World of Warships is a free-to-play, team-based multiplayer game created by Wargaming.net - who are also responsible for the popular World of Tanks and the decidedly not-so-popular World of Warplanes. It's an arcade-style simulation of naval combat in the "big gun" age - roughly the first four and a half decades of the 20th century.
Players control warships of various sizes and types dating from various points between roughly 1900 and the end of World War II - some of them ships that existed in real life, some of them intriguing "What if?" designs which never made it past the drawing board stage. Ships are arranged on tech trees with tiers numbered from 1 to 10, and players use XP earned in battle to research upgrades and unlock higher-tier ships.
Ships of the World... of Warships
The vessels in World of Warships fall into four categories: Destroyers, Cruisers, Battleships, and Aircraft Carriers. Summaries of the roles and capabilities of each ship type are under the spoilers below.
Destroyers ("DD's" in the US Navy abbreviation system used by many people in the game) are the smallest, swiftest, stealthiest ships in WoWS. They are designed for hit-and-fade attacks. Their job in the battle is to make surprise harassment attacks and surgical strikes on important enemy ships, and secondarily to escort their larger teammates. Destroyers are typically armed with 3-6 rapid-firing guns of calibers in the 4-5" range. Destroyers also all carry torpedoes, allowing them to lay waste to even the biggest opponents with well-aimed spreads, although the range, speed, and overall usefulness of torpedoes varies according to the individual ship and tier. Due to their small size and lack of armor, destroyers are the most fragile ships in the game, and can be annihilated by just a couple of good hits from high-caliber guns. Their defense against this is their agility and their high concealment levels (enemy ships must be closer to DD's before the DD's can be detected). Destroyers also have the ability to lay a smokescreen to hide themselves or friendly ships the enemy, and as of open beta, also have a speed boost ability which temporarily enhances their already-outstanding maximum speed.
Cruisers are the intermediate, jack-of-all-trades ship type. Commonly referred to as "CL's" (for light cruiser) or "CA" (for heavy cruiser, an abbreviation dating back to the heavy cruiser's predecessor ship type the armored cruiser), cruisers fill a variety of roles in World of Warships battle fleets. They typically have main battery guns ranging in caliber from 5" to 8", and a lot of them - as many as 14 or 15 in some classes. Some cruisers also carry torpedoes. Mid-tier and upper-tier ones tend to have excellent anti-aircraft batteries. Cruisers are generally not as swift as destroyers but many are still quite fast, typically faster than any battleship at the same tier. What cruisers lack in raw firepower or resiliency they can make up for with rate of fire and versatility. The role of cruiser includes screening friendly ships from destroyer and air attack, providing support fire, and serving as a quick-reaction force to reinforce the team wherever it's needed the most. United States cruisers almost never have torpedoes at higher tiers, but tend to have superior anti-aircraft weapons. High-tier Japanese cruisers were intended to be more well-rounded and usually do have at least some torpedoes (and often very good ones) but inferior AA. Higher-tier cruisers also have secondary gun batteries. Some cruisers (mid and upper tier) can launch scout planes (aircraft that spot targets for you, extending the range of your main guns for a brief period) or (AI-controlled) fighter planes which defend the ship from enemy aircraft.
The biggest, baddest things on the ocean. "Battlewagons" (or "BB's" as they are commonly referred to, based on the US Navy abbreviation system) have the most powerful weapons of any ship type (main battery guns ranging in caliber from 12" to 18") and have the most armor. This means they can hit the hardest from the farthest distance, and can also absorb the most punishment in return. In addition to their thick armor protection and mountains of HP, battleships have a limited ability to make running repairs to damage they receive to recover moderate amounts of lost health. The tradeoff to this is that while some battleships boast respectable speed and agility, they are still generally the most ponderous ship type, and maneuvering them well takes skill and forethought. Furthermore, while their guns are extremely powerful, they reload slowly so missed salvos can be costly. Finally, battleships are big targets, and in spite of their power are very vulnerable on their own - stick with teammates as a BB driver, and if you're in another ship type, try to screen the battleships on your team so they do not get swamped and overwhelmed. Some battleships at higher tiers have respectable anti-aircraft defenses; at lower tiers they tend to have little or none. All battleships also have secondary gun batteries. Mid and high tier battleships can launch scout planes and/or fighters.
