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Leviathan: Warships

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By Mokman14-05-2013
Bobfish (editor)
BloodyFanGirl (editor)
Leviathan: Warships

The Defence

Developer:
Pieces Interactive
Publisher:
Paradox Interactive
Genre:
Strategy
Release Date:
30-04-2013

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Pentium IV 2.4 GHz
AMD Athlon 64 3500+
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 8800
AMD Radeon X1900
RAM:
2 GB
HDD:
800 MB
DirectX:
9.0c

The Case

 

Alright, confess. Who here bought Leviathan: Warships solely due to the immensely jazzy, yet effective pre-order trailer? Ah, I see. That makes...pretty much all of you. Well, you can put your hands down now. So what exactly have you bought? After all, good marketing can only take you so far, and though nobody disputes the fact that Leviathan: Warships had incredible marketing, many are now asking: how good is the actual game? Well, PixelJudge is here to answer that question, and to let you know if the sultry voice-over in the trailer is an angel leading you to heaven, or a siren leading you to the depths of the sea.

The Trial

 

Leviathan: Warships is essentially a turn-based isometric tactical wargame but, unlike others in the gaming industry, this one has you commanding warships, ranging from huge, lumbering dreadnoughts, to small, fast scout ships. The style of gameplay is not exactly novel, and in fact seems quite familiar to those who've played Steambirds, a flash game that became hugely popular for a short period of time, but what it lacks in innovation, it makes up for in refinement. See, up until now, games in such a genre have not exactly received a large amount of polish, except for perhaps XCOM: Enemy Unknown, mostly since the nature of the game prevents it from being a AAA, rig-devouring graphics nightmare. However, Paradox Interactive has little care for such mortal concerns, and has managed to deliver unto us a product that, while also ported onto mobile devices and consoles, still works as a PC game, with beautiful graphics, and deep gameplay.

A mine that summons a sea serpent. Standard military loadout, really.

A mine that summons a sea serpent. Standard military loadout, really.

Don't mistake its mobile heritage for casual gaming though, for that's a mistake I paid dearly for. Starting the game up, I had expected it to be an easy shoot-fest, simply manoeuvring my ships parallel to the foe and shouting naval slogans while blasting away. Instead, I died. Miserably. On the second campaign mission - which was arguably still part of the tutorial. I was promptly further humiliated over and over again as my ships continuously sank, grounded themselves on shallow waters, crashed into each other, blasted each other with friendly fire and generally made me seem like the lousiest Admiral since Pierre Villeneuve.

The gameplay is an interesting mix of short-term tactics and long-term strategy. How it works is that basically during the planning phase, one commands a small fleet of ships, deciding upon their facing and direction and manoeuvring them into desired positions such that their fixed weapon emplacements can get line of fire onto the enemy. Drawing a line from one weapon to the foe is normally enough to get it to fire during the next phase, though different weapons work in different ways, such as artillery pieces, or mines. Weapons can also fire at will, although the accuracy will be compromised somewhat. Then, during the execution phase, the Admiral in question can watch on as all his carefully laid plans fail spectacularly and sink into the murky depths. The game is unforgiving and intense, not just thanks to its difficulty setting, but instead thanks to the actual mechanics of the gameplay itself. Every choice made has to be one made while thinking two, three turns into the future. Ship movement is particularly devious, for its just short enough that you can't really tell what the effects of that move are going to be, but just long enough to put you majorly out of position should you move too far, or turn too much. Often have I misjudged, moving just out of position to use my railgun on the foe, or to have my salvo miss completely, slamming instead into my other ship opposite. Even more infuriating is the fact that particularly brutal salvoes or ramming methods by other ships will cause your ship to turn in relation to the force applied, thus throwing your aim off yet again. Not to mention the various conditions that occur on your ship lasting around thirty seconds or so, ranging from effects like your bridge being hit, reducing your vision to only a small circle about your ship, to horrendous ones like your ship sinking, where your ship will sink in 30 seconds regardless of which actions you take.

