles other free-to-play games with a business model of letting you spend real-world money to progress faster and unlock higher tier ships instantly, but this “freemium” business model appears to be very cumbersome in World of Warships.
World of Warships, like other games by Wargaming, is broken up into tiers–with 1 being the lowest, and 10 being the highest. Starting out at tier 1, things progress relatively fast, but the amount of experience points required to unlock the next tier increases significantly with each tier, and subsequently the time spent “grinding” that tier. Personally, I don’t mind the grind aspect of free-to-play games all that much, and I didn’t mind the World of Warships grind until I tried to sell a tier 4 ship that I had been grinding for quite a while to discover I couldn’t sell it without spending the in-game premium currency, doubloons, because I had used non-premium currency to install an upgrade on the ship, and the ship couldn’t be sold without removing the upgrade, which costs premium currency. This might not be a problem if you had unlimited storage space for the ships you grow out of as you progress in the tiers, but you don’t–and, you might have already guessed, more ship berths come at a cost of premium currency that has to be bought with real-world money. Added to this problem, it appears that premium currency can also be used to add combat capability to ships in battle by allowing them to execute special abilities more often and more times per battle than those who don’t spend premium currency. You can’t buy magic bullets that blow up ships in one shot with real-money-bought premium currency, but the edge you can buy is significant enough that it becomes effectively required for player versus player combat at the higher tiers. The bottom line on the free-ness of World of Warships is: If you want some quick kicks and don’t intend to get seriously involved in player versus player, playing for free is just fine, but if you want to progress past the mid tiers and/or be involved in PVP, then get ready to spend some real money.
While there might be concerns with the business model Wargaming is employing, they do a lot of stuff right with the game itself. The of World of Warships is essentially arcade-style gunnery and navigation with a real-time-strategy twist for aircraft carrier skippering. The game breaks up ships into straightforward classes: Cruisers, destroyers, battleships and aircraft carriers are the available classes, but only the United States and Japan have full compliments of ships as of March 2016 while the Germans have a line of cruisers and the Russians have a line of destroyers. Cruisers are the most well-rounded class, and feature good speed and maneuverability with mediocre survivability and often a mix of artillery, anti-aircraft guns, and torpedoes. Destroyers are fast and fragile, but they can create their own smoke screens, are difficult to detect, and usually carry a good amount of torpedo tubes–it is not uncommon to see destroyers spamming a dozen or more torpedoes while hiding in smoke or behind islands. Battleships are slow and can take a significant beating, and while they have the biggest guns in the game, they reload painfully slow and are terribly inaccurate, and their lack of maneuverability makes them vulnerable to torpedo runs from both the sea and the air. Aircraft carriers play differently than all the other ships in that you have a tactical view of the area around you, and it is up to you to control your ship as well as your fighter, bomber and torpedo squadrons (and sometimes more than one of each), making for busy gameplay that is less arcade-like and closer in gameplay style the MOBA or RTS genre. To be expected of Wargaming, based on their track record with Tanks and Warplanes, it is clear they took great pains to make the ships as detailed and accurate as possible in both look and sound (try turning up the bass to piss off your neighbors and feel the floor shake when the battleships fire their massive guns). The maps on offer seem well-made and reasonably well balanced in terms of starting positions and cover features, and most of them are gorgeous to look at.
The bottom line: Even though World of Warships is “free,” the fact that it’s not really free (once you reach a certain point in progression), and the increasingly long grind between tiers make it more likely for players to lose interest and stop playing, especially if they’re not looking to shell out cash for a premium experience, even if it is shared across the other Wargaming games.