So, I’ll say this right off the bat: I’m not really into Naval Combat Sims. There’s a lot to them I don’t get. …Thankfully, this isn’t a Naval Combat Sim. It’s arcade style naval combat and it’s addicting as heck. Folks, I’ve got a real gem for you today:
GENRE: Arcade Naval Combat and Shipbuilder
So, first thing’s first because this may interest folks: This game is very much a spiritual successor to Tecmo Koei’s Naval Ops: Warship Gunner series, so if you enjoyed those games? Yeah, chances are you’re gonna like this one too.
The premise is a fairly simple one, but it works for the kind of game Waves of Steel wants to be. You’re the captain of a warship, assigned to protect a prototype mobile shipyard known as the Ratatosk. It starts out relatively simple, introducing you to its approachable controls and combat basics, but after the first few missions, we get into the real meat of this indie gem! BYOB: Build Your Own Battleship.
Now, before you get intimidated at the idea of having to build your own battleships: Don’t be. Waves of Steel was designed to be approachable to people who know nothing about the finer aspects of Naval Combat and ship design: like me. It does a great job of introducing you to the basics and teaching you everything you need to know about how to make your own ships by gradually introducing the ship building components like placing weapons, setting up engines, power output, and exhaust, all at a pace that keeps you from being overwhelmed by new systems, but still gets you into the full art of shipbuilding quickly. And honestly, I can see the appeal of it. Let me break it down for you and that might just help explain why!
First, you have to pick a hull. The body of your ship, which determines your weight limit, as well as how much physical space you have to place all the parts that make your ship work.
Next, you have to worry about propulsion and engines. Propulsion being propellers, the things that actually move you through the water. And then you have engines/powerplants, the things that make the propulsion actually run. And finally, because those engines generate lots of unhealthy CO2, you need vents (More like smokestacks in appearance) to ventilate out all that exhaust. This is the first of your delicate balancing acts, as more advanced propulsion systems can provide more speed, but will require more engines, which in turn means you will need to vent even more exhaust, and all of these take up valuable tonnage your ship needs as a whole to equip things. So it’s all about finding the right balance of speed vs exhaust vs total weight.
Next, we get into the big part of shipbuilding: The deck. While the propulsion and engines are placed below deck, your exhaust and all other key parts of your ship will use the deck surface.
The Bridge is the heart of your ship, so to speak. The Bridge is required as it is the command center of every ship you build, and it also provides other effects depending on the bridge chosen: Radar/Sonar ranges, how many Anti Air defenses you can install without a penalty, and the capacity for special addons that enhance various aspects of your ship. An Aft Bridge can also be put in on top of this to further improve those attributes I listed, but isn’t necessary.
Once you’ve got a bridge, next is the fun part: The guns! You’ve got lots to choose from here, and this is honestly the most fun part of building your ship. You’ve got long range cannons, short range gatling guns, torpedo bays, anti submarine weapons, anti air defenses, and much wilder weapon options such as flamethrowers, energy weapons, giant harpoons you can use to yank yourself and an enemy vessel together…The list starts to get kind of absurd. And this is also where the challenge comes in: Every weapon doesn’t just take up tonnage, but also has to occupy physical space on your ship’s deck, and can be obstructed by other weapons and parts on the deck if placed to close to one another. This means on top of trying to squeeze out every last ton, you also have to use every little bit of space you can cram a gun into. And then you also have to consider armor, which boosts your ship’s total HP, but costs quite a bit of tonnage per armor layer you add.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to a balancing act of trying to use every last bit of tonnage and space while getting the best performance out of your ship that you possibly can. And it’s done in such a way that even someone unfamiliar with the genre was able to make some pretty fun builds. Case in point, behold this beauty:
Once you learn the ins and outs of building a ship, you’ll get to experience the real joy of Waves of Steel: Taking your creations out to the sea for battle! And oh my lord, I am absolutely floored how something as potentially complex as Naval combat has been turned into an approachable, arcadey type experience that is more fun than it has any right to be.
