Wargaming is no stranger to games involving large war machines. The Belarusian company has been successful with its MMO shooter, World of Tanks, for almost a decade now, a game that received a console version back in 2016. However, warfare can go even bigger and more deadly than tanks and artillery, and the true pinnacle of men and machines facing off in a deadly struggle is to be found on the world's oceans; specifically during the great naval battles of the early twentieth century. With World of Warships: Legends, Wargaming has brought free-to-play naval warfare to consoles. Time for us to load the torpedoes and man the big guns.
World of Warships: Legends features warships that were in service between the start of the 20th century until the early days of the Cold War in the late 1940s. While it looks mostly the same as the PC version of the game, Wargaming St. Petersburg actually remade the game from scratch for consoles. Upon release, three nations are playable: Great Britain, the United States, and the Empire of Japan. Germany, France and others will follow later. Players pick one of three ship classes with their own specific strengths and weaknesses. In a typical match, teams of up to nine players fight over capture points or win by the annihilation of the opposing team, with the action taking place on the fifteen maps that are available upon release. Each team starts at one end of the map, which usually consists of a lot of open ocean at the edges and a number of islands around the centre.
After playing the game for a number of hours, we think the gameplay in World of Warships: Legends can be characterised as a challenging mix between careful aiming of your guns and torpedoes, constantly altering your speed and direction to avoid incoming shells, and a need to cooperate with the rest of your team. Compared to the PC version, the maps are a bit smaller. This allows for a higher tempo to the engagements, but it also makes this a more arcadey experience, with less emphasis on strategic positioning and team-work.
For new players, the gameplay can be a bit overwhelming. Your ship moves around by powering the engine in four different speed modes, from ¼ to full power or reverse. With movement largely automated, players can theoretically focus on steering the ship and watching the horizon for enemies. Once the fight starts though, it's quite hard to both adjust speed, steer away from islands, shoot enemy ships, and keep a lookout for incoming torpedoes all at the same time. Your ship's guns are the main weapon to do battle irrespective of class, and they can zoom in and out depending on the distance between you and your adversary. Because enemy ships are usually a few kilometres away, you need to aim well in advance of an enemy ship's most probable direction in order to score a hit. Salvo accuracy is partially randomised, meaning they sometimes range from accurate to all over the place without much influence from the player. It can be a bit frustrating at times, but it also saves you from enemy attacks so it kind of balances out.
Hitting enemy ships for maximum damage also requires a fair amount of practice. You can shoot either heavy explosive ammunition that deals damage and sets ships on fire, or try armour-piercing rounds that deal damage upon penetration. Knowing when to use which shell type and against which ships is something you need to learn while playing, which keeps the game challenging but might also scare off players who fail to understand the mechanics after playing for some time. Additionally, there are so-called citadels on each ship model: if you aim really well, you can score a citadel hit which deals massive damage. Getting to know your guns' trajectories on each ship and how to citadel enemies is part of the learning curve and it's very satisfying to pull off.