The completely historically accurate boats that feature in World of Warships.

I’m on a boat, motherfucker! Setting sail on World of Warships

He’s driven tanks, he’s flown planes – now he’s ready to sail ships into war. Adam Goodall takes the plunge into World of Warships.

“Have you heard of the Battle of the River Plate?”

“Uh, the name’s familiar.” I’m scrolling through the Premium Shop in World of Warships, looking at boats. They’re all big, and they’ve all got big price tags. You can pay $95.19 for the French Gascogne, a Tier VIII “Mehbote”, according to the anime girl in this review – “could’ve been worse.” Or you could pick up the USS Massachusetts, more reasonably priced at $76.95. If you want to spend up large, there’s a trio of ships available for the eye-watering price of $188.77.

Tim tells me about how the German cruiser Admiral Graf Spee came face-to-face with two British cruisers and a New Zealand cruiser named HMS Achilles (“tempting fate,” I joke) off the coast of Uruguay. The Graf Spee engaged and a fierce battle commenced.

I click the PAY NOW button. “GREAT CHOICE,” says the Premium Shop as it siphons $32 out of my bank account. “The goods purchased will soon be added to your game account. Good luck in naval battles!”

I’m booted back to my Port, which is the River Thames (the latest World of Warships update is Royal Navy-themed). The VI ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE bobs in the river, a sight that would’ve been fucking terrifying to the locals if it had actually happened. “I have that ship!” I say. “There he is.” I ask Tim to finish the story. “Did the Graf Spee win?”

“The Graf Spee crippled the heavy cruiser,” Tim continues, “but it got damaged in the fight so it had to make port in Argentina. Then the British basically seeded all this misinformation that there was a much bigger fleet out there so the Germans scuttled it. And the Brits were like, ‘lad, jokes’.”

A ship, a ship that is made for war.

I’ve known Tim for nearly four years; he and I used to work together. He’s married, has a house with a mortgage and a good job that pays it off. He is an Adult and a Good Friend. I left that job last year, and we’ve hung out a few times since then. I went to his stag do earlier this year. But we mostly see each other online.

Since then, when he’s not tagging me in Caseless H&K G11 Memes on Facebook, Tim’s been trying to get me to play World of Warships. Every month or so I’ll get a message like this –

can you review world of warships

my favourite game

hint plz play world of warships with me

I’ll send you an invite code

adam plz

I ignored them for a while – I was busy, or I was playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or I was cutting my nails. But I relented, finally, inevitably, a couple of months ago. I’ve drawn this whole thing out, though: we played World of Tanks first, then World of Warplanes, just so I could understand the obsession better. But now Tim’s at my house for the big event. Two boat boys on the same wifi network, taking on the world.

Tim’s set a few conditions. There was the $30 premium boat, and there were the Youtube videos to watch. Serious research. In one of them, a Nordic man with a whiny baritone talks about Warships’ upcoming ‘CV’ revamp. CVs are aircraft carriers and, depending on who you believe in the comments section, they’re either a “sky cancer” or the only choice for “real” Warships gamers. The Nordic man’s name is Flamu. According to Tim, he’s one of the community’s flagship Youtubers. Flamu’s cautiously optimistic about the changes. On the flipside, the real gamers in the comments are very, very mad.

The other video is a meme compilation. Anime girls yelp and whimper while a Minotaur, a British cruiser with ridiculous guns that take two seconds to reload, wipes out player after player after player. I close the window when Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants turns up, screaming so loud that he’s blowing out my speakers. To wit:

I don’t get it. I’m worried that after two months and $30, I never will.

I don’t start with the $30 boat. “It’s a bit of a wacky boat,” Tim says, and I need to get a feel for the game before I get wacky. So I head out in the Bougainville, a Tier I French cruiser. “The French cruisers are very fast,” Tim says, “and their battleships are very similar.”

“It sounds like the French are the way to go,” I say.

Tim nods. “They’re fast.”

