World of Warplanes (PC) Preview
Wargaming, the developer responsible for the incredibly popular World of Tanks has their eyes set on conquering air combat with World of Warplanes. Judging from my inadvertently lengthy experience with the open beta, I’m inclined to say that they’re on the right track.
World of Warplanes is both deeply rooted in reality and yet incredibly accessible and arcadey, almost to the point of being unrealistic. The game aims to take the player on a time-traveling journey through the heyday of dogfighting, with players having access to planes from the late 1930s to the aircrafts introduced during World War II, leading up to jets flown in the 50’s and just about everything in between (apparently including some prototypes that were rarely seen publically). Each plane occupies a specific tier- 10 tiers in all- assuring that the playing field is as level as it can be; you won’t be seeing biplanes from the 1930s in skirmishes with newfangled jets from the 1950s (unless there’s some nonsense private server I haven’t heard about yet, in which case, someone hook it up with an invite). Over 100 planes are set to be introduced during the game’s official launch at the end of September, all replicas of planes flown by German, US, Japanese & Russian forces (one could assume that British, French or Korean planes might show up in the near future). And yet, the game itself doesn’t make it so that you’d need to be an aviation nerd to wring out any enjoyment out of the package, as the core mechanics are simple enough for any newbie- yours truly included- to grasp in a relatively short amount of time.
Warplanes has no aspirations other than to pay homage to the wonder years of dogfighting by letting the player blow some crap out of the sky in gnarly fashion. Fortunately, the game has a solid tutorial, one that could stand to be more fully-featured but otherwise does a great job of getting the player to understand basic mechanics without throwing them into the wild. The multiple control schemes allow gamers of any and all skill levels to play the game in a manner they find most comfortable. Want to fly around only using the mouse? Feel free. Rather plug in a joystick? The option is there. I stuck to using the gamepad controls; though I had some rough patches when I first messed around in the beta a month or so back, something about the fixed camera angle and reticle just made my encounters that much easier.
The game focuses on team-based deathmatch encounters. Select your plane from the “hangar” (your base of operations), select the big yellow button in the middle of the screen and you’re off (after waiting in queue, of course). And then you can shoot stuff in the air. Dodge bullets, do a barrel roll, loop-de-loop ’til your heart’s content but make sure you shoot down your enemies before they do unto you. Learning the nuances between each plane is key to survival, as is having a steady trigger finger and quick reflexes. Maps are often populated with anti-aircraft guns, which add an interesting element to what would normally be a straightforward affair- should you level the playing field by blowing up the AA guns or would the player be better served by pursuing an enemy aircraft instead? The controls are flexible but tight enough even on default settings to make each encounter matter, and the game itself runs smoothly with little to no hitching in my experience. It happens to be quite the looker in action, though the ground textures could use some work.
As I like to do with just about every free-to-play game I’ve taken a look at on this site, let’s get that “icky” stuff out of the way. Yes, Warplanes is a free-to-play title, centering on team based dogfights, but that doesn’t mean you can pay to win. Yes, there is a premium “gold” option that can only be received if the user opts to open their wallet, though in an extremely nice touch, the premium subscription item (which boosts experience as well as gifts gold to a player) works for World of Tanks as well. However, players also unlock credits based on their performance within matches. These credits can be used to upgrade/repair your aircraft or research/purchase new aircraft and can be converted into “tokens” (the open beta only version of gold) which will allow you to purchase premium vehicles or customization options. Because the planes unlock on a “tier” basis, you theoretically won’t be able to outright purchase the biggest, best plane in the game, neither will you be able to buy magical bullets that guarantee a win. The gameplay is incredibly balanced and no amount of microtransactions will be able to break that.
Is there really a negative stigma when it comes to free-to-play games at this point? If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few months, looking at stuff like Path of Exile and World of Warplanes, it’s that the core of the title should be, first and foremost, incredibly fun and worthwhile, with the financial model coming into play at a later point. Make a game that you want to pay for, I say. World of Warplanes, caveats and all, is an attractive, addictive and polished title, is a game that I’d like to pay for, which is more than I can say for a lot of games out there these days.