Do you want to soar through the skies, looking down on the wonder and beauty of the world below? Does the scene sound less appealing if you add in a 40’s-era German attack plane hot on your tail, blasting armor-piercing rounds across your nose? No? You’re odd.. But I like that. Let me tell you about this new game you might enjoy.
World of Warplanes is the new free-to-play MMO from Wargaming America Inc. (the company that brought you World of Tanks) in which you take to the skies with a veritable fleet of fighters, bombers, and attack planes spanning the last hundred years and from five different nations. Starting with tier I aircraft, you must test your skill against other players in teams of up to 15 in order to accumulate enough points to buy new planes and upgrades. There’s no campaign and no side missions; just you, the sky, and the glowing red barrel of a front-mounted machine gun.
Since WoWP is heavily gameplay-focused, let’s start there. You sign into the server, choose your plane, and jump into the lobby. Here, players with planes from tiers I – X wait until there are enough pilots of roughly their level to start a game with. There seems to always be enough level II – V planes to almost immediately start the game, but the wait gets exponentially longer as you go higher up the scale. I was remiss to find that after I spent a chunk of the massive stores of experience and gold I received with my press account to purchase and fully outfit a top-of-the-line X-tier fighter jet, it seemed absolutely impossible to get enough high-level players together to start a game.
Hanging my head in defeat, I resigned to purchase planes from tiers I, III, V, VII, and IX. The sheer amount of planes at my disposal was pretty impressive. I at first thought myself experienced enough in flying games to jump into a level VII battle, but quickly found that I was sorely mistaken. My first thoughts were that the learning curve in this game is a bit steep. There’s a couple quick training missions that teach you the basics of turning and shooting, but then you’re dropped in the deep end to figure it out. Learning to fly was a bit frustrating at first.. but once I started to get the hang of it, it was far more rewarding than I expected.
The multiplayer proved to be pretty intense. I’d imagine it would be really fun to get a group of friends together to play with, but since I have no friends, I was stuck with a lobby full of randos. The typical match starts with you and a dozen or so other plane bros on one side of the map littered with friendly outposts and AA guns, as well as enemy ground targets. Heavy planes can drop bombs on them while attack planes can usually just shoot them until they explode, with fighter planes being fairly useless in this regard. When the timer hits zero, everyone begins to climb high up and then set off in the direction of the enemy base, usually in several small groups. If you find yourself alone in WoWP, you’re most likely already dead.
As the bombers begin lining up their reticules and positioning themselves to destroy the targets below, they appear: the enemy team. A force of fighters and bombers arrive suddenly from out of the clouds with menacing red symbols marking them in the distance. Two forces bear down on each other and for just a moment all you can hear is the gentle hum of your engine.. and then all hell breaks loose. As the two sides meet you must dive and turn, dodging the walls of bullets tearing across the sky as well as the other pilots as you spiral through the air trying your damndest to destroy that bomber before he takes out another one of your objectives. You twist and turn, trying to shake the fighter on your tail and grab the slight advantage that will allow you to turn the table on him and send him smoking into the hillside. The scene is one of chaos: it’s as if someone stirred up the largest, strangest bee hive in the world.
The game itself is addicting as hell. Matches are perfectly-portioned bites that keep you coming back for more. A feature I really liked was the ability to return to your hangar- If you die early on in a match, you can either spectate the rest of the match, or return to your hanger and start another round with a different plane. This kept the pacing for my matches so quick I found it hard to stop. It was also quite handy while playing my tiers I, III, and V planes, because at the lower levels a good portion of the community seems content to simply ram into your plane, killing you both, rather than trying to learn to actually play the game.
The graphics aren’t anything to get too excited about, but I feel they’re adequate for the game. The planes look pretty cool, and the battles can be visually intense, but the scenery is often smudgy and rough. It is worth noting, however, that the game is just a bit over 1gb on my computer, and that the install was remarkably fast. The application is also very lightweight and loading screens are fairly brief.
I am a bit disappointed by the lack of a single-player option. Even if I wasn’t able to find enough high-level players to test out my X-tier jet, it still would have been fun to.. y’know, try it out. Would it be so much trouble to throw in a couple of simple “destroy X location” or “engage X enemy” missions? How about a free-fly mode, at the least? Some place for a noob to tool around while they try to get a grasp on the controls, without having to worry about Xxbuttplug69 ramming into them for the 80th time. Just a thought.
I love games that go the free-to-play route, but I am a bit worried about the upgrade system in this game. For example, in a popular free-to-play MMO League of Legends, the items which must be bought with real-world currency don’t afford the player any direct in-game advantages- they’re nearly entirely cosmetic. However, in WoWP, xp and credits can be earned through countless hours of dogfighting, or can be bought with a credit card. Something I heard a lot while talking to the community (aside from “This game is awesome”) is that the game seems to be following the pay-to-win model, which is no fun for anyone (except those who can afford the very best, and reviewers who get mountains of free gold).
This is a common complaint in regards to World of Tanks, the other game out from Wargaming, and I’m not too surprised that they would follow the same model with their new game. I agree that it can be a huge problem, but I’ll bet that the majority of players won’t pay anything at all. That aside, even if you’re able to buy the very best plane you can get for whatever level, you need the skill to pilot it. I tried buying the best tier-VII plane I could get, decking it out with full upgrades and diving on in to start. It didn’t go well.
Overall, I’d say World of Warplanes is very entertaining. It’s an extremely fun, lightweight game that won’t cost you a penny to enjoy if you don’t want to spend it, and will keep you coming back again and again. What it lacks in story and extras it makes up for in fast-paced action. If piloting some of the nastiest warplanes of the last century in epic 30-man dogfights while dodging flak and bombing outposts sounds like your idea of a good time, then you should absolutely check it out. Just don’t expect me to show you any mercy.