We play two uneventful co-op matches. Like in Tanks and Warplanes, matches have a pretty simple set-up: two teams of warships sail toward each other and try to take control of various areas in the map in order to earn points. The team with the most points, or the last team standing, wins. Tim explains the details to me: how damage works, how to lead your shots, how to change ammunition and put out ship fires and shoot torpedoes. I fire some torpedoes at an enemy and forget about it. They hit Tim two minutes later and I get a warning “for unsporting conduct”. My screen-name is pink for two matches, until I prove to the game that I’m able to be trusted.

The idyllic skyscape of World of Warships.

After that match Tim agrees that I’m ready to take the Graf Spee out, even after blowing him up. We head out into ‘Land of Fire’, a series of small volcanic islands lit by a vivid orange sunset. A Tier VI cruiser, it’s much faster and more agile than the Bougainville. It’s not even close to the fastest ship, though. Tim practically dances around me in a Tier VI Icarus, whose maximum speed is 7 knots faster than mine. It’s like he’s not even touching the water. Shortly after we set sail, though, I get my first kill: another Icarus. Speed isn’t everything.

I ask Tim if he has a Warships team. He has a couple of friends who play casually, he says, but he mostly plays solo. Even though Warships is a team game built to reward teamwork, it’s Tim’s experience that people don’t typically play like that. “Everyone’s generally out for themselves,” he says.

After a few more matches, Tim asks me if I want to see some of the biggest boats. He logs in to his account – “I have a lot of ships,” he warns me. We go through his big ships, most of which he’s had for over a year. He shows me his “Memeotaur”, a bright Union Jack painted across its hull. Then he flips over to the V ARP Hiei. “These are some of the anime boats,” he says, smiling.

The ARP Hiei is a bright purple-and-pink neon battleship with kanji scrawled all over it. The commander is a Japanese high school girl with bangs and wrap-around glasses. Tim explains that these are all ships from a Japanese anime, Arpeggio of Blue Steel. I look it up afterward. Wikipedia says it’s an apocalyptic sci-fi about a fleet of sentient warships who are also virtual schoolgirls.

Bringing you anime realness, World of Warships.

“They scream at you like school girls when you’re playing,” Tim says. I reluctantly agree to take the Hiei out onto the water.

As I cruise around ‘Trident’, I ask Tim – directly, this time, after two months of dancing around the question – what he loves about World of Warships. He laughs: “There are boats. A lot of them.” I push him on the question, and after a second, he answers. “It feels a lot more fulfilling when you actually win, I guess, than the other World of games,” he says. “It’s a big achievement sinking one ship yourself, let alone sinking multiple ships.”

But there are other games like that, I respond. There’s got to be more to it than that, because otherwise you’d just move on to another killing game. I think about my time with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, when it felt like I’d pulled off the impossible just killing one person. I still moved on, though. I haven’t booted PUBG up in six months, and not because there’s anything wrong with PUBG. It just stopped holding my interest. I went and played some other things.

One ships time comes to an end, as one does in wartime.

Tim thinks about it. “I’m really not sure,” he eventually responds. “It’s hard to put a finger on it, but it just works. It just clicks.”

I get this, at least a little bit. I can point to some of the problems with Warships – like in Tanks and Warplanes, the free-to-play grind is naked and tiring – and I can point to things that it does well, things that are appealing to me. For example, I can talk the path of progression in Warships, how clear it is; how your tools are fed to you as you level up, so you’re steadily learning new things and mastering individual elements one or two or three at a time. It is rewarding and it does make you feel like you’re improving.

Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to put that hook into words. Sometimes something just connects with you, you get caught in a particular loop, and it can be hard to articulate why that works for you. It just does. Your enthusiasm for it, your excitement that other people are interested in it or even might be interested in it, speaks for it more than any analysis you can offer. It doesn’t really matter if I get it or not.

My Hiei gets sunk and we get booted back to the port. Tim sighs. “We didn’t choose the really screamy one,” he says. One of the anime commanders is especially screamy, he says, and we have to try it out. “Who do we think it’s going to be?” I ask.

I click on Kirishima Yotaroh, a pink bear with a loveheart between its eyes. “Is it the bear?”

“No,” Tim responds, “he’s just the teddy bear.”


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