Carriers (abbreviation "CV") represent the next evolution in naval warfare which by the end of World War II supplanted the battleship and brought an end to the era of big-gun battleship construction and dominance. Carriers, as you can probably surmise, launch airplanes from their decks which can be used to attack enemy ships or engage aircraft launched by the enemy. CV planes fall into three categories: dive bombers, torpedo bombers, and fighters. Dive and torpedo bombers are used to attack enemy ships; fighters are for shooting down enemy aircraft and are useless against enemy warships. Carriers have a completely different play style and mechanics from other ships in the game. The player is given an overhead map view of the battle and handles his or her planes in much the fashion of a RTS game. Carriers typically try to stay far away from the heat of a battle, often skulking at the edge or corner of the map while striking from a distance with their air squadrons. Well-played carriers can completely sway the course of a battle, but while carriers usually have some weapons of their own for defensive purposes they are at a severe disadvantage in any straight-up fight against enemy ships. For this reason, you should always try to protect your team's CV's from enemy ships and look for opportunities to eliminate the enemy's. Destroyers in particular often use their speed and stealth to go hunting for enemy "flattops."
Weapons and Equipment
Main Battery Guns
All ships in the game (except carriers) have main battery guns. They range in caliber, number, and turret layout according to the individual ship. These are aimed and fired by the player, and they are your primary weapons in destroyers, cruisers, and battleships. Main guns on battleships can strike targets 15-20km away. 10km is a more typical engagement range for guns on other types of ship. Main battery guns can fire two ammunition types: high explosive (HE) or armor piercing (AP). Smaller and low-tier ships are best off sticking with HE under most circumstances; HE shells are virtually guaranteed to do at least some damage to the target when they score a hit, and have a good chance of starting a fire on the enemy ship which is a DOT effect. Armor-piercing shell are best used by battleships; they have a chance to fail to penetrate the enemy target's armor and be ineffective, but when they penetrate the armored "citadel" of a target ship and strike vital areas they can do devestating damage, taking away half of the target's health bar or more with one shot. Carriers have no main battery guns.
Secondary guns are carried by all battleships and most cruisers past the early tiers. These are the smaller backup weapons distributed in turrets or in hull and superstructure casemates around the ship. These guns are controlled by AI, and they fire automatically at enemy ships which approach close to your ship. You have no direct control over them although you can designate what target they should fire at if multiple enemy ships are in range. They are not a major threat (except sometimes to fragile destroyers), as they are neither powerful nor accurate, but they are a factor to consider when closing to very short range on an enemy ship. On carriers, these are the only anti-ship weapons available.
Like secondary guns, AA guns are automatic, that is to say, AI controlled. They vary in size and power. Low tier ships of all types tend to have very few AA guns or none at all. Higher tier ships and especially cruisers fairly bristle with AA guns, making them a formidable obstacle for attacking dive bomber or torpedo bomber squadrons. Some cruisers (and also upper-tier US destroyers as of the 0.4.1 patch) can use an ability which increases the intensity of their AA fire for a 30-second period.
Torpedoes are carried by all destroyers and by some cruisers as well (mainly Japanese cruisers). Torpedoes rival the power of battleship main gun shells in the damage they can do to a target with a single hit. Torpedo launch tube banks vary in size from 2-tube banks up to ones with which launch 4 or 5 torps in a spread. You can set your torpedoes to fan out in a wider or narrower spread by pressing the torpedo weapon group button a second time (by default this is bound to "3" on your keyboard). The primary areas where torpedoes differ from each other is speed and range. Torpedoes with greater range can be launched farther away from the enemy, requiring less risk from the player. Faster torpedoes are harder to dodge. High tier Japanese ships have torpedoes with ranges of 15km or more. Torpedo hits cause flooding in the target, which is a a DOT effect like fire.
(To be added: consumables, cosmetic items. Aircraft types and combat abilities too?)
