After its resounding success with World of Tanks, an online free-to-play (but “dollars-to-win,” as some would say) tank battle game that has attracted tens of thousands of enthusiastic virtual tank commanders with its subtle combination of ease-of-play and difficult-to-win, Wargaming.net is poised to expand the fight to the skies over the battlefields with their new offering, World of Warplanes.
The two games are as alike as they are different. They are similar in that you start out with the least capable fighting machine and stand very little chance of survival when tossed into a pitched battle against players with far better equipment and the experience required to use it effectively. These are painful and often humiliating days as you are often the first to be knocked out of any given battle. Through time, dollars, or some combination of both, you eventually begin to improve the capabilities of your mount, either through enhancing what you have or moving up to better, more modern machines.
The games also share the trait of just-right sized battlefields that are big enough to allow for flanking tactics and the like to make a difference, but not so large that you can sneak off and hide somewhere in an attempt to wait out the worst of the carnage. If you really want to find out just how hard it is to hide from a concentrated swarm of players coming after you, do what I was forced to do: enter a battle with a user account plainly labeled as ‘Press’ - you won’t survive long at all.
Where the games differ is obvious: tanks fight in a two-dimensional realm, but they can make use of cover. Airplanes fight in three dimensions, but there is nothing to hide behind. You basically get to choose your own poison when deciding between the two. Actually, the distinction is slightly more subtle than that. At least some of the arenas on Warplanes do, in fact, offer terrain that can be used as a type of cover but, unlike a tank, an airplane has to remain in motion. You can duck down into a canyon to try to hide, but you can’t stay there for long.
With my personal history in World of Tanks being one of abject and ignominious defeat (I’m not sure if I ever managed to kill another tank), I had hoped to have a better chance of not only surviving but also actually getting a kill now and then in World of Warplanes. With the vast arsenal provided by the aforementioned Press account and my own experience in owning and flying an airplane that performs much like a fighter plane, I thought that the World of Warplanes experience would be starkly better than my abortive forays into tank battle. Such was not case. Not at all.
I would like to be able to blame my abysmal performance on the tendency for other players to gang up on the Press guy, but that was only part of the problem. The rest of the problem arises from my years of aerial combat in more simulator-like games such as IL-2 where adherence to real flight physics makes a substantial difference in tactics and technique. World of Warplanes, by design, makes no claims as to the realism of its flight physics. This makes perfect sense when the goal of the game, with respect to the developers and the marketing side, is to entice new players to give it a try and hopefully get hooked on the game to the degree that they are willing to use the monetary path to faster upgrades. A more difficult and highly realistic flight model would serve only to frustrate novice players. That’s all well and good, but it does require an adjustment on the part of combatants that are used to very different flying and fighting techniques.
All of that aside, the late Beta platform that I was able to play with is highly polished in both the lobby/hangar and in the actual fighting arenas. It was easy as could be to find an online session to jump into, and that should only get better once the game is opened up to the public. Performance was excellent on my current gaming platform even at the highest levels, and the customization options available lead me to believe that had my machine not been up to handling the high settings, I would have been able to tailor a set graphics settings that would have worked with my older box just as well. The perspective from the pilot’s seat is third-person by default but a push of a button provides a first-person view, although it is a floating-in-space view, not a cockpit view.
My only real problem was getting the control rates set to values that would enable me to hold a steady aim. The airplanes seemed to have far more rotational momentum and inertia than real-world flying has led me to expect. In other words, it took too much control input to start the airplane rolling, and the airplane kept rolling too long after I centered the controller. This resulted in an inability to hold an opponent in my crosshairs. This is very much one of those “your mileage may vary” things, though.
I am often wrong when I try to make predictions, but despite that I am going to go on record by saying that World of Warplanes will eventually be even more successful that World of Tanks, at least with regards to player counts. With its low learning curve and structured progression through the various aerial fleets of different countries, it will be easy for a player to get started but not nearly as easy to climb to the top tiers. As long as Wargaming.net can tweak the slope of the difficulty curve to provide a meaningful level of challenge without making it too hard or too easy, they should soon gain a dedicated group of loyal players.