World of Warplanes (PC)
To be released: Fall 2013
There's something to be said for instantly accessible, easy-to-play, free online games. World of Warplanes is exactly that -- pick an aircraft, jump in a match, shoot or be shot at, win or die, lather, rinse, and repeat. There's no cost to you other than your time, being a free-to-play title. You can spend a free few minutes getting a match or two in, or spend all day trying to dominate. It's totally open and up to you on how you use it. From what I can tell so far, that's the brilliance behind Warplanes.
I hopped right into matches against other games media as well as the lucky members of the MMO's beta test. Though I was dazzled by the varied selection of a completely unlocked demo, giving me access to craft spread across all ten levels of the game, I thought I'd start out by piloting a tier 1 prop job, just as a first time player would. And though I never played before, I took to the skies with confidence. I was shot down immediately, going down in flames over the ocean.
My fiery death had less to do with a lack of training and more to do with going up against some seasoned beta players. A quick game tutorial showed me that Warplanes is quite easy to control, actually. The mouse controls movement -- moving up turns the plane upward toward the sky, and moving down has it diving. Simply put, your plane goes where your mouse does. There are a few keyboard commands, but they're minimal. The W key uses some of your plane's limited boost (don't overheat!), and others are assigned to secondary weapons. You'll mostly just fly around with the mouse and fire your primary weapon with the left mouse button. I saw pre-teen boys pick this up in a match or two, so you should have no problem.
Vlad Belozerov, Director of Global Operations, told us that things weren't this way at first for Warplanes. They tried a control scheme that was closer to a flight sim at first, but found that the game too difficult to get into. He said that they were initially too sophisticated, which required players to play too many games to learn. The game was delayed for about half a year to rework the control to the way it is now. From my time with the game I think they did a great job in making it easily accessible.
Of course, there is joystick and joypad support for those that prefer it. But those going in expecting flight sim-like controls will be disappointed. Wargaming has worked hard to make Warplanes as easy as possible to get into. Each plane has its own feel, but once you know how to control the game, learning individual planes comes easy.
Getting into a game is just as easy as the control is. Matchmaking happens automatically, with grouping coming from players using similar tiered aircraft. It's as simple as picking a plane and waiting for a match to start. From there it's a deathmatch where you'll work with your team to shoot your opponents out of the sky or take out ground targets for dominance. Battles can be up to 15 on 15 in size. Essentially, everyone is in a massive dogfight, and those with the best aim and maneuvering skills will win.
For each of the ten available tiers you'll pick from one of three classes of planes to suit your mood or play style. Fighters, ground attackers, and carrier planes all have different strengthsand weaknesses, making for a sort of rock/paper/scissors balance for Warplanes. Each craft has simple stats that show its attack points, damage power, weapon power, and maneuverability. For example, pick a heavily armored fighter and you'll be able to take some hits, but don't count on being able to get out of the way and hide when the opposing team gangs up on you.
I had a good time going up the ranks to try out a variety of planes from every tier. Admittedly, the most fun was had at tier 10, where I had access to the most modern of the group. This level is where jet engines, high speeds, and heavy fire come into play. I found myself giddy at the power some of these craft offered. Beta players thought that I was a bot until I started celebrating my kills over chat.
Battles are pretty short, which is nice. They top out at about 15 minutes, but many I tried were less than half of that, especially against skilled players. There is nothing in the way of take-offs or landings, and there are no waypoints to follow. It's just jump in, find an enemy, kill or be killed, and then jump back in again. Pure action.
Expect over 100 planes ranging from the simple prop jobs of the World Wars to the early fighter jets of the 20th century, from all of the world powers' air forces. The wide range of craft really fits with the pick-up-and-play nature of Warplanes. If you're feeling aggressive, pick a plane with huge guns and go in for kills. Want to be sneaky? Get something fast and quiet and hide in the clouds. Those that just want to get in and blow stuff up can hop into one of the ground-focused bombers and play their part as well. It all ties together nicely when a team works together to pick what kind of craft would be needed for each member for victory.
World of Warplanes looked great on what I'm assuming were high-end gaming PCs. The maps, which ranged from icy Arctic missions to dogfights over the Golden Gate Bridge, all looked nice, with fantastic visuals to pick out while you're not being shot at. The skies and clouds, as well as the mountains and plains below, are all near photorealistic. The aircraft are the main attraction, though. They're all very highly detailed, especially in the hangar. I spent quite a bit of time zooming in to see the detail of some of the sexier tier 10 jets, and it seems like Wargaming didn't miss a beat on any of the aircraft.
World of Warplanes is so accessible and enjoyable that I'd suggest that anyone with a gaming PC try it out this fall. I came away pleasantly surprised at just how easy it was to get into. With it being a free-to-play title, your only cost is some hard disk space. Those that do decide to spend on it will have no advantage over free players other than faster leveling, mind you, so jump in with confidence.
I'd dare say that after a few dogfights just about any competitive game would be easily hooked. Try it out when it launches this fall.
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