E3 has been an interesting place the last few years to watch the meteoric rise of Wargaming.net, creators of the uber-popular World of Tanks. Each year, the Wargaming booth gets larger and larger, and in 2013 it was a hulking, ominous black beast that resembled a mothership squatting on the earth. The company has been around since 1998, and was known for the Massive Assault series, and Order of War which was published by Square Enix. But with World of Tanks, they catapulted into the stratosphere with their free-to-play model and microtransactions. We’ve seen their booth encompass real, working tanks, and grow in size each year, so they must be continuing to do something right. With World of Warplanes on the way soon, and World of Warships coming after it, they seem poised to dominate the World of War.
You aren’t here for the story. You want story? Here’s your story: SHOOT DOWN ENEMY PLANES. That’s about it. Not that you’d need to know much else, as we imagine that pilots in WWI and WWII were told pretty much the same thing. Oh, the other half of that is DON’T GET SHOT DOWN. Actually, there is some historical storytelling here as the game charts the development of military aviation through the ages, from the 1930s through the Korean war. Some of the planes in the game were only prototyped and never mass produced, giving you a chance to fly them for the very first time.
Turn. Shoot. Repeat. World of Tanks is one of those rare titles where the story doesn’t matter at all, and all you want to do when you play is jump into a huge armored vehicle and blast the crap out of other players. They’ve pretty much nailed the fantasy in that game, and now they are spreading that exact same mechanic to World of Warplanes. Here, you’ll fly one of three different types of planes: fighters, heavy fighters, and ground-attack planes. Although each of them can dogfight, you’ll find most are adapted to certain types of gameplay, and you’ll have to find your niche. You can try and rack up points by hitting units on the surface, or take to the skies with your squadron and shoot down opposing pilots. The game features 15 on 15 online multiplayer, and if you happen to get shot down or damaged, you can spawn back in the hangar and hit the air again in a different plane.
Stick and Click. The game supports mouse and keyboard as well as gamepads and joysticks, and during our hands-on time with the game we kept thinking this might be the title to make us blow the dust off of a flight stick in the game closet. That might be blasphemy to the diehard mouse + keyboard set out there, but this game looks really good when you’re locked in a tight-turning dogfight, and a leather aviator’s helmet, white scarf, and joystick might be all we need to get one stop closer to the wild blue yonder. As far as those controls go, they are fairly basic. You steer by pointing the mouse where you want to go, can control the throttle, brakes, and boost. Oh, and shoot. Those are the standards, and you can also lock your camera on targets, and switch from a chase view to a free camera.
Patience. Otherwise, the idea is to point your flying gun at things and shoot them. Most of the intense dogfights will become turning wars while waiting for the trailing bullseye to drift over your target, allowing you to pepper them with rounds. Eventually you’ll want to upgrade. You can do that by using your in-game experience, or by paying money ala microtransactions to get some gold. You then use that gold to upgrade your pilots, earn them perks, and purchase, upgrade, and outfit your planes.
World of Warplanes uses the same engine as World of Tanks, which allows the same 15 on 15 gameplay in that game. But they have adapted it for aerial combat and physics, which is fairly impressive. What’s even more impressive is flying straight through the middle of several dogfights while evading enemy fire, and realizing how awesome the game looks. While you’re busy pushing your screaming warbird through the sky, you can blast away at enemy planes, ships, AA guns, and other targets. They’ve added a matchup screen in the lobby as the game loads, allowing you to easily see your chosen vehicle stacks up against other vehicles currently in the game and make adjustments accordingly, or you can drop back to the hangar at any moment and swap rides.
World of Warplanes doesn’t break any molds, but instead it carbon copies the simple and addictive gameplay from World of Tanks and transfers it to the skies. Wargaming promises that eventually all three of these games, Tanks, Warplanes, and Warships will combine under a single title where gamers vie for world domination. When that happens, their booth will probably just engulf all of E3. You heard it here first.
Be sure and check out World of Warplanes during their open beta that runs July 2 through July 4, and see what you think.