"Eyes on the Sky"
Last month, developer Wargaming.net finally launched the much-anticipated dogfight simulator, World of Warplanes. I'm happy to report that, since the last time I played it (back in March) it's seen a whole slew of improvements, most notably in the controls (which, as I noted back then, were saddled with a rather steep learning curve). In my time with the release version of the game, I found that everything felt considerably more fluid and much less cumbersome.
World of Warplanes is hence much more welcoming to newcomers than it was a few months ago, something which is helped along even further by the presence of three tutorial missions designed to walk the players through all the important basics of destructive aerial dogfights. These missions, thankfully, are entirely optional – players who already know what they're doing can dive right into the game proper.
I wasn't able to get the hang of using a gamepad or keyboard - both felt too unnatural compared to the mouse controls, and made it far too difficult to keep my reticule on target.
After booting up World of Warplanes, you'll find yourself in the Hangar. This is where you'll spend your time when you're not in the skies, and it's here where you'll research, purchase, and upgrade planes. These planes are divided into five different countries: U.S.A., U.S.S.R., Japan, Germany, and U.K., with over one hundred different aircraft between them.
There are many available and varied planes. The primary means by which the five factions differ is in the types of aircraft available. The USSR, for example, has a selection of devastating bombers, while the United States favors carrier-based attack craft, particularly in higher tiers. You aren't locked into a nation once you've made your choice, so players can feel free to pick and choose planes from any of the five groups.
Once you've gotten your plane selected, it's time to have a look at your crew. While vehicles in the lower tiers will only feature a pilot, higher-level planes will also add gunners and navigators to the mix. These crewmen gain experience for every match you play, and when leveled up, gain access to a valuable array of skills which will make you significantly more effective in the skies, though only once they've attained mastery of a particular plane.
There also exists a range of cosmetic options for your craft, which you can apply at your leisure. These include different camouflage patterns, decals, and even aesthetic attachments. If you want these add-ons to be permanent, you can spend Gold (the game's paid currency) to unlock them. Otherwise, they'll expire after a set amount of time. Aside from unlocking new craft, converting experience, and providing a slight boost to credits and experience gained from matches, this is the only use the game has for Gold.
While we're on the topic of cosmetics, the game still looks and sounds fantastic – that hasn't changed.
The matches themselves have changed relatively little since the beta, although Wargaming.net has thankfully tweaked their matchmaking algorithms since I last played. While you may find yourself going up against craft which have a somewhat punishing advantage over yours, you'll never face someone more than two tiers above or below you. This means that although veteran players may crush newbies in raw skill alone, they won't necessarily have an unfair advantage due to the plane they're flying.
Two teams of up to sixteen players square off against one another in the air over a wide selection of different battlefields. The first team to achieve Domination – which is obtained by destroying the majority of the other team's ground structures, which include AA guns and warehouses – wins. Alternatively, whichever team blows the other out of the sky first is the victor. The latter tends to happen more often.
Games tend to be relatively short – about ten to fifteen minutes each – and almost always packed with enough frantic action to keep most anyone entertained. Each craft has only one life before they're permanently eliminated, meaning players need to be very careful about who they engage and where. Should you fall, the plane you were using will become unavailable until the match ends, though you can back out and enter a new game with a different craft.
After each match, you'll gain both credits and experience. The experience takes two different forms: standard experience, which is tied directly to the craft on which you earned it, and free experience, which can be used to research or upgrade any craft. Credits, meanwhile, are used to buy planes and upgrades unlocked through experience. Pilots also have their own separate experience pool, and level up independently. Although it sounds a bit convoluted, it's actually fairly streamlined and quite simple to manage.
As with any title, World of Warplanes isn't without its faults. The amount of experience and credits gained from each match are directly tied to your performance. While this won't really be a big deal for skilled players, novices might find themselves progressing at a snail's pace, which can prove more than a little frustrating. The game also seems to have a rather severe problem with spammers – in roughly half the matches I played, I encountered one or more pilots whose sole purpose was to plug some malware-riddled free gold site. The lack of any simple means of reporting these bots makes dealing with them far more of a chore than it should be.
Lastly, while the standard dogfight mode is fun, World of Warplanes could do with a few more matchmaking playlists and a few more game types, if only to mix things up a bit.
Wargaming.net made its name in game development with World of Tanks. With World of Warplanes, it's proven that it's anything but a one-trick pony. World of Warplanes is a strong and entertaining free-to-play filled with just the right amount of carnage, for which the sky's definitely no limit.
GameDynamo's Score for World of Warplanes (PC)
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A gamer at heart, Nick started writing when he was a child. He holds a BA in English, works as a freelancer, and loves every minute of it. One day, he hopes to net himself a career in game design - but that's something for the future.
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