A great turn-based naval strategy game comes to pretty much every non-console platform.
It’s not often that we look at games that are capable of being played on mobile devices, but that’s more to do with the fact that filling a page on something like Tiny Wings is kind of challenging. However, while Leviathan Warships is coming to Android and iOS devices, it’s already out on Mac and PC, and despite its apparently simple top-down trappings, there’s a richly rewarding world of complex naval maneuvers and broadsides to explore.
And, being only $10 on Steam, it’s something that makes its money back in sheer fun almost immediately.
The game features a number of modes, from competitive head-to-head matches, to four player co-op, challenge maps, and a pretty thorough campaign. It’s also, given the game’s rather cheap asking price, already getting a lot of post-release attention, with a number of fixes and balance improvements already having been rolled out.
Starting out with the campaign is probably the best bet, as it does a very good job of slowly introducing ship technologies, hull sizes, and tactical challenges. With every mission the points size increases, allowing more ships or upgrades to be purchased for those you currently have, meaning you can instantly start tweaking ships to match your emerging playstyle.
The slow burn of learning the game becomes apparent with just a few missions under your belt. Though a top-down strategy game, everything’s modelled in 3D, and the roll of the ocean and momentum of your ships are all-important - if you don’t maintain a good head of speed from turn to turn, it’ll take you longer to get back up to your maximum rate of knots. The other challenge is maneuvering to take full advantage of the fire arcs of different weapons on each of your ships, and how best to use them at the same time as your defences.
For instance, one of the early tactical challenges is how best to employ your ship’s energy shields. These can only face one quarter at a time, take a few turns to recharge, and block all weapons-fire - including your own! Learning how to used shielded ships, how to anticipate incoming fire, all without losing firepower of your own, is an enjoyable task, and one with a lot of different possibilities, depending on how you want to employ your ships.
The ranges of missions available also do a good job of expanding a learning Admiral’s repertoire of tricks. You will need to rescue and escort friendly vessels, clear out pirate’s nests, run mine-filled gauntlets, or take on end-boss style warships that almost fill the screen. And in each instance, there are many ways to win.
The game’s world is distinctly steampunk flavoured, which could be a turn-off right away, but the mixture of weaponry on hand is richer for it. There are traditional cannon and rapid-firing guns, crystal-powered lasers, bombs, rockets, and mines, all with different minimum and maximum ranges, and better or worse ability to penetrate armour. Different weapons also take up more or less space on a ship. When it comes to outfitting some of the larger vessels, there’s a wealth of options. You can make close-in specialists, shielded monstrosities, swap speed for more armour, or try to make each ship as balanced as possible, thus minimising the loss from any one vessel.
And then, once the campaign is done, you can have all your best strategies and design philosophies ruined by coming up against real live opponents. Being turn-based is in this instance a real boon, as it means strategy usually conquers reflex or click-speed. Sadly, with limited servers the game can be a little hard when you’re not playing in offline mode, as saved games live on the server, but so far that’s had minimal impact on our enjoyment of the game.
The slower pace of the strategy and the jumbled, rule-of-cool setting may not work for everyone, but given the asking price there’s a tonne of fun to be had with Leviathan Warships. Paradox usually publishes much more demanding and in-depth games, and it’s great to see the company staying true to its (quasi) historical roots, while still developing a game that errs on the side of fun and playability.