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World of Warplanes preview

It’s about time someone made a game set during World War II. There can’t be more than, what, three or four games set during that time period? Five tops.

That number is actually closer to 500, and the WWII scene is as close to exhaustion as any setting in a game could possibly be. But the majority of those games are shooters, naturally, leaving a little bit of wiggle room to still utilize the increasingly romanticized war without further saturating the market. One such field is that of aerial combat.

Of course, there are plenty of WWII themed flight simulators out there, but there is still room for more because of the inherent limitations of the time period which offer a lot of variety, but also create a natural cap on the technology. Flight combat sims are still somewhat of a niche genre, but when you jump to modern jets, you have to abandon any semblance of realism when you fight other humans if you want to have fun. Simulating a combat scenario at Mach 2, when you have sophisticated missiles, is just not fun unless you slow the planes down, or make them much, much tougher to defend from missile strikes—which in turn limits the use of guns. Flight combat sims are a balancing act.

Setting combat-based flight sims in WWII means that you get the best of both worlds—you can have fast moving vehicles that are at least somewhat realistic in their performance, and yet you can get more intimate in combat dogfights as well. There is room for another aerial fighter on the market. Throw in the fact that it is a free-to-play game, and that it was created by World of Tanks developer Wargaming.net, and this title stands out.

World of Warplanes is an online MMO, featuring matches that pit forces against one another. Two teams face off against each other in 15 minute rounds, and the game ends when one side is destroyed or that team’s base is annihilated.

Replace the planes with FPS players and you know the drill. In the lobby you are allowed to choose the plane you have already unlocked that best fits your style—in theory. The game is still in beta, and the matchmaking will likely receive a healthy upgrade once the results of the beta are in and more players are available. As it stands now, there are some serious balance issues. 

In theory the games will try to match up the class of planes together. Assuming the games are balanced, flying in an old school (well, older school) bi-plane as opposed to the last WWII prototypes made gives the game a lot of variety. Those that have played racing games routinely can attest that although driving a supercar is always fun, if all the competitors are in Ford Fiestas or similar E Class cars, the race can be just as entertaining.

As it stands now, those with the better airplanes are going to have a vast advantage, so much so that it would be unbalanced to an unplayable degree. Taking a propeller bi-plane up against a prototype jet is madness (but infinite bragging rights if you win). But until the game is released, the matchmaking will receive the benefit of the doubt.

The reason for the potential imbalance is the vast selection of planes available, which you purchase with credits you earn through gameplay. There are four classes of planes: Fighters, Heavy Fighters, Ground-Attack Planes, and Carrier-Based aircrafts. Each plane has its own pros and cons based on each person’s individual play, but with enemies gunning for you, most will likely choose the planes with the best overall balance.

Each category is further broken up by the nation you choose: America, Germany, or the USSR. Each plane can further be augmented through upgrades, which are necessary to get the most out of your ride. Thankfully, the side you are placed on in the match does not limit the fighter choice, so you can pair any combination of fighters from that period regardless of their historic allegiances.

The controls work well depending on what set up you use. Combining a mouse with the keyboard is awkward, but a controller or a flight stick is ideal for most. Finding the right controller scheme for you will make all the difference. There is still a bit of a rough feel to the gameplay, but a bit of fine-tuning could remedy that. The game is still in beta, so how it fares will come principally to the matchmaking and minor tweaks to the controls.

For a free-to-play game, there is a lot to be excited about by World of Warplanes. It doesn’t have the depth that similar games like IL-2 Sturmovik and Birds of Steel games, but it will reach that same niche group that are passionate about the WWII flight sims.

The flipside of that is the issue of accessibility. Generally this style of game appeals to the followers of the genre, and traditionally has had difficulties winning over new fans that may be used to the thrill of MMO combat, but may not be prepared for the level of patience a true dogfight requires. World of Warplanes won’t change that, but with the game being free-to-play, there should be more opportunities for the uninitiated to give it a try and see what they think.