Matchmaking and Game Modes
Game modes in WoWS pit two teams of 12 players/ships each, matched according to ship type and tier. The matchmaker in WoWS is for the most part fairly good, with a couple of notable idiosyncrasies. First, since open beta just started and there was a wipe for the closed beta people only a few days before, few players have yet made it to the highest tiers and so the game may dump one or two high tier players in a match with teams made up primarily of ships a couple of tiers below them rather than search for enough players for a high-tier match for a prolonged period of time. Second, at lower and mid tiers, aircraft carrier players tend to be somewhat scarce, and this means that you sometimes have a match where one team has an aircraft carrier and the other does not, or one team has two CV's to the other team's one, or each team has just one but one team has a markedly more powerful CV. Since CV's are potentially very powerful and until high tiers ships with strong AA abilities are pretty rare, this can throw off the balance of the match in a serious way. However, for the most part in my experience the matchmaking in WoWS is good - or at least much better than the infamously bad matchmaking in the early days of World of Tanks. It is very rare to drop in a match, look at the team rosters, and immediately know that one team has no realistic chance of victory.
Game modes in WoWS all share the objective of sinking enemy ships. One team being wiped out obviously results in their defeat. However, matches can also be one by completing territory control objectives - capturing an enemy base in some match types, or capturing strategic areas which contribute to your team's score while they are controlled. Capturing a base is as simple as sailing into it's boundaries and occupying it for a sufficient length of time, but taking hits from enemy fire will "reset" a base capture.
In addition to the team game mode objectives, WoWS offers "missions" which are more like individual challenges or achievements players can try to get as they play regular matches. Typical mission goals are things like "shoot down 20 aircraft," completion of missions results in rewards of credits or free XP.
Currencies and Progression
There are three reward/currency types in World of Warships: credits, XP, and doubloons. If you have played World of Tanks in the past, the system is functionally just the same. Credits are earned in matches and are used for buying new ships and upgrades for your current ships, as well as repairing/resupplying your ship after battle, and for some consumable battle items. XP is experience earned for your performance during battle; it is used to research new ship upgrades and ship types. XP earned is tied to the ship it was earned in, but a small percentage of XP earned becomes "free XP" which can be used for the progression of any ship. Doubloons are premium currency which are purchased for real money through the WG store; they can be used to buy premium ships,to convert XP earned on one ship to free XP to be used on any ship, and for a couple of other less important things.
Development and Future Plans
World of Warships was announced in 2011, and entered closed alpha testing in November of 2013. After a length alpha phase, a closed beta test began in March of 2015. Towards the end of June, a final server wipe was done with the 0.4.0 patch. A period of a week or so followed during which closed beta testers had the opportunity to grind back some of what they had lost in the wipe and get a "head start" on the influx of new players that would come with open beta. On July 1, open beta was "soft launched," as anyone was allowed to download and play the game, but open beta was officially announced on July 2. The game is currently available to download and play for free for everyone, and there are servers for both North America and the EU. Despite the fact the game is still officially in beta, WG has announced that there will be no further wipes from this point on; everything players earn now they will get to keep.
Currently, full tech trees for the United States Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy are implemented in the game (though both will probably be tweaked and expanded on in the future). The British Royal Navy and the Soviet Union navy are currently represented only by a couple of premium ships, but full tech trees for the British and Soviets, along with the German kriegsmarine are planned for the future.
Shipping Out With Penny Arcade
A Google Docs roster of PA forum members playing WoWS is available here. Add your forum name, your in-game handle (if different from your forum one), and what tiers you own ships for to make it easier to group up.
Getting Your Sea Legs
If you're new to the game and having trouble picking things up, it's recommended to watch the Captain's Academy series of videos by iChaseGaming. They cover everything from basic controls up to more advanced concepts like armor angling and manual aircraft torpedo drops.
For a brief glossary of some useful nautical/naval terms and game-related slang, check our this post on the official WoWS forums. Also includes some good basic advice on tactics like torpedo evasion, with diagrams.
You can find a very helpful article explaining "hidden" controls (not really hidden but not as immediately intuitive the first time you play as "WASD LMB") here.
The Armored Patrol is a blog that posts a lot of cool stuff about WoWS, World of Tanks, and other games in the genre. Especially nice are the charts comparing main battery ranges that they're working on. Here are the ones for battleships and Tier 1-5 cruisers.
User "Ironhide" at the official Wargaming.net forums has created a series of how-to-play guides for battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. You can find them all here.