Updated Tue, Jul 24, 2012 by ricoxg
Another cold and clear morning dawns over the North African desert where 15 warbirds scream their way across the rugged terrain rushing to engage the 15 intruders in defense of their territory. Thus began my first match in Wargaming.net’s next addition to their budding empire, World of Warplanes. It may not be the most complex plane sim in the world, but just like they did with tanks, these guys have put together a solid effort and scored pretty well.
While I’ve played my share of flight sims from the Falcon series to IL-2, the modern war-machines just can’t capture the poetry of the older planes from the first and second World Wars. Oddly enough, I believe tanks share this trait with planes--the older ones far outclass the contemporary ones. Wargaming.net seems to agree with me. World of Warplanes promises to continue the standard they set with World of Tanks--they’ll feature only vintage warbirds in their latest game. And while there may be a few things I’m not crazy about in the beta build, I honestly have high hopes for them.
Being a fan of flight sims, I launched the World of Warplanes (WoWP) beta client with some trepidation. Like its predecessor, World of Tanks, World of Warplanes combines the idea of a sim with the controls of an arcade-style game. Where the system worked really well in WoT, I’m not sure it was totally successful in WoWP. In WoT, the player mouses over to where they want to fire, and then turret tracks along more slowly until it lines up with the intended direction of fire. That system works great with tanks, but Wargaming.net has also applied it to aircraft where it doesn’t translate quite as well.
Unlike tanks, the main weapon systems on planes tend to be fixed and aiming requires maneuvering the entire vehicle into line with the target. The whole system of moving the mouse to put an icon where you want to go and then the plane following along behind it ends up feeling sluggish. The P-51 Mustang was most definitely not a bird that should ever have the term “sluggish” applied in even its general vicinity. I understand that the mechanic is required in order to make the game mouse-friendly, but I think I would be sure to add in toggles to take it away should the player wish to play with a joystick, as I suspect many will.
Graphically, World of Warplanes succeeds in much the same way that WoT did. The equipment is highly detailed and very authentic compared with the original. Wargaming.net paid a lot of attention to small details just as they did in their earlier game and it really shows. Bullets firing from the planes show those telltale streams of displaced air and smoking tracers, just as you’ll see in any vintage gun-cam footage. The effect as those tracers pass your canopy from behind is done well enough to be disconcerting when it happens. Another well done effect is the way planes in their death-throws gorge smoke as they spiral down to their fiery demise. (A fitting end to each noble adversary that dares stand against my aerial supremacy, I must say.)
The maps in WoWP are significantly larger than they were in WoT because the planes fly so much faster and need more room to maneuver. Just as they did with World of Tanks, the folks at Wargaming.net invested a great amount of thought into making the maps interesting. Larger maps mean more details, and World of Warplanes doesn’t disappoint. The terrain on most maps is more contoured, which really makes flying over it and through it not only visually pleasurable, but also a valid tactic for shaking enemy aircraft from your six.
Ingeniously, World of Warplanes also provides a mechanic to make flying bomber and ground-attack aircraft viable. Without ground targets to take out, WoWP would be nothing more than dog fighting, which would likely get old before too long. To break-up the flow of the game and create alternate avenues to victory, WoWP adds bases protected by Anti-Aircraft batteries, and strategic ground targets for bombing and strafing.
Each map has multiple ground objectives for either team to defend or attack. In WoWP, a match can be won by eliminating opponents, but there are also ways to win by capturing points. Point Capture in World of Warplanes wouldn’t make much sense, so instead of capturing objectives players have points to defend, and they’re spread all over the map. I loved this system because it creates all sorts of questions about the best way to win, and in many ways it’s a much more complex system than the one in WoWP.
Those who played World of Tanks would certainly expect some of those mechanics to make their way into World of Warplanes, and while some did, there are some aspects that unfortunately haven’t shown up yet. The tiered system is back, but the branching family tree of varying research paths is gone. Apparently it was replaced by the West Virginia approach to genetic diversity...with a pair of intertwined main trunks with little in the way of branches. (No offense, West Virginians.)
I think Wargaming.net should probably spend a little time rethinking this particular aspect of the game. With fighters, ground-attack, and a number of different bombing styles, there’s ample room for a more complex research tree with planes. If there’s any aspect of the game that appears unfinished, this would be it, and correcting this single problem would make a huge difference in presenting a polished game. This being just beta, I wouldn’t be surprised they’re already working on it, but as it stands now, I’m just not a huge fan of aeronautical inbreeding.
Another thing about World of Warplanes that I miss from World of Tanks is upgradable component systems. I wouldn’t mention it, except it seems likely that World of Tanks players will notice the absence immediately. I’m not entirely sure there’s a solution, however. Planes didn’t exactly have modular components, but rather new entire runs with slightly modified components. The Bf-109 went through something like 11 or 12 variants throughout World War II, and some of those variants had as many as 14 sub-types, so perhaps the answer to replicating the component research of WoT in WoWP is unlocking sub-types.
No matter how they do it, replacing the component system in WoWP will not be simple, if it’s do-able at all. I should point out that it does look like they intend to do something along the lines of modules now. There is a section for it that’s greyed out and you do get experience in aircraft. After a search of the forums and a little poking around, I just haven’t seen much said about what exactly Wargaming.net intends to do just yet.
Thus we get to everyone’s favorite part of the article, where I pull everything together and tell all you wonderfully excited readers what my conclusion to the game is. With World of Warplanes, I would have to say that conclusion is a qualified win. While there are a few things that do need improvement-- and as a sim fan for years, there are likely some things I judge unfairly--but I think WoWP shows a great deal of promise. This game is incredibly approachable, easy to learn, and quite fun to play, but it still has an underlying complexity that gives it a wider appeal.
Wargaming.net has made another brilliant game that will continue to pull new gamers into the sim genre by being simple enough for the uninitiated to play competitively. One can participate without having to get a degree in mid-twentieth century war-machines, and while it may not appeal to all, it’s certainly a system that will appeal to most. It’s true World of Warplanes doesn’t quite live up to the bar set by World of Tanks, but that’s a really high bar to meet. Fixing some minor bugs and tweaking a few minor systems will nearly get them there, though. For other lesser games, that would be a major success. For Wargaming.net, we’ll just call it the standard. I’d definitely suggest trying out this game. It will be free to play, and you’ll likely find that you enjoy it enough to keep coming back.