The downsides? Well, the game has a fearsome steep learning curve, and the tutorials don't really help much in scaling it - one can argue that the campaign fills in that void, but that just makes it worse since not only is it still hair-pullingly difficult, but that also pronounces the lack of an actual campaign for the game. It was only about five missions in that I realized that the difficulty doesn't scale, and instead the game assumes that you're heading into the campaign with the maximum of four co-op players. I have to admit, I did feel a brief glimmer of pride that I got so far in without any assistance, but the smirk was rapidly wiped off my face as I saw my last ship crash into a beach and then promptly blow up. Furthermore, it suffers from an unintuitive UI, a holdover from the mobile ports it seems, resulting in unregistered clicks, glitches and general bugginess. Still, that's not unexpected coming from Paradox, famed for its games getting better over time as the bugs are ironed out, but it's still annoying.

Unsure if the AI engaged ramming procedures in a wild desperate last bid to sink my dreadnought, or due to horrible path finding.

Unsure if the AI engaged ramming procedures in a wild desperate last bid to sink my dreadnought, or due to horrible path finding.

Still, seeing a strategy that you planned in the long run work despite all the short-term cock-ups, despite all the enemy ships stubbornly ramming you, and despite your own desperately obvious incompetence, is an incredibly exhilarating experience. Few things match the majesty of seeing two of your ships sidle alongside another lone dreadnought, pausing for a few brief seconds before unloading a roaring salvo into its flanks, sinking it. Things escalate when one proceeds on to the multiplayer, where outsmarting real, thinking individuals, each with their own dastardly plans, becomes an art in itself, and one has to be quick on his toes to stay one step ahead of the rival Admirals. A good two-on-two game is nearly a perfect multiplayer experience, with people shouting across the chat at each other, admonishing tactical failure and giving out verbal high-fives as one side watches the opponent's Atlas get knocked out of commission. However, good luck trying to find one, as multiplayer matches now are few and far between - a strange situation for a game that is cross-platform. Still, it's most likely that the frequency of available multiplayer matches will pick up as time goes by.

The fleet planner and ship builder is another central part of the game, and with good reason - it's an incredible amount of fun. The concept reminds me of Gratuitous Space Battles, especially in terms of how one goes about ship-building, with a certain limit to both points and physical hardpoints aboard each ship hull. The creator is surprisingly robust, and there exists a decent variety of interesting weapons, from rocket batteries and rail-guns, to massive gun batteries and monster-summoning mines. All in all, staring at the shining fleet that you've designed just within the point limit of the game you're currently playing gives a satisfying feeling.

This then is a result of the graphics, where Paradox made a wise choice to not render everything super-realistically, but still give enough eye-candy to keep more viscerally-minded people interested. It again reminds me of Gratuitous Space Battles in terms of its art direction, except better rendered and with much better environments. The ships themselves are masterfully designed, with the opposing sides possessing distinct outlines and shapes so that players can tell them apart with a quick glance.

Lines are fun. Dotted lines even more so. Lines are our friends.

Lines are fun. Dotted lines even more so. Lines are our friends.

However, the environments are a tad bit mundane, and so are the ships. The game suffers from a mild identity crisis as it swings between the fantastic and the realistic. On one hand it dons the garb of a military styled serious strategic war-game, on the other hand there are giant island-sized ships and weird weapons. Not that I'm complaining, but the game does struggle to decide on which tone and atmosphere it wants to strive for, which in my opinion hurts it somewhat. Fortunately though, the audio in this game is pretty amazing; the sound effects really hit the spot. Cannons fired give a sense of impact and awe, while the frantic alarms that blare as enemy ships go down are like sweet music to my ears.

The Verdict

 

Yes, it is buggy (you'd think Paradox would have learned by now). Yes, it does suffer from mobile game syndrome. Yes, it does indeed have day-one DLC that really should have been included in the core game, even at a slightly higher price. But is it a good game? Yes it is. It's not perfect, but as a competitive multiplayer experience, or simply a way to whet your tactical war-gaming appetites, it does well enough. I had an immense amount of fun playing, and failing at the game. To me, one of the hallmarks of a good game is that you can arrive at the defeat screen with a smile on your face. And for the price of $10, it's a shot you definitely shouldn't miss.

