Review: Leviathan: Warships14 May 2013 0
Though developed by Pieces Interactive, Leviathan: Warships (henceforth LW) is published by Paradox Interactive. If that doesn't mean much to you, I'll quote Wikipedia: "Paradox regularly releases patches to their games long after a game's initial release. Some games have required patches shortly after release to make them playable. Later patches may contain large changes…." LW takes this pattern of focusing on strategic options rather than quality assurance into the realm of sci-fi naval combat on tablets.
Pocket Tactics readers are likely to deeply appreciate many facets of LW's design. Players have moderately fine-grained shipbuilding control, with a modest but adequate set of weapons and other options to attach to hardpoints on a small selection of hulls (more available as in-app purchases)--together, these choices afford a wide variety of strategic options during fleet selection. Missions involve simultaneous planning of ten-second turns followed by a display of their execution. The more powerful weapons have a range much greater than the usual sight of ships, so manipulation of the fog of war is often crucial. Because ships are relatively durable compared to the damage output of the weapons which are easy to use, and the slow pace of naval maneuvers, LW ends up feeling rather like naval Battletech with added yomi from the fog of war and simultaneous planning.
Unfortunately, this appealing setup is badly executed. The game is frequently unstable, tap detection is inaccurate (which requires zooming in to issue orders, which I otherwise would never have done), the interface is terribly slow to react to inputs, and there is virtually no use of contextually appropriate reminders. The tutorial adequately introduces the basics of issuing orders, but there is no in-game manual to reference for more detail, very little information is available anywhere about the menus, and the contextual help option is laughably poorly named; I literally laughed aloud when I used it to try and find out more about the interface and all it would tell me was the names of the buttons which were already printed on the buttons. LW also lacks the retina support which would have been helpful in making some of the status effect warnings more readable (it has been speculated that Apple's imminent deadline for non-retina apps may have contributed to the lack of testing and optimization prior to release). There are only nine single-player missions in the available campaign, which is acceptable because the artificial intelligence relies rather more on numbers and artifice than intelligence.
Because of these missteps, LW would be an easy game to recommend everyone avoid but for the excellent multiplayer. During the day, there hasn't been much public activity, but it's usually been possible to find a game in the evenings (Eastern Standard Time). It's synchronous, but with various turn times available to set expectations reasonably and persistent in-game chat, which is especially useful when the app crashes. I found five minutes to scheme out each turn ample to do all the planning and zooming in and out to issue orders I wanted, while leaving enough time to deal with the various quick interruptions common in the life of a parent of young children, or to give a TV show the attention it generally merits. There's something inherently engaging about testing your custom-designed fleets and strategies against others, knowing you can tweak and try again. For those able to gather a crew of frequent players, much of the joy of TCG play is to be found in the back-and-forth of evolving fleet choice, with emphasis one game on smoke screens and mines, another on scouts and artillery, yet another on banks of beam weapons, and so forth. There are even co-op challenges available. Should these options lose their freshness over time, more maps are available as an in-app purchase. One warning, though: you are apparently unable to play against players on other servers, of which there are currently three, though you can play against those on other platforms. If you plan to play alone, about the best I can say of this implementation of the design is that I expect you'll have more fun with it than you would with Hobbes' Leviathan. The bugginess and poor controls are worth tolerating for its multiplayer, though, and if the game receives the sort of support Paradox games often have, even the relatively brief single-player campaign may be quite worthy of our time after a major update or two. This review is based on the iPad edition.