Updated Mon, Mar 19, 2012 by Ralphedelominius
For the uninitiated, World of Warplanes draws heavily upon the successful formula Wargaming.net developed for World of Tanks. The core gameplay 15v15 random battles with teams of planes drawn from different nationalities (i.e. no axis vs. allies) but confined to ranges of tiered aircraft; i.e. biplanes won’t be going up against jet fighters. Reality is confined to the characteristics of the planes themselves. Though victory mechanics work a bit differently (since there’s no base you can sit on to capture), most battles are won or lost in 5 or 10 minutes.
Also unlike the gameplay experience in World of Tanks, stopping behind cover to get your bearings or snipe just isn’t an option. Clouds and sun (attacking from the blind spot caused by the sun was and remains a significant dogfighting tactic) are already in the game, but don’t expect sunbeams or water vapor to stop a hail of bullets. Head of Game Design Ivan Kulbich noted that World of Warplanes will launch with a number of player-vs.-environment missions (a first for the series) designed to teach players the mysteries of the z-axis.
I went against my flight sim enthusiast instincts and opted for keyboard controls just to see how familiar the keyboard controls would be to a World of Tanks player. Not very. Gamers who grew up on Dynamix's Red Baron or the Aces... series like me might expect mouse to control the camera while WASD controls yaw and pitch, but we’d be wrong.
Instead, World of Warplanes uses the “ball on a string” mechanic by default to control plane movement. As you move the mouse, you’ll determine where your pilot attempts to fly (indicated by a ball “tied” to the gunnery crosshairs by a string). The W and S keys control throttle, while A and D roll the plane left and right. As I played, I recognized the reason; readily accessible speed control is absolutely necessary for tightening up turns, dumping speed, and other common tactics during an intense dogfight. Looking down to pick out the number key to throttle up or down might spell disaster.
Managing speed and altitude is key to winning World of Warplanes dogfights.
While Ivan noted that though players will have a lot of flexibility in creating their own control scheme, cockpit view won’t be a part of the game. That said, players have already figured out ways to mod the target reticules and sounds for ever higher degrees of historicity and/or zaniness (note the recent Duke Nukem sound pack for World of Tanks).
Wargaming.net was kind enough to let me try out each of the major plane types: the fighter, the heavy fighter, and the ground attack plane. Similar to the approach used in World of Tanks, each warplane type has a rock / paper /scissors relationship with the other types. Heavy fighters are durable enough to close on a ground attack plane but are vulnerable to more maneuverable and faster Fighters. Ground attack planes are primarily tasked with hitting ground targets of course, but can make short work of a lone fighter from the front or behind (thanks to an AI-controlled tail gun) due to its weak armor.
I tried out a ground attack plane as my first flight: a zippy Russian IL-40 with fifties-futuristic looking dual intakes in the nose cone. Within a few seconds I got my first kill. Touching the trigger poured forth four solid streams of fiery lead as my 23 mm cannons made short work of a Hellcat playing chicken. Ivan chuckled, noting that you should never attack a ground attack plane from the front. The IL-40 makes broad, sweeping turns and (like all early jets) handled like a freight train, but it’s very toothy up front, fast, and can take a lot of punishment.