After years of development, the day I have long awaited finally arrived. Yes, after what seemed an interminable wait, I can now suffer the same repeated, ignominious defeat in the sky that I have long suffered on the ground. No longer will humiliating “death” at the hands of rival tank commanders be limited to terra firma battlefields -- now equally (if not more) humiliating defeats can (and will) happen in the skies over those old war-torn fields as the developers of World of Tanks have released their all new massive online killing fest, World of Warplanes.
As with Tanks, World of Warplanes is a free-to-play deal wherein you start out with the slowest, weakest weapons and struggle to survive long enough to gain sufficient experience points to develop more capable fighting machines. In Warplanes, this means starting out in pre-WWII biplanes such as the American Boeing P-12 and German Arado Ar.65. Each of these planes is at the top of what is called a ‘Tech Tree,” which provides paths that the player can travel to eventually arrive at the most capable airplane of its type. There are currently Tech Trees for American, British, German, Soviet, and Japanese airplanes. Each country’s (except Japan) Tech Tree will offer two paths, typically Fighter and Heavy Fighter/Ground Attack.
Life at the top of a Tech Tree, where the older planes are, is brutal, and commonly quite short. Even shorter if, like me, your only offensive tactical move is to point your plane at the closest enemy plane and hold down the trigger in a head-on attack until you die in the maelstrom of exploding airplane parts that results from a nose-to-nose collision. As sad as this sounds, it was actually better than the first strategy I tried which amounted to nothing more than flying in circles until someone shot me down. At least in the collision method I scored a ‘kill’ now and then.
In the early stages of your career, it doesn’t take long to work your way up to the next airplane in the Tech Tree. The first time to advance to a more capable airplane, you can’t help thinking “I’ve got them now! I’ll mow through those older crates like an angel of death!” You also can’t help finding out the hard way that the game will assign you to battles populated (to the degree possible) with similarly capable opponents. All that really changed for me in more powerful airplanes was the shape of the plane; I was still often one of the first players out of the battle.
It is possible to advance even more quickly through the expedient method of buying your way up with real money, but even that is no guarantee of success, at least in my case. After a few days of working my way up through the ranks as a regular player, I was provided with a press login that allowed me access to the entire Tech Tree for all of the countries. While this gave me the same airplane as the vastly more experienced players that had earned their success through battle after battle, it did not give me the skill and expertise they had gained through their protracted endeavor. If I’m perfectly honest, I actually preferred the lower, slower, and vastly more maneuverable entry-level planes. Dogfights in the blazingly fast, high flying advanced planes just didn’t have the same ‘Red Baron’ feel to them. It was nice, though, to be able to try out the advanced without having spent vast amounts of time earning them only to find that I didn’t particularly like them.
So, having been royally pwned in air-to-air battle, I tried another approach: battles are won by either shooting down all of the opposing team’s planes, or by destroying their base. Given that I was basically giving the other guys a head start on the air-to-air part, I decided to try ground attack.
It was even worse.
As with the dogfighting, my signature bombing tactic was to lock onto a ground target in a steep dive and keep shooting at it until I flew right into it. This, as you can imagine, took a steep toll on my hangar of airplanes. In the cases where I managed to pull out of the dive in time, I soon succumbed to a hellish mix of anti-aircraft fire and/or an opposing fighter that saw what I was doing and swooped down for an easy kill.
But here’s the thing: I kept on trying. In my opinion, it is the very hallmark of a good game when losing just makes you want to try again. And again. And again. And (“Just one more, Honey, and then I’ll take out the trash!”) again. The battles are typically pretty short, and even if you are one of the first out, you can either stay in the arena as a spectator or return to your hangar and enter a battle with one of your other planes. The high degree of replayabilty also comes from the fact that for the most part, you know that you died through your own mistakes, as opposed to frustrating things that are out of your control. The game is well designed -- it provides multiple control schemes that work well with keyboard/mouse (which is quite an achievement!!), game controller, or joystick, a couple of different flight models (‘easy’ and ‘not so easy, but slightly more realistic’), and fairly forgiving flight physics.
Regarding physics, make no mistake: this is an arcade game. That said, the flight physics are advanced enough to make you pay at least passing attention to your potential energy. For example, you can’t just point the nose at the sky and climb forever; eventually you will run out of airspeed and stall. You really don’t want to stall in a dogfight as it leaves you waffling through the air in an extremely vulnerable state. On the other hand, you can (quite unrealistically) roll your plane into a 90 degree bank and just keep on turning without any loss of airspeed or altitude. While not true to life, this is a concession to arcade-level players that most won’t even notice, but will certainly benefit from. Note, however, that the simplified flight physics will positively befuddle anyone but the total neophyte; actual pilots or experienced sim fliers will have to learn entirely new tactics in a world where an airplane can simply pivot in a flat rudder turn, or where it will quite happily fly in a straight line while in a 90 degree bank.
It will be interesting to see where future development takes Warplanes. As it is today, it is easily approached and has a fairly shallow learning curve, but those are things that convince people to try it, not things that will keep bringing them back. Perhaps due to its newness, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of strategy at play in any given battle; I have yet to see a battle lost due to successful ground attacks on a team’s base; every battle to date has simply been a matter of attrition in the air. There does not seem to be any coordination between players, either. Everyone tends to just head off on their own in search of their own furball is an aerial form of team deathmatch, but without the teamwork. As I said, part of this may be attributable to the newness of it all, but it could also be a case of very little variety in the battle types. Again, these are all things that will likely improve with time.
As it stands today, World of Warplanes seems to be a strong foundation upon which more capability can be layered. The battle arenas are very nice looking, as are the airplane models and the smoke which inevitably spews out behind them as they plunge towards the ground. The netcode seems solid and well capable of hosting 30 players in a battle. With a bit more gameplay variety and a stronger inducement to invest the time/money it takes to move up to higher-end airplanes, Warplanes should mature into a phenomenon similar to its ground-bound brother, World of Tanks. And, of course, you can’t beat it for the price.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
World of Warplanes is easy to learn but hard to master. It offers an easily accessible way to join in online dogfights, but survival is a matter of skill, practice, and experience. In its current state, it is very playable and provides a strong foundation for future development but may not have a lot of staying power due to limited strategic depth.