With World of Tanks being the runaway success that it is, and World of Warplanes pootling along quite nicely, it was only going to be a matter of time before mega studio Wargaming.net dipped their toes into the naval, well, waters. After a lengthy time in beta, and a substantial amount of polish, World of Warships, the team's latest historically themed free-to-play monster is ready to set sail - but is it worth your time (and potentially money)?
If you've played World of Tanks, you'll be on familiar footing here, as World of Warships uses a very similar base for its free-to-play action. After downloading the game for free, you can jump straight into a battle, as you, and a team of other folks from across the world, take on a flotilla of computer controlled opponents. This is World of Warships' "training" mode of sorts, as you get to try your ship out against the computer, rather than an armada of real people - after playing a few of these rounds, you'll unlock the ability to join a random battle, where two teams of human players will duke it out. Your objective? To sink the enemy ships, capture enemy territory, and generally not get sunk.
As ships are slightly different in terms of size and propulsion to tanks, though, that's where the similarities start to come apart. Slow, sluggish, and with more than a little bit of weight behind them, it soon becomes clear that getting your warship to go in the right direction will be half of the challenge in and of itself. Even though you start out with four light cruisers (one for each of the game's starter nations - America, Japan, the USSR and Germany), your ships are a long way from being nimble and responsive - instead, everything has to be planned in advance, and evasive manoeuvres don't exactly happen instantaneously.
It's lucky, then, that getting your guns to fire in the right direction is a lot easier, and slightly more instantaneous than turning your ship around. Keeping everything as simple as possible, all of your guns and turrets track your cursor on the screen, so where you point, you fire. There's no need to set the elevation of your gun, or anything else complex like that - all you need to do is point your cursor at an enemy, and your guns will (slowly) rotate themselves into place, shown by the yellow cursors that slowly converge on your main one. Once at least one of your guns is pointing in the right direction, all you need to do is click to fire off a barrage of shots - and if all of your guns are pointing in the same direction, you can deliver a huge amount of firepower.
There is, however, a lot of strategy involved here. First of all, to get all your guns pointing at an enemy, you'll need to be facing them side on. That may let all of your guns get a good shot in - but it also leaves you open to theirs. If they have a better selection of weaponry than you do, that may be the last mistake you make that game. Shells are big things, too, and if you're firing them over a distance, they take a fair amount of time to get to where they're going, so you'll need to "lead" your target, firing just a little bit ahead of them, so your shells land on top of them, rather than splosh harmlessly in the water behind them. All things considered, it might seem to make sense, to attack head on then, letting at least a few of your guns attack, whilst reducing your profile to a minimum, to make you harder to hit. But just because you're harder to hit, it doesn't make it impossible - and you may end up finding yourself flanked by enemies while you're not looking.
Keeping an eye on what's happening around you, and always being prepared for the worst is the key to your success here, then - not to mention working as a team with the rest of your fleet. As with World of Tanks, there are several different classes and types of ship on offer here, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Destroyers are your small, light, fast, and fairly lightly armed boats, coming with little in the way of artillery and deck guns, but still packing a punch with their torpedoes, which can sink even the largest ships in a few hits by hitting them where it hurts - below the waterline. Cruisers, meanwhile, put all their firepower behind their artillery, armour, and anti-aircraft guns, making them good all rounders. Battleships, on the other hand, are the huge, hulking tanks of the sea, coming with gigantic guns that can tear right through a smaller boat in only a few hits - although their lack of manoeuvrability makes them vulnerable.
There's just one last type of ships to talk about, and those are the aircraft carriers. While the other three classes of ship play out in much the same way, the aircraft carriers offer an entirely different kind of experience, instead giving you an overhead view of the action, with gameplay that more closely matches a real time strategy game. Instead of blowing people up directly, you'll instead be ordering your squadrons of planes around by setting waypoints using your mouse. With torpedo bombers, dive bombers and fighters to choose from, aircraft carriers can make a huge difference to any battle, not only by spotting enemy ships (and so marking them on your friends' maps), but also by packing a devastating punch with torpedo planes and dive bombers. Delivering a lethal payload across the map in a few short seconds, your planes can make short work of most vessels - if they get there intact - and with such great speed behind them, they can change the course of an entire battle in a few seconds, making aircraft carriers an essential part of the team.
So, that's how you play World of Warships - but how do they make their money? With this being a free to play game, there are plenty of ways you can choose to spend your money, but none of them are absolutely necessary. If you want to jump in and blow stuff up, form a flotilla with your friends, and work your way towards unlocking new ships, you can. You don't have to pay for any of that stuff - all paying really does is let you jump ahead on the unlock tree, and unlock better ships without paying. Not that there's really all that much of a reason to do that, as all buying better ships really does is put you into games with other better ships, so you never really truly get ahead.
Beyond paying to get access to better ships and upgrades quicker, there are only two things you'll have to spend real money on if you want to buy them - consumables, and extra ship slots. Consumables are single use modifiers that give your ship an ever so slight performance advantage - but not by giving it stronger weaponry, or letting it take more damage. Instead, these are things like reducing the cooldown time on the "damage control party" option - a feature that lets you press R to put out any fires on your ship, or repair any modules that have been knocked out (turrets, steering, etc) - meaning you only have to wait 80s to use it, rather than the standard 120s. It's not really a difference maker.
What's potentially more of a difference maker for fans of warships is the ability to buy extra slots. While the games in World of Warships are very much one life affairs - if you get blown up, that's it, you're sent back to the main menu and have to join another game - you have a number of ships to choose from before you go into each battle. As you play, you'll gain experience, which can be used to unlock extra ships - but without buying new slots, you'll have to sell one of your earlier ones. This probably makes sense from a gameplay perspective, as it encourages the really good players to leave their low tier boats behind, and stay playing with the bigger boys - but it poses a bit of a problem for those who want to play games with friends, or who are just really into collecting all the boats. If you've been playing for ages and have a dock full of tier 5 boats, you'll either have to sell one, or buy a new slot if you want to play along with a friend who's just started playing. And if you like chopping and changing your boats then, well, you'll have to buy a heck of a lot of slots.
Still, there's a heck of a lot of fun that can be had with World of Warships without paying a single penny - and, most importantly, it has that intangible something that makes you want to keep coming back. It's slick, smooth, polished and fun, with a wide range of historically themed maps to play across, taking you from the middle of the pacific to the Arctic tundras, and everywhere in between. While we still should mention we'd be willing to pay good money for a single player campaign add-on or two, with a graphics engine that's immensely scalable so even the oldest of PCs can at least join in and play along, if you have even a passing interest in WW2, this is well worth a look. With no cost to jump in and start playing, it'd be rude not to, really.