Some of the most crucial battles ever fought have been fought at sea. Whether you're talking about the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C. or the Battle of Midway in 1942, the importance of naval conflict in shaping the course of human history cannot be overstated. But despite the tactical complexity and historical significance of naval warfare, there aren't too many games out there that are inspired by it. Leviathan: Warships taps into the rich world of maritime combat, and while hampered by sparse content and poor controls, it's an enjoyable strategic diversion.
The bulk of Warships' gameplay consists of a clever mix of turn-based planning and real-time execution. In the first, or planning, phase, you are given time to look around the battlefield, set up weapons or shields, and rotate and move your ships. All of these actions are executed through a "flower menu" that pops up after you select a unit that you control. In that menu, you can see all of the different weapons and equipment that your boat can use. Selecting an item requires that you drag your mouse to your selection, hold the button for a moment, and then drag again to select your target. It's a clunky and unintuitive system; making mistakes is easy and causes quite a bit of unnecessary frustration.
When you have managed to put in all of the commands you like, you "commit" your selections and watch them play out in real-time chunks of 10 seconds. Any committed actions that remain uncompleted roll over to the next turn, though they can be canceled during the planning phase if need be. If it takes 2.5 seconds to rotate the bow of your ship just a bit to the right, and it takes about the same for an enemy to fire his cannons at where you were, the shots will miss. That relatively simple turn structure is one of the better aspects here. It keeps combat exciting and manageable because you don't have to wait for every player to take a turn. The limited real-time execution also gives you a chance to change your tactical approach and adapt before you suffer an unreasonable amount of unexpected cannon fire.
Your tactical considerations on the high seas are many. Historically, naval strategy called for ships to launch as much firepower as possible to bear on their target at once. Early weapons had a hard time piercing the thick hulls of large warships. That typically meant turning so that the broadside faced the enemy, and this tactic is an effective one. Limited firing arcs on weapons, as well as directional orientation, become much more important, and adequately managing your weapons and shields helps you to maximize damage output per unit. When you've mastered that, you'll realize that few things are quite as fun as maneuvering through two opposing ships, setting off all the cannons, missiles, and lasers at your disposal, and seeing both ships explode, break apart, and slowly sink into the cold, black depths.
Speaking of lasers, ships and fleets can be customized and outfitted with various guns, mine throwers, and equipment to help tailor them to suit one or another role. This brings in another layer of strategy and adds quite a bit to the total experience. When setting up matches between players, you're limited to a certain number of points, which are spent on basic ship designs, additional guns, armor loadouts, and the like. Under this system, lasers, while awesome, are also fairly expensive, thus limiting their utility and keeping people from going overboard with huge death boats of terror.
Customizing fleets and building out specific strategies for them is another big component of the game. Taking all of that hard work online and testing your skills as an admiral is probably how you'll spend the majority of your time with Leviathan. The single-player campaign is light on story, and aside from teaching the very basics of naval combat, it isn't terribly engaging. Thankfully, there are a few excellent options that help keep multiplayer fun and flexible, and Leviathan: Warships handily allows you to battle it out with admirals playing the game on mobile platforms as well as the PC. Planning phases can be suspended and played out over a day or more, so you have the freedom to think a bit more carefully about your selections. In a way, it revives a gameplay mode that has been dropped from many modern turn-based games--play by email--and the inclusion of a mechanic that preserves more-focused strategy is more than welcome.
Even with all these nifty features, Leviathan: Warships is pretty bare-bones; there just isn't much to this package, making the game seem incomplete. The fact that the total cost of the game's day-one downloadable content was greater than the actual game doesn't do much to help alleviate that concern. Nevertheless, the planning and intricacies of ship movement and the importance of maximizing point values make for some satisfying battles, though the depth of these concerns only truly become clear in the game's multiplayer warfare.'