I’ll say this…the trailers for this game (here and here) are probably the most unusual creations ever to have surfaced in the world of naval warfare games. “Leviathan: Warships” is a naval warfare simulator that tasks the player with blowing up ships while safeguarding their own. After playing it for a while, I dubbed it as a cross between “Gratuitous Space Battles” and “Frozen Synapse”. If you haven’t played or heard of either of those games, that’s OK. To sum up the overall theme, you’ll be customizing your ships, assigning those ships to a fleet, and commanding them on the open waters to take out enemy ships in a tactical turn-based environment. Before I get into the specifics, I’d like to thank Veronica Gunlycke and David Martinez from Paradox Interactive for providing me with a free review copy.
Editor’s Note: The game will be released for iOS and Android devices on 5/2/13. At the time of writing, the PC and Mac versions have already been released.
The main menu allows the player log in, play offline, change servers, and perform account maintenance. First time users will need to create a free account, which allows them to purchase things through the in-game store and play online. The in-game store features new ships and items to use, though they aren’t required to play the game (optional DLC). There’s also an options menu, which only addresses audio volumes. I was able to change screen resolution, pick a graphics quality, and toggle fullscreen via a window pop up before the game launched, however. Once logged in, you can play the campaign, try challenge missions, and participate in two types of versus modes (points and assassination). The shipyard allows you to build fleets of ships, though there are premade ones (ships and fleets) should you want to dive right in.
Ship customization is quite plentiful, much to my surprise. Before playing this game, I couldn’t think of very many weapons I could add to a battleship besides cannons, cannons, and more cannons. Thankfully, “Leviathan: Warships” adds other weapon classes like beam weapons on top of the normal artillery and ballistic weapons we’re used to seeing. Ships can also carry a wide range of defensive armaments like smoke grenades, shields, and cloaking devices. Radar attachments can help see through these cloaking devices, as well as sniff out any stealth mines that happen to be lying around. Players will be free to place these armaments into slots on the ship creator screen and save their creations for use on the battlefield. Each item has a point cost, allowing players to create expensive (but powerful) ships or try a more “Zerg-like” approach with a bunch of weaker, less expensive units.
When setting up your game, you’ll assign ships (whether they are game or user-made) to your fleet. You’ll be limited in terms of what you can assign to a fleet, which is where a ship’s unit cost comes into play. When creating a fleet, you’ll have to stay under the value of your resource pool…think of it as a budget. For those of you who have played “Gratuitous Space Battles”, you’ll be familiar with how ship creation and fleet assignments work. To top that off, there are three different factions at work, each with their own unique look and design. I enjoyed the flexibility behind this process, as it allows the user to experiment with different ship types and whatever creations they’ve managed to concoct. I also appreciated being able to change the fleet size, thereby adjusting the number of resource points I had to spend when assigning ships to my fleet. It’s important to note that single player matches (campaign and challenge modes) are a bit more scripted in terms of what ships you’ll have available.
After it’s all said and done, you’ll be thrust onto the game map with the ships you’ve brought to the table. There are two phases that players will observe until the conclusion of the battle: the planning phase and the results phase. The planning phase is where you’ll be spending most of your time, giving orders to your ships and telling them what to do. Each player assigns orders at the same time, but nothing happens until the results phase. Once all players are satisfied with the orders they’ve given in the planning phase, they all get to see the fruits of their labor in the results phase. Nothing can be done during the results phase, except maybe wince or cheer, depending on how well you did during the planning phase. Those who have played “Frozen Synapse” will understand the gameplay mechanics at work here. The process repeats until the goals are met, which usually involves blowing your opponents to kingdom come and sending them to an early watery grave.
With all of the above in mind, it’s important to touch on the game modes. It’s worth noting right off the bat that there is both online and offline play. In-game notifications and email are used to let you know when your online opponent has made their move, and you can have multiple game sessions going at once (again, like “Frozen Synapse”). Cross-platform matchmaking play is available across PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, giving players more to work with in terms of interacting with the fan base. Offline modes allow you to play out missions without having to wait for other players to make their move. Cooperative play is available, if you’d like to take on said missions with a couple of friends (up to three). If the campaign missions become too easy for you, you can try your hand at the much harder challenge maps.
The game could stand to improve, mainly in areas involving server stability. Some folks are experiencing lag issues due to server overload, though the devs have informed me that two extra servers were recently added to address the problem. During my online play sessions, there was roughly two to ten seconds of lag when queuing up the next phase (even during the campaign). Also, ships you may have created are only available on the server you saved them on. If you are forced to switch servers, you won’t have access to your customized content (at least, I didn’t). It would have been great if these files could have been saved locally. Another odd bug that my friend encountered was that all of the premade content (ships and fleets) were missing from his shipyard. He ended up having to create fleets from scratch in order to play. I didn’t have this problem, but I’m thinking that server issues may be contributing to this.
On an unrelated note, the keyboard keys aren’t rebindable, which wouldn’t be so bad had it not been for the odd way you give orders to your ships. Rather than select a ship and use a mouse button to tell it where to go (RTS style), you have to click and drag the ship’s arrows to create waypoints. This drag and drop control scheme takes some getting used to, though I suspect it was designed this way for the benefit of tablet (touchscreen) users. It also would have been nice to rotate the camera in three dimensions, rather than be limited to an overhead view, but that’s a minor nitpick. Finally, and this is a big one for me, there’s no support for skirmishes versus the AI. The campaign and challenge modes allow you play against the AI, but the versus and assassination modes do not. I really would have liked the ability to play against the AI in a skirmish match in order to try out new ship/fleet combinations without having to involve my friends.
“Leviathan: Warships” is quite the in-depth little gem. It sounds simple on the surface, but you’ll be knee-deep in armaments and strategies in no time. Getting used to all of the weaponry and defenses takes time, which in my case, is highly appealing. I enjoyed trying out different combinations to see what worked best. There’s also a psychological factor involved, as you’ll often be trying to predict what your opponent is doing during the planning phase. “Knowing that they know that I know that they know”, the ultimate mind game, will happen frequently. There’s definitely enough here to warrant the $9.99 price tag (as of 4/30/13), assuming you can get past the server stability issues. I highly recommend giving it a shot, especially if you enjoy strategic games that involve careful planning and have friends that you can play with. Multiplayer is where the game truly shines, so those who go in it for the single player experience may lose interest after a while since there is no AI skirmish support. Oh yeah, and there’s that “equipping naval ships with beam weapons and shields” thing…”Shields are down Scotty, FIRRREEE!!!”
Final Verdict: 7/10
You can learn more about and purchase “Leviathan: Warships” by visiting the following websites:
You can check out video play sessions here: