By Eric Hill | Contributor Published: 06/14/2013 8:00 am EST
Leviathan Warships first caught my attention with its hilarious and witty trailer. Before you read any further, check it out:
The game is fun, intuitive, and surprisingly engrossing. I say engrossing not only because it’s a cool word but because I found myself sucked in every time I loaded the game. You’d be surprised how complicated my fleet strategies looked: green and orange lines crisscrossing all over the place like it’s an aquatic light show. The gameplay itself is well structured, easy to learn, and downright fun, giving you some good options for strategic realization. You customize a fleet based on a point system; nothing new there, but it’s refreshing to have all the elements work simply and to not have to worry about a hardcore counter system. Rather than having the various mods counter each other, each mod you choose for your ship does a function well. Some are high damage but close range, while others are mid-range with a high rate of fire but low damage output. No one mod cancels out another mod, but each one contributes to a new strategy you could try. This allows for variability and good customization at the expense of an obvious way to counter a specific kind of target, but that doesn’t bother me one bit. I like a game that’s challenging, as long as there are plenty of options for solving that challenge, and Warships does this well. Not only are the mods unique in their strategic offerings, but each ship type that you earn throughout the campaign is useful, too. I never got rid of the first class of ship offered to me because it was just so fast and maneuverable that I couldn’t bring myself to junk it.
The campaign has you fighting pirates. No surprise there, really, as one might expect that pirates are the natural maritime enemies of any seafaring story. The thing about these pirates, though, is that they are better equipped than you in many respects. Apparently, while the good guys were sleeping at harbor, the pirate forces were building new classes of ships that far exceed your own in size and power. Three missions in and you get to meet this massive pirate vessel armed to the teeth with more guns than you fleet has combined, and that’s where I started to wonder about the structure of the campaign’s missions. Every time I faced an enemy, I would feel outgunned and overwhelmed only to somehow come out victorious. The first time this happened, I figured it was a fluke. The second and third time this happened, I began to suspect a strange and disappointing trend.
Let me give you a concrete example of what I mean, though: one mission you fight the above mentioned big ship, the one that’s bigger than anything in your fleet by far. It’s pretty much a fleet unto itself, and when I first saw it, I threw my ships into reverse and chinked away at the enemy’s armor while I ran like a wimp. I was ok with this, though. It was an interesting and unique challenge. I lost a ship and figured I’d lose this round, but would try a different strategy next time. Then the enemy super vessel stopped chasing me. It abruptly turned north and started sailing out to sea. It’s like it suddenly had the itch to go exploring. I pursue this vessel captained by Dora the Explorer, plinking away at its less defended aft section, and snatch victory right out of the jaws of doom. Truth is, though, it’s more like the jaws got tired and decided to lay down for a nap while I stole the treasure and snuck out the back. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the enemy giving up for no apparent reason, but I felt like I’d been cheated. I’d won, sure, but I’d loss that sense of dignity you get when beating a challenging foe, which is something a good strategy game should always give you.
I also want to spend a minute here complaining about the bland, unintuitive menu screen. Maybe the developers were trying to mimic an actual command bridge, but if so, battleships are not nearly as cool as I thought they were. You log into the blandest screen ever created; Gregorian brown is not my favorite color even on a game I like, but as my first introduction to a game, it tends to set a drab tone at best. You have a nice little top-down vista in front of you of an ocean front, but that doesn’t really capture the eye and there’s nothing going on, so it feels like filler space. The menu is nontraditional, lacking some of the tropes that make menu navigation easy, but worst of all is the absence of a “save game” option when you’re in game. It saves your progress automatically, though, but that doesn’t really help me when I want to save right before a critical moment to avoid screwing up permanently. A save option is pretty basic thing I was shocked at the absence of one.
The overall “bleh” nature of the game aside, Leviathan Warships is still pretty great. Despite the obvious external elements lacking some serious polish, the game at its core is a lot of fun. I mean, if you look at that trailer, the only thing they really promised you was the ability to blow up boats, and you’ll do that many times. Not only do you do that, but you do it in a fun, digital environment where the tactics are all made up and the enemy AI doesn’t matter. Lastly, it’s a turn-based game that doesn’t feel turn-based. Any game that does that deserves a nod. Bon voyage, readers!
An avid gamer, cigar smoker, and addicted hat wearer, Eric is trapped in an online gaming universe that consists of DOTA 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Starcraft II. If you're reading this, send help.