It’s tough to argue with free. Even if a game is terrible, if it’s free then you can still laud it for a decent diversion. When that free game happens to be good, it can change the way developers look at the gaming industry.
For the last few years, Wargaming has helped to redefine the way people look at games, at least from a financial sense. Its World of Tanks is one of the most popular games in the world with 65 million, and its free-to-play approach has helped to legitimize the financial model and spur a slew of competitors. The game is so popular that at one point, one million people in Russia alone logged on and played all at the same time. That’s insane.
To follow up the global phenomenon, Wargaming is heading to the sky. World of Warplanes is currently in beta with a tentative release window of fall. Fans of WoT should be right at home. The gameplay is obviously different, but the control scheme is easy to understand and the free-to-play model remains in place. Barring this game giving people seizures and causing a massive wave of deaths, the odds are that this game is going to be another major hit for Wargaming.
Point and Click Your way to Victory: As with World of Tanks, World of Warplanes is built entirely around online multiplayer combat. There is no story to speak of. Instead, the game is designed around a series of engagements, with up to 15 people per side facing off in a team deathmatch scenario. Other modes may be introduced in the future, but at the moment the game is straightforward in its approach.
History attacks: Upon release there will be well over 100 planes to choose from, representing the so called “golden age of dogfighting from the early days of the 20th century through the first jets introduced in the 1940s. When you begin, you will only have access to the tier 1 planes, which are comparatively primitive prop jobs that could be destroyed with a well-placed sneeze. From there you unlock better, and less death trap-y planes through experience. The game currently features real historical planes from the United States, Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union. Great Britain will be added prior to launch, and other nations may be introduced in the future. By the time you reach the tenth and final tier – which is not easy – you will have tracked the evolution of aviation, so in that sense the game is educational … right?
One stick fits all: Over the last year World of Warplanes has undergone a significant shift in the control scheme, from something like a flight-sim to an arcade-style combat game. The original controls gave you more options, but they did so at the cost of accessibility. It took several flights to begin to see how the game was meant to play. It was unwelcoming to people who just wanted to jump in an spend a few minutes playing, which is anathema to a successful free-to-play model. The new controls are much simpler, and the game is much better for it.
You can use a joystick or a gamepad, but the mouse and keyboard were the primary setup throughout development. To control your aircraft, you just point the mouse where you want to go, and your plane will comply – the keyboard holds the other controls like the throttle and target lock. It takes time to master and each plane reacts differently based on its individual stats, but anyone should be able to get the basics with minimal effort.
Rock, paper, warplane: Once you’ve unlocked a few planes to choose from, when selecting a plane you need to determine both the proper stats that suit your style, and the type of game you intend to play. Although dogfighting and destroying the opposing team is how you win a match, you can also attack AI controlled ground targets to make it easier on your team and to earn points. To do this without getting slaughtered by the AA guns, your best option is to pick a plane that is equipped with bombs. You may also want speed to make your escape, even if it comes at the cost of maneuverability.
The planes are grouped by four classes: assault, heavy assault, attack aircraft, and carrier aircraft. Each has its own unique abilities, but the stats that denote assault capabilities, damage points, speed, and maneuverability are the things that really determine how the fights will play out – there is no “right” choice to make, it’s just a matter of preference and knowing what the opposing team is bringing to the fight.
Tiers in the Sky: The game looks good visually, and each of the 10+ maps (with more coming in the future) is relatively small so you’ll get into the action quickly. You’ll have plenty of time to check out the maps after you die when you enter spectator mode – and you will die often at first. The matchmaking engine will attempt to pair off the tiers so there isn’t a jet terrorizing a biplane – sure, it would be hilarious to watch, but it wouldn’t be sporting – but there will be some growing pains and you may be outclassed at first.
Free-to-pay: While the game is free-to-play and you won’t need to by anything ever to compete and win, there is a premium membership that doubles the amount of experience you receive. The idea was introduced in World of Tanks, and one premium membership will work for both. It’s an interesting incentive, and fans of Tanks have no reason not to give Warplanes a try.
Assuming you are a PC gamer, there really is no reason not to at least try World of Warplanes. You may not like it, it may not even be your type of game – but it’s free. Consider it a demo that never ends. The controls have been tuned to make it accessible, and the number of planes are enough to keep you playing for a long, long time to come.
Warplanes doesn’t reinvent the genre, and it won’t win over people that want a story or aren’t in to competitive gaming. If you are a competitive gaming fan, then Warplanes is worth checking out. But don’t take our word for it. There are no consequences for trying it, so check it out this fall.