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The Flare Path's World Of Warships Apprenticeship

Ten hours before the mast

World of Warships has been flashing its signal lamp at me for several months. Ignoring messages like...

- .. -- --..-- / -.-- --- ..- / .-.. --- ...- . -.. / .-- --- .-. .-.. -.. / --- ..-. / - .- -. -.- ... --..-- / .-- .... -.-- / -. --- - / --. .. ...- . / .-- --- .-- ... / .- / - .-. -.-- ..--..

"Tim, you loved World of Tanks, why not give WoWS a try?"

.. - / .. ... / ..-. .-. .

"It's free!"

and - .... . / .--. .. --. . --- -. ... / -.. .- -. -.-. . / -... . .- ..- - .. ..-. ..- .-.. .-.. -.--

"The pigeons dance beautifully." (Not 100% sure I recorded that one correctly.)

...hasn't been easy, but somehow I managed it. Until Tuesday.

I kept my distance mainly by dwelling on conceptual misgivings and productivity concerns. Surely Wargaming would struggle to find fun in featureless ocean tracts and dawdling battleships? If, by chance, they succeeded, did I really want to find myself back in full-blown WoT mode, gleefully dutifully contentedly grinding my way up Sequoia-sized tech trees day after day while other worthy wargames and sims sat gathering dust on my hard drive?

After ten hours and 70 battles - the blink of an eye in WoWS terms - I reckon I've seen just about enough to realise that I was foolish to question whether Wargaming could carry off the concept, and right to be concerned that their latest creation would headcrab me in exactly the same way its caterpillared forerunner did.

The folk behind this Charybdisian whirlpool know a thing or two about ensnaring the sceptical, the impatient, and the feckless. Within five minutes of installing it you'll almost certainly have slung your first shell or, at the very least, sighted your first foe. The tutorial tedium, set-up rigmarole, and lobby thumb-twiddling that emulsifies the early phases of many weightier sims is totally absent in WoWS. Prod the bright 'BATTLE!' button in the top-centre of the port screen then reach instinctively for the WASD keys and you're away.

Low tier scraps are dominated by cruisers, the game's equivalent of a Main Battle Tank or an assault rifle-clutching grunt. Usually, teams - you're never alone at the beginning of a WoWS clash - also sport a few destroyers: fast scouts that, in the right hands, dash about revealing targets, loosing torpedoes, laying smoke screens, and grabbing victory zones. Other vessel types like aircraft carriers and battleships begin appearing once you've earned the XP and credits necessary to clamber a little higher on the level ladder.

Limiting unit diversity early on isn't quite as miserly or short-sighted as it seems. It leaves newcomers free to concentrate on developing basic WoWS skills like long-distance shell lobbing and short-notice land avoiding. Back when I was busy wrinkling my nose at what looked at first glance like an unimaginative attempt to move the WoT formula sideways into a new setting, I'm not sure I'd fully appreciated just how satisfying long-range munitions exchanges would be. I'd underestimated the pleasure pay-off that comes from firing a broadside at an empty patch of ocean far ahead of a speeding foe, then watching as the high-flying HE arcs across miles of sky and plunges unerringly onto that foe's foam-flecked deck.

Even more gratifying are the times when you clobber out-of-sight enemies. Think you're safe just because you've made it into the lee of that island, Mr Destroyer? Think again! Thanks to the black magic of ballistic trajectories and target leading I can, with luck, toss a fusillade right over that bluff and straight down your funnels.

Not that kills are the most satisfying experience offered by low tier tussles. My most gratifying moments thus far have come in the midst of torpedo attacks. Faced with a phalanx of fast-closing tin fish, nothing beats deftly twirling the wheel so the marine missiles swim harmlessly down your flanks.

Some clumsy ship purchase and research choices mean, ten hours in, I'm still not in a position to buy a torp delivery vessel of my own. Like WoT, WoWS features several scarily complex tech trees and a needlessly convoluted currency system. Selecting optimum upgrade paths means wading around in bilges awash with stats and demonstrating the kind of decisiveness I usually reserve for eleventh hour Christmas shopping sorties. While part of the joy of this game is the fact you can slip into it without (a) learning a new language (b) poring over tactical guides, or (c) being abused by foul-mouthed teammates (I've yet to witness one bad-tempered exchange) it stands to reason that players that do bother to read the guides and engage with the intricacies of inter-mission ship buffing are likely to sink less often than dolts like myself who prefer to rely on gut instinct and impulse purchases.

Is it possible to buy a combat edge via the Premium Shop? Not having encountered DLC 'premium ships' like the Atlanta and Atago, I'm not in a position to answer that question yet (Perhaps a more experienced WoWS seafarer would care to comment?). On tiers one and two there's certainly no sign of cash-tainted results. In the nursery stews where I've inadvertently spent a large proportion of the last few days, a little common sense (Pick your fights. Use islands for cover. Don't run aground. etc) seems to go an awfully long way. In fact I was quietly congratulating myself on my impressive performance figures until I realised that 'co-op battle' was WoWS shorthand for 'bot match'.

The 'I've finally stumbled upon a multiplayer game that favours easily flustered, slightly cackhanded middle-aged simmers!' thoughts vanished like startled reef dwellers when I discovered there was another far less impressive page to my stats screen.

Even if victories and kills prove more elusive in future, I can't imagine myself and World of Warships going our separate ways any time soon. Navigating the tangled tech tree isn't something I'm particularly looking forward to, but there's no way I'm jumping ship before I've tasted combat as a carrier captain and a destroyer skipper (hopefully, my PT Boats: Knights of the Sea training will come in handy in the DD role). I'm also looking forward to ruling the waves from the bridge of RN vessels (British ships are scheduled to arrive some time after the Russians heave into view). And, obviously, I've got my fingers crossed Wargaming will rethink their silly 'no submarines, Martian tripods, or krakens' stance at some point.



The Flare Path Foxer

Nine perplexing postcards + eleven perspicacious puzzle ponderers = seven pinpointed places.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

a Fort Eben-Emael (Rorschach617)
b Villers-Bocage (Stugle)
c Normandie Dock, St. Nazaire (Stugle)
d Site of Heydrich assassination (unsolved)
e Site of Ludendorff Bridge (Zogg)
f Campo Imperatore Hotel (LordBilisknir)
g Corregidor (gnuif)
h Bridges over Tavronitis river, Maleme (unsolved)
i Vemork Hydroelectric Plant (mrpier)


Foxer Fact #766

Several famous British foxer fabricators served their country during WW2. The Manchester Guardian's Herbert Cape worked alongside Constance Babington Smith at the Central Interpretation Unit. Tom Gough (Punch and Radio Fun) was the Ministry of Information brain behind posters like 'Dig For Victory' and 'Fags Are Their Flare Path'. The Telegraph's Milton Willoughby flew Blenheims, Stirlings, and Lancasters during a four-year RAF career that ended somewhat mysteriously on the night of August 12 1943. (Willoughby's Lancaster, W4787 'Defox This', failed to return from a raid on Berlin. Believed lost over the North Sea, wreckage was eventually discovered in 2011 in a peat bog near Sosnowiec, Poland)

All answers in one thread, please.

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Tim Stone