World of Warplanes Impressions: Flying Coach
Call me the Red Barren, because my damage indicators are constantly flashing, and I produce no meaningful results on my flight team. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying World of Warplanes.
Released on Nov. 13 after more than a year of beta, the free-to-play flight combat action game from the makers of World of Tanks follows the “simple to learn, difficult to master” paradigm. This differs significantly from a traditional flight simulator’s “difficult to learn, simple to give up on” paradigm, but WoWP is by no means a flight simulator. Sure, the developers made some efforts to that end, but ultimately, WoWP leans far more toward arcade fun over realistic sim, a move that opens up the game’s potential audience — while alienating the hardcore flight sim fans.
WoWP features over 100 vehicles from various nations, each of which falls into one of three categories: fighters, heavy fighters, or ground-attack planes. Fighters are lightweight, highly mobile dogfighters; ground-attack planes are flying tanks; heavy fighters walk the line between the two. Each nation has its own tech tree of planes to unlock, starting with flimsy biplanes at Tier I and progressing up to high-tech jets at Tier X.
The plane models look good, especially for a free-to-play game, and a matchmaking system ensures that all planes in a given fight are of similar Tiers. Within each tier, every plane is different: some have more hit points, some deal more damage, some are faster, some are more meneuverable, and so on. Selecting a plane is a matter of deciding what you want to prioritize based on your personal skill set. The ability to admire every plane you’ve unlocked in your hangar serves as an incentive to collect them all.
Apart from a simple training mode, WoWP offers only one game mode: 15-on-15 team combat. To win, your team must either eliminate all enemy planes or gain “superiority” by … killing many enemy planes and objective ground targets.
The training mode consists of four singleplayer missions, as per a recent content update, that instruct players in the most rudimentary of the game’s mechanics. While certainly helpful — I didn’t know how to bomb a ground target until I played the training mission — I would like to see more advanced scenarios in the future that allow players to apply what they’ve learned without being handheld every step of the way.
The developers wanted to ensure that the controls felt just right to everyone, and as such offer a number of control schemes: mouse, joystick, keyboard, and gamepad. I stuck with the mouse setup and found the controls to be simple and intuitive.
Combat itself has a nice arcade feel to it. You don’t need an engineering degree to operate one of these aircraft; you steer, you shoot, and you don’t worry your head over the physics. A target lead indicator shows where you should aim to compensate for momentum, so at its most basic, combat consists of aligning your crosshair with the indicator and holding down the left mouse button.
Engagement speeds seem unrealistically slow, however. Two aircraft approaching each other at a combined speed of a few hundred miles per hour feels like it should happen much faster. Then again, this may have been a design decision to sacrifice realism in the name of fun — how fun is it to zoom by an enemy craft with only a fraction of a second to take it down?
Now, as with any F2P game with microtransactions, an important discussion point is whether WoWP is “pay-to-win.” Do players who invest real money have an advantage over others? In a way, yes. Spending money on the game will allow you to progress faster than other players — you will unlock planes and level up more rapidly. That said, holding a “Premium Account” does not offer a competitive advantage over other players, simply a convenience advantage. If you use a high-level plane, you’ll be matched up against other players who have high-level planes. If those players “grinded” their way to the plane without paying, then they’ll likely have an advantage over the paying player due to having invested more time in learning the game.
World of Tanks veterans will be happy to note that Premium Accounts are unified across both titles, as are currencies. Have you already unlocked every tank? Well, use all your saved up credits to get a head start in WoWP.
At E3 2012, Wargaming.net CEO Victor Kislyi explained that a real challenge for the dev team was to find a balance between casual fun and hardcore realism. It seems that fun won out, and I think that was the right move. WoWP isn’t a sim, and it doesn’t have to be. Hardcore flight sim fans likely won’t appreciate this game, but there are other games out there for them. Someone with zero simulated flight training can pick up WoWP and instantly have fun.
Ultimately, World of Warplanes is a nice diversion, but its ability to hook you will depend on how long the game’s only mode can hold your interest. With such little variety, the game caters mostly to a competitive audience of gamers who enjoy building up their skill by playing the same thing over and over again. But with it being free to play, there’s no harm in trying it out to see if it’s for you.