World of Warplanes Review
World of Warplanes (not to be confused with that other WoW game out there) is a multiplayer arcade aerial dogfight game. Up to 30 players - 15 per team - can take to the skies in planes drawn from the first half of the 20th Century and battle it out for air superiority. Battles are quick and to the point, usually over within ten minutes, and then you can join a new battle and do it all over again.
It's not hard to learn to fly in the game - play through a few short tutorials and you'll know everything that you need to know to fly a plane, at least in this game. The flight model is simplified so it's pretty easy to recover from mistakes like a stall, and you never have to worry about taking off or landing in the game. Target lead indicators are provided so there's no guesswork involved in how much you need to lead your target with your gun bursts or in accounting for gravity's tug on your bullets. Just match up your reticule with the indicator and you'll hit your mark. Maneuvering your plane is a simple matter of moving your mouse toward the edge of the screen in the direction you want to move, climb by moving the mouse up, turn right by moving right, etc., and the throttle is limited to a cruising speed and a limited turbo boost. Even with the simplified controls you'll still need to practice sound tactics and understand how factors such as speed, altitude differential, and turning radius impact your ability in order to come out on top in a dogfight.
The game has a large livery of planes available from the major players in the first two world wars, each of which is given a basic rating in the categories of firepower, speed, maneuverability, and ability to sustain damage. The planes are all ranked into one of ten tiers, the lowest of which is filled with the first biplanes to take to the skies in battle and the highest which is home to the world's first jet fighters. You start out with a couple of planes at the lowest tier, but that doesn't mean that you'll start out as a flying target for higher tier aircraft. The game creates matches with planes that are all within a couple of tiers of each other so everyone is on a roughly level playing field.
There are just a few maps available in the game, but the lack of variety is only really noticeable to those who decide to fly a bomber into battle. Each side has a base area on the map that's a collection of radar installations, anti-aircraft guns, and such structures, and it's possible to win the game by dealing enough damage to the enemy's base. Possible maybe, but not likely. Just about every game I played ended when one of the teams lost its last plane. This may not be the case in the highest tier battles, though, as at the top tiers players will have access to advanced bombers that can do significantly more ground damage than can be dealt by strafing biplanes.
The maps in the game look nice from above, and include animated touches of battle raging on the ground and sea below. You may witness battleships exchanging fire or thick smoke billowing up from oil fires, but these views are mostly enjoyed while you're suspended in midair waiting for the countdown to the start of the game. During battle I can't say that I paid much attention to the ground unless I was gunning for enemy installations or it was rushing up to meet my damaged plane. Things aren't quite as pretty when you get a close-up view, with the exception of the planes themselves which are nicely rendered with the care befitting these legends of military aviation.
You'll spend your time between dogfights in your hangar, which lets you view your plane collection, upgrade your planes, and research or purchase new aircraft. All of this is driven by the three kinds of currency in the game. The first is experience gained in battle - the better you do in a match, the more you'll earn. Experience is used to upgrade things on your plane such as the engine or weapons and work your way through the tech tree to higher tier aircraft. Experience is tied to the plane that you used in battle and there are separate tech trees for the aircraft of each nation. You may think that the German starting biplanes are better than the American ones, but flying German planes isn't going to get you any closer to obtaining that P-51 that you really want to fly.
The next type of currency is also earned in battle, but it goes into a shared pool among all of your aircraft. This currency is used to repair and reload your planes after battle, and to purchase expendable bonus items such as fire extinguishers that will help you to control the damage to your plane in battle. It's also used for non-performance related plane upgrades like paint schemes and insignia. These customizations aren't permanent, though, and are essentially rented for varying time periods. Well, they can be permanent if you want to spend the last form of game currency, gold.
Gold is where the "mium" meets the "freemium" in the game. Gold is purchased with real world currency and is used to shortcut everything in the game from research to experience. It's the "patience tax" on players who just don't want to invest the time it takes to get to the higher tier planes (and it does take some time), and can also be used to buy the other in-game currencies that are normally earned in battle. It can also be used to purchase special aircraft and variants not available through the normal tech trees. As of this writing, all such planes are available for under $10, but World of Tanks offers some of its special vehicles for over $50 each so it's conceivable that that's where World of Warplanes is headed. Gold can also be used to purchase limited time VIP status which provides bonus multipliers to everything you earn from battle. It's a cheaper, slower-paced way to shortcut the time it takes to make your way down the tech tree, probably geared towards players that are so close to an upgrade that they can't resist the temptation to impulse buy their way to reaching it faster.
World of Warplanes provides some fun aerial action, as long as you're OK that it's a purely arcade experience and not at all a flight sim. It suffers from a lack of modes and maps, but hopefully that's something that wargaming.net plans on rectifying in future updates. It would be nice if those future updates also overhaul the game's matchmaking lobby, which is barebones and rudimentary compared to most online multiplayer games. Lastly, the game is free, but if you plan to play it for free then you need to be prepared to do some grinding before you reach the higher aircraft tiers. Overall, the game is enjoyable enough and seems to have some potential as it grows, so it's certainly worth your time to download the game and give it a try.
Final Rating: 77%. Enjoyable arcade shooter in the sky, free to play and free from annoyances like flutter and engine torque.