Wargaming.net has been in ongoing closed beta with World of Warplanes since last year, and I had the opportunity to check out the aerial warfare this past week. For those of you familiar with WoWP's predecessor, World of Tanks, the mechanics and controls of WoWP are essentially the same, so taking down enemy aircraft shouldn't take much getting used to.
This free-to-play MMO puts two opposing teams on opposite ends of the map and throws down the proverbial gauntlet for them to battle it out in fast-paced dogfights until one team claims undisputed victory over the skies. Matches are fairly quick; most never take more than 10 minutes so it's a simple task to jump from one to the next.
There were a few occasions when two planes would get locked in a longer dogfight, circling one another in an eternal chase until one successfully locked on to the other and introduced him to his demise of gunfire, or someone would miscalculate their proximity to the ground or water and suffer an explosive and unexpected crash landing (like I did a couple of times). There is also the option to play against computers alongside a computer teammate, but that mode wasn't as gratifying as shooting down aircraft that were larger or quicker than mine.
Enemy bases are also in play as targets that give your team a competitive edge over the other, in addition to destroying their planes. But if you fail at an attempt to destroy a base and are still flying nearby, they won't hesitate to shoot right back at you with their anti-aircraft weaponry, so a quick death is advised for those enemies.
Matchmaking forms matches by the tier of each plane in the queue, from the Tier I aircraft that are generally smaller and cheaper to customize, to the Tier X planes, the more expensive and powerful vehicles of air-death. This keeps the teams balanced by determining players' placement based on their individual strengths and weaknesses.
Players are given four different types of classes of planes to choose from (and within each, a host of various planes): Fighters, Heavy Fighters, Ground Attack and Carrier-Based planes, of North American, Russian, Japanese, and German-based designs. Fighters are meant specifically for aerial combat, whereas Heavy Fighters can multitask with their keen ability to take on targets in air, on land or sea. Ground Attack planes are built to fly low and go after enemy bases with bombs, and Carrier-Based planes are designed to carry both bombs and rockets. Loadouts are highly customizable within the hangar, which is where you determine how best to outfit your aircraft.
These different types of planes and their weaponry and accessories are bought within the hangar, using either in-game silver or the ever-loving microtransactions of real-money gold. Most items must be unlocked through continuous gameplay, and although players can't directly buy experience, custom skins and some select gear are purchasable with gold. Thankfully, gold-bought gear isn't so vastly superior that the monetization system would be a pay-to-win model. There is also the choice to convert one type of currency into the other.
Once the aircraft is properly outfitted and ready to go, players can quickly jump into a match against another team, and if you crash-land and don't want to wait to see how your team fares, you can exit the match and choose a different aircraft with which to battle in another match. Your previous aircraft will be otherwise still preoccupied in the last match until it ends, but having access to multiple, capable planes gives players the opportunity to play endless back-to-back matches.
WoWP's graphics and attempt at realism is impressive and adds a bit to the game's appeal, from fatal collisions with enemy aircraft to emitting smoke from heavy damage, which inevitably gives away your position, to stall warnings if you try to ascend vertically for too long and boosting your plane to speed toward your target until its engine overheats.
I did have a bit of a gripe with the controls, which is currently a cursor that you move around for the plane's nose to follow. If you're more accustomed to FPS titles, the slow movement of the plane as it catches up with the cursor takes some getting used to, although it does make accurate aim a fun challenge and is much less simple than the standard run-and-gun. Players can also opt out of using a mouse and keyboard and instead make use of console controllers, joysticks or gamepads.
World of Warplanes was fun to play around with for the hours that I tested it out, and I definitely recommend it to those who are fans of WoT, flight sims or flight combat games, and would encourage anyone to give it a try. There is still no word on when it will enter open beta, but the developers are constantly pumping out updates to improve gameplay, so when that day does come, pilots everywhere will have the most optimal aerial gaming experience.
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