World of Tanks, safe to say, was a resounding success. It might not have been. As the Free-to-Play market exploded in popularity around it, it was a game with limited ambition compared to other, more gargantuan F2P titles out there. Yet choosing to favour the small, easy to grasp and fall into online skirmishes of it’s 15 vs 15 tank battles proved to be one of it’s greatest advantages. There’s no pain in joining it’s games, just pick a tank, join a queue and fight to the death. World of Warplanes, WoT’s first spin off (a World of Battleships is also in development), is seeking to repeat the success of it’s predecessor, aiming much higher, but ensuring the simplicity of it’s no-nonsense approach remains fully in tact.
So it is then, exactly what it sounds. World of Tanks in the skies. That is to say that while the method of war might have changed, the core gameplay mechanics have remained untouched. Again, you’ll start at the bottom, picking from a range of slow, often cumbersome bi-planes to get you into the swing of things. Victories award experience that can then be used to upgrade existing aircraft (the upgrade system wasn’t live in the current BETA version) or buying new ones. And it’s a never less than impressive roster of aircraft to choose from.
Primarily it presents to you a huge selection of 1940’s warplanes from Russian, German and American air forces (there are plans to introduce British and Japanese aircraft sometime after launch) ranging in speed, armaments and general manoeuvrability in the air. The further up the chain you go you’ll come across more exotic and deadly aircraft from the early 50’s, where propellers are replaced by jet engines and the speed and killing power ramps up dramatically.
Every one of the aircraft available are split into 10 tiers, with the slower and cheaper ones occupying tier 1, through to familiar WWII stalwarts such as the Messerschmitt Bf. 109 and P-51 Mustang taking up positions in the mid tiers, and onto the likes of the Lavochkin La-15 and FJ-1 Fury at the top. Appearances, load-outs and general mobility are different for each, though they all tend to suit specific roles.
Fighters are the most common, and popular, sacrificing huge amount of ammunition and extra weapons for sheer speed and turning power. These are the aircraft you use for the sole purpose of gunning down others and some of the dogfights you can engage in can be both nerve wrecking and exhilarating. Heavy Fighters favour brute force, larger and less nimble than the smaller fighters, they can at least carry with them additional rockets or bombs to make them suitable at attacking air and ground targets. Attack Aircraft on the other hand are suited chiefly to attacking ground targets, their size and speed making them unsuited to engage in acrobatic fights in the skies above, they can nevertheless deal significant damage to stationary targets.
Handling differs for each plane, and the addition of joypad and joystick support means you don’t have to rely on the awkward mouse and keyboard setup that never quite feels as suited to simulation games of this ilk. Though you shouldn’t be put off by the probability of this being a difficult game to control. For the most part WoWP gets the delicate balance of full blown realistic simulation and simplistic arcade ease spot on, it’s an easy enough flight model to get to grips with, but a difficult one to master. Tutorials will be supplied in abundance for the final release, and an option to fight it out with AI bots should also allow extra room for practice for those who lack the confidence in their ability to control these unwieldy beasts against other players.
Still, it’s worth remembering that this isn’t going to be as easy on you as World of Tanks. Where in that game you had the advantage of terrain covering your tracks and the option to sneek back from a fight and into cover, here you’re on the move constantly. That’s the thing about aircraft, they only work when they’re moving forward. So on top of keeping an eye out for enemy fighter planes hunting you down, you’ll also have to keep a close eye on your speed and altitude. This isn’t a game that’ll be kind enough to give you a breather.
There is the option to change tact should going toe to toe against other, more battle hardened players prove to be too difficult. Attack Aircraft lack prowess in the air but excel at clearing the ground of stationary targets, and while it remains important to clear the skies, destroying enough of these can still allow your team to wrestle victory from the enemy. It’s part of the Supremacy game mode, currently the only mode showcased (more are planned for the final release) where the two opposing teams can swing the balance of power by destroying as much of the enemy as possible, be it on the ground or in the air.
Potential problems arise however, when you factor in the issues of balance. Tiers themselves are at least separated into clusters that only get matched with others of the same level, so there isn’t any chance you’ll have your 1930’s bi-plane forced to go up against a 1950’s jet fighter. Still, such is the wide range of diversity of each aircraft that issues can, and probably will, eventually make themselves known. And while you may indeed find it easier dropping bombs on a radar station or swooping down to pick off an enemy submarine, that slow, large lumbering aircraft of yours will still be at the mercy of the smaller, faster fighters.
It perhaps highlights that Attack Aircraft really do need some measure of protection from their team-mates, though given how eager people are to shoot each other down, not too many people seem willing to lend a hand to their more vulnerable team-mates. There are other issues of course, skill perhaps being the biggest. There will always be someone capable of running circles around you with ease as you weave up and down and try hard not to stall and crash your plane. It’s unfair to lay criticism of this at the game’s feet though, anything involving controllable aircraft will always see the elite few trounce the first time flyers, but it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t the kind of game you wander into without first acknowledging that you’ll be shot down repeatedly.
That shouldn’t put you off though, because putting aside problems of difficulty and balance, this is still a fun game to pour a few hours into. As with World of Tanks, it’s quick, simple method to shuttle you between games with little fuss gives it a ‘one more go’ appeal, where you almost feel compelled to jump right back into the fight. And while I confess to being quite average in piloting skills – spending almost as much time plummeting to the ground and causing accidental mid-air collisions as I did trying to shoot other people out of the air – I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself, even when I was spectacularly failing.
Another resounding success then? Possibly. It might not hold the immediate appeal of WoT, or encourage the same amount of devotion, but sticking close to that ease of play and by being one of the few, possibly only free-to-play games dedicated to online battles between aircraft gives it something of edge, and certainly warrants at least a try when it releases later in the year.
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