From the Depths: Hands-on with World of Warships’ epic submarine patch

This... should be fine.

Few things in World of Warships are as polarizing as submarines. For every player excited at the possibility of playing the stealthy assassins, there is an equally passionate player decrying the threat to the balance of current gameplay. Not to be dissuaded, Wargaming this month released a new build of the public test server that includes a version of submarines with reworked mechanics and systems. Whether or not these boats are ready for prime time may depend on the feedback received from the divided player community.

Submarines are a unique type of craft and as such require a unique playstyle when compared to surface ships. First and perhaps most obviously, submarines move on a vertical axis as well as within the horizontal plane of the sea. While submarines can run exclusively surfaced, that strategy would generally be ill-advised considering the submarine’s small health pool. Though they have a ridiculously small detectability range, it would not take many hits from an enemy cruiser’s main battery to sink a sub. Instead, submarines alternate between surfaced and underwater operation, where they are safe from opposing players’ shells.

Operating while submerged includes both pros and cons. The sub’s detectability shrinks the further it drops below the surface of the water. At a certain depth, the submarine can become completely invisible to surface ships and can only be detected by hydroacoustic search (pings) or by enemy submarines. However, running silent comes at a cost. The speed of the submarine is greatly reduced when submerged, and underwater actions consume the “battery” resource, a system specific to subs. Specifically, anything over 1/4 speed consumes the battery, as does “pinging,” which is integral to the submarine’s torpedo attack. As speed decreases, so does maneuverability. That means dodging an enemy sub’s torpedoes becomes an interesting challenge that includes both back-and-forth as well as up/down maneuvers.

Dealing damage in submarines is limited to firing torpedoes at your foes, which can be done from the surface or from the depths. It is possible to “blindly” fire torpedoes from the surface based on a target approximation like how torpedoes work for surface ships today.

However, since subs have only three torpedo tubes (two in the bow and one in the stern), it is extraordinarily difficult to hit the target without an assist from the torpedo homing system. Homing in on a target consists of “pinging” your target in a specific spot on the enemy ship. If that spot is successfully pinged, the torpedoes will begin to home in on the ship and adjust their trajectory accordingly.

Unfortunately for sub captains, a successful ping doesn’t necessarily mean that your target will be hit. Pings only last for a short period, after which the torpedoes will lose their target if the ping is not refreshed. Also, the torpedo turn radius is limited, so if a target is pinged too late, the trajectory may not be able to adjust. Some surface ships are simply able to dodge torpedoes due to their own speed and turn radius. On top of all that, the torpedo range must also be considered.

If this all sounds a bit complicated, it is! Submarine torpedoes cause massive damage to a ship’s hull, so to mitigate the power of the sub, systems have been developed to make targeting enemies somewhat difficult.

Pinging targets comes with its own dangers. On the surface, a successful ping will increase a submarine’s detectability range, making it susceptible to incoming shells. Under the water, a successful ping on any ship will alert enemies in the area that a submarine is nearby, which could result in being hunted down by enemies with depth charges. Speaking of depth charges, some surface boats, mainly destroyers and light cruisers, have been equipped with these explosives as a countermeasure to submerged submarines. The surface boats are alerted when a submarine nearby has landed a ping, and must attempt to maneuver in a way (or use hydroacoustic search) to get close enough to reveal the underwater position of the sub. If the sub is located, the ship must be positioned above it while releasing its depth charges into the water. If the depth charge explodes close to the sub, the result is loss of heath and potential for both fire and flooding damage over time.

For boats without depth charges, counter-play for subs is limited. In fact, battleships struggle mightily against these tiny boats. Unless caught on the surface, there is little a battleship with high-caliber, slow-turning turrets can do against a submarine. Even if surfaced, submarines are small and difficult to target with shells. Within a day of the patch going live on PTS, YouTuber Notser found a way to quickly surface and torpedo surface ships with very little risk to the submarine.

Because of these potential shake-ups to current balance and gameplay, much of the playerbase is understandably concerned. Any time a new class gets introduced into a PvP game, there’s a chance that it will dominate play. In the case of a large team PvP game like World of Warships, that scenario could lead to a change to the entire flow and strategy of the game, as well as lop-sided defeats for teams with lower-skilled submarine players. Imagine how the game of chess would change if three or four of the pawns were replaced with queens.

There has been some speculation on how to minimize the disruption. Currently, on the PTS, games with submarines are an entirely separate game mode than the typical random battle matches. Players must specifically enter that game mode if they want to contend with, or compete as, submarines. Another option might be to limit the number of subs per side during a random battle. Wargaming has recently made changes to its match maker to allow only two aircraft carriers per side. Limiting the number of submarines to two per side may be an advisable tactic.

My personal experience with subs is a bit mixed. I thought the targeting system for honed torpedoes was difficult to execute. However, sub vs. sub battles are exciting. As far as countering the subs, I had a difficult time “sub hunting” in my destroyer. I think this is mainly because destroyers are so aggressively targeted by surface ships that I was never able to survive long enough into the battle to focus on trying to reveal a submarine location. Destroyers already have a difficult assignment. They are expected to spot enemy ships, stay hidden, set smokescreens for allies, capture objectives and now hunt submarines. I like the ability to set depth charges; I just wonder when I’ll have the opportunity to actually deploy them!

My initial impression is that subs, in some version, should be introduced into the game. Besides the close-quarter ambush, the submarine combat feels about right, although it’s certainly one of the more advanced classes of ships in the game. I don’t have a good answer for whether subs should remain in their own game mode or integrated into the existing random matches. Either way, the number of subs per match should probably be limited. The one thing that seems to be missing is the ability of a battleship to counter a submarine in any way. This is something that Wargaming needs to take a serious look at prior to going live with subs.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?

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