Case Review

  • Multiplayer Madness: Truly shines in multiplayer when you have two human beings trying to outwit you while another screams in your ear as you smash into his ships.
  • Unexpected Depths: For a $10 offering it is far from shallow, instead offering quite a deep and multifaceted game.
  • You’re No Admiral: Difficult. Difficult as hell.
  • Not For the Friendless: Campaign does not scale for single player, instead assuming that there will be co-op players.
  • Paradoxically Classic: Buggy as only a game by Paradox can be.
3.5
Score: 3.5/5
It's not perfect but as a competitive multiplayer experience, or simply a way to whet your tactical war-gaming appetites, it does well enough.

Appeal

Leviathan: Warships is - if anything - an ambitious, unique take on the turn-based squad tactics genre. It’s similar to the stellar Frozen Synapse in that they both have a planning phase and an outcome phase each turn. Leviathan still differs in some key ways. For one, the art style, overall theme and atmosphere is completely different, but it also feels different in the gameplay. A match of Leviathan lasts much longer compared to Frozen Synapse, and your actions often take longer to play out, meaning a match can sometimes have 30-40 turns, if not more. A full turn can be your boats rotating and moving a short distance, without much else happening. How you position the weapons on each ship, and how you use each ship in combat is extremely important in Leviathan, and you’ll often find yourself re-loading entire matches just to try them again with an alternate set of guns. Leviathan is brutally difficult, but it’s not always the good kind of difficulty. The tutorial is meagre, and mission briefings don’t come with recommendations. You’re pretty much thrown into the game, barely understanding the very basic things. It doesn’t help that the game doesn’t seem to care that you’re playing alone. It throws tons of enemies at you, expecting you to have a friend or two playing with you. The game also comes with a ton of bugs.

Fix your shit, Paradox! I am tired of your buggy releases. We all love your focus on niche PC games, but we are in fact paying to play your games. The least you could do is give us a game that doesn’t have game-breaking bugs, crashes and lackluster tutorials. I’m sure there’s a great game hidden somewhere within Leviathan: Warships, but it’s clogged down with bugs and inaccessible game design. I personally love challenging games, but then at least show me properly how the game works. Some games use the “trial and error” concept very well, but it’s not done well when you’re forced to reload a 45-minute long match because you placed your guns wrong according to what the mission required. There’s fun to be had with Leviathan: Warships, but I wouldn’t recommend it for those playing alone. Get an extra copy for a friend, and be willing to accept some random CTD’s forcing you to, once again, reload entire missions.

3
Score: 3/5

Appeal

So you want to be an Admiral, but you're afraid of water, don't know anything about knots nor big guns? Have no fear, Leviathan: Warships is here to help! Set in a steampunky – it has lasers and energy shields – world, it has you battling your way either through the campaign or through a bunch of other players. Is it terribly complex? Nope. Is it easy in any way? Yet again, no!

Though this would be too easy for grizzled, Warspite worthy armchair Generals, jaded after hours of games with terrible visuals yet obscene attention to detail, this won't go easy on the new guys. While the tutorials will explain stuff, this doesn't really prepare you for the real game – sort of like in the other Paradox titles, like Victoria II. You don't just maneuver ships and give firing commands – you must also always be mindful of the firing arcs, maximum AND minimum range, allied ships getting in the way, drift, acceleration and so on. There's little shame greater than ramming one of your own ships. Yet this will happen. You will learn from it, but this will happen.

3
Score: 3/5
Comments (4)
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Posts: 1498

So is Frozen Synapse. Does this mean a new "era" for PC/tablet games?

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Posts: 2665

Coming to tablets with transferable saves from the PC no less. Very nice, and very crafty

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Posts: 568

Haha bobfish :P

It looks really fun and is even coming to tablets now too. Might pick this up one day on a Steam sale

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Posts: 2665

Cel shaded battleships blasting the crap out of each other...why did I agree to let someone else review this?!?