Operating your battleship is surprisingly simple, and works incredibly well on either keyboard+mouse or a controller-I use the latter-which lends itself well to the game’s fast paced arcade combat style approach. You have your ship’s throttle, which has a neutral (off) setting, and 3 notches positive and negative, for forward and backward movement. Steering is simple enough, and done independently of the camera’s direction, which is a must for a game like this. As one may or may not know: Naval Combat is all about broadsiding: having the entire left or right side of your ship facing your enemy so all of your guns have an angle on it. You may approach your foes head on, but you’ll want to turn left or right to face all your weapons their way once you’re in combat range. Weapon usage is simple enough, as all weapons of the same type are automatically linked together, and you have the ability to further link weapons via groupings, automatically firing all weapons in a selected group with a single button press. This means even if your cannons aren’t all the same type, you can group them all together to have them fire together in a devastating volley to tear your enemies apart. Switching groups is also a simple button press, allowing you to cycle between different weapons as needed, such as torpedoes for close range attacks, and cannons for further away. You can even set weapon groups to run automatically, and designate what enemy types they will attack. That means you can leave anti aircraft to the game itself while you focus on enemy ships and submarines. You can even designate if auto weapon setups should engage separate targets or the same target! For the record, it’s best to focus on separate targets for anti air, and same target for anything else. Aiming is also relatively simple due to a semi-auto target system (though you can also hard lock onto enemies). Aim in the general direction of an enemy and you’ll see a target ring and the enemy healthbar show up, indicating that’s what your weapons will shoot at. If you need to focus on a specific enemy among the bunch, you can toggle a lock-on mode that will keep that enemy as your target even if you aim the camera elsewhere, allowing for a quick, easy way to choose what you shoot without having to worry about super precise aiming. Just aim at the target, the rest of the things you need to worry about like vertical angle will be handled automatically. That said, you do need to consider the angle of your weapons (which is shown in shipbuilding). Every gun will have a firing arc available to it based on placement and facing direction, and in most cases broadsiding will be how you use all of them.
The other big aspect beyond your guns are your Ship Abilities, of which you get 3 to slot on a ship. These are cooldown based abilities that can range from turning your ship into a giant, deadly battering ram, to emergency speed boosts, to being able to do drift turns that would make Initial D readers doubletake. There’s a lot of them, each with their own benefit and cooldown to consider, and they’re an absolutely great part of the game. You can focus on being agile and nimble, able to zoom around and turn on a dime to instantly face your targets. Or perhaps you want to be up close and personal? Equip an energy shield and ramming to get right up in an enemy’s face and smash into them without worrying about damage to yourself! Abilities really change up what you can do with your ships, and I absolutely love them. Particularly ramming. It’s a totally valid option in this.
So, now we get into the core gameplay loop, which admittedly does require a bit of patience, but is an absolute blast in my opinion. Build your ship, run missions to get new parts, and use those to make even better ships. Repeat until you’re capable of taking on entire navies with your single ridiculous battleship. Having to build a new ship from scratch may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it honestly doesn’t take much time to put one together once you get used to it. And frankly I enjoyed whenever I got a new, heavier hull I could put more guns onto.
The scary thing is you can come up with what may be an absolutely dumb idea, and then end up having it work anyway. Like a ship with cannons that work best at point blank range, so you just harpoon yourself to your target and smash into them, firing the cannons as you collide. It’s dumb, it’s stupid, and it WORKS. And with how outlandish the weaponry gets as you proceed, it’s easy to see that stupid builds can become absolutely chaotic fun. Why even bother having guns? Just strap a giant drill to your bow, and line the sides with buzzsaws, tearing up battleships by crashing right into them with the Ram ability and your added “Melee” weapons!
Battles just get bigger and crazier as you progress, with the game having a wonderful amount of escalation. You’ll start taking on simple destroyers, but eventually you’ll have massive scale battles full of enemy ships, aircraft, submarines, and crazy bosses like a transforming battleship submarine hybrid, and a flying battleship straight out of the MCU’s Avengers. And blowing all of them to bits with your designs is always a treat. All of the systems I’ve gone over come together to create something truly special: A game that can let anyone enjoy the fun of big battles at sea without having to understand the deeper aspects of such combat or ship building.
While the game is only 2/3’s done in terms of content at the moment of this review, what’s there is absolutely fun as heck. And even after you finish the current campaign content, there’s plenty of other things you can do to have fun: Score attacks where you try to kill as many ships as you can in a limited time frame, instant action where you set up custom battles by choosing enemies and allies and their amounts, and even the ability to unlock everything in the game for use whenever you want on top of being able to remove tonnage limits so you can use anything and everything you want as long as you have room for it.
If the idea of building your own battleship has always appealed to you, but you find other games with deep mechanics and learning curves intimidating? Then Waves of Steel is absolutely worth your time.