World of Warplanes Preview (PC)

In a very short time World of Tanks exploded from a cult oddity to a steam-rolling leviathan of an MMO, notching up records for registered users and concurrent players along the way as well as garnering a devoted community thanks to an F2P model that blazed the trail for the likes of Tribes: Ascend and PlanetSide 2 by being, well, not punitive rubbish. Now have given us a glimpse into the closed beta of its follow-up, World of Warplanes, as it inches its way towards release and potentially similar success.

Like its predecessor, World of Warplanes combines accessible online multiplayer combat with a huge range of fighting vehicles that tickle the collecting itch in everyone. At the core of the game is your hanger, where your prized aerial steeds reside. You can scroll through and select any of your purchased aircraft, and then view a highly detailed 3D model of it in situ, which you maneuver the camera around using the mouse. With access to a long list of the plane’s stats and the option to customise it with a fresh paint scheme or nose decals, it feels rather like the equivalent of a Forza Racing garage but for airplane junkies.

The very tasty Me P.1099B heavy fighter parked up in the hangar.

World of Warplanes is not short of desirable planes to bolster your collection either, with three of the four nations - Germany, USA and U.S.S.R - currently boasting tech trees of twenty or more aircraft each. The tech tree is divided into two paths, for either straight-up fighter aircraft or fighter/bomber and/or carrier-based planes, each with ten tiers (the more recently added nation of Japan currently only has a single path of ten). You must research each tier in sequence, expending experience points, and can then purchase any researched plane using the game’s credit currency, so while you’ll have to research all the way up to the higher tiers, you only have to pay out on the particular model you want. A handful of premium aircraft with special historical significance, such as the parasol winged Focke-Wulf Fw 56 Stosser, are also available to purchase using the game’s third currency, gold.

The tiers for each nation are packed full with some of the most famous aircraft marques in history, spanning a period from the mid-1930s through to the post-Korean War era. You start off with a basic biplane from each nation parked in your hanger, but from then on you can work your way up to the likes of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, Ilyushin IL-2, Mitsubishi A6M2 Reisen or the P-51 Mustang. Some, such as the aforementioned Mustang, are repeated in different variants across tiers, but even so just the basic historical models are enough to get dogfighting fans salivating at the prospect of taking them for a spin.

Beyond the World War II-era prop engine fighters that make up the majority of the tiers, lay the more exotic jet-propelled beasts, from the genuine historical fighters such as the Messerschmitt Me 262 and the 1950s F-86A Sabre to, intriguingly, experimental or prototype aircraft, some of which never made it off the design board. It’s getting the chance to fly the likes of the Me P 1102 or the Kyushu J7W2 Shinden-Kai that provide the most compulsion to work your way up the tech tree as fast as you can. Presently the only shame is that the products of Great Britain’s aviation industry are not yet represented in the game, and I look forward to having the option of flying a Spitfire, Hurricane or Meteor in amongst these other famous names of World War II.

Fans of intense dogfighting action will find plenty to like in WoWp.

Each aircraft you add to your hanger can be further customised, allowing you to make upgrades to areas such as the airframe, engine and cannons, or adding on ordinance such as rockets and bombs. This is done using the handy preset configurations in the customisation panel, many of them matching real-life variations on the basic plane, which again can be researched with XP and purchased with credits. You can also customise each airplane element individually, swapping out between compatible purchased items.

After you’ve settled on the desired set-up for your weapon of choice, it’s time to take to the skies and jump on the servers. As World of Warplanes is still in closed beta, the present map selection is small, mainly rotating around an arena set over a Pacific atoll and another off the North European coast dotted with lighthouses. Each fifteen minute round sees the two teams set the goal of either eliminating all enemy aircraft or gaining an advantage and maintaining it by pounding the opposition’s ground bases or shipping. have opted for a handling model parked somewhere in the middle of arcade and simulation. Basic flight is approachable enough even for the beginner, but each aircraft has just enough twitch and individual quirk to ensure that you can never let your concentration slip without meeting a fiery end in the terrain. A variety of control methods are supported, from the obvious joystick and gamepad options (the 360 controller works straight out of the box) to surprisingly useable keyboard and mouse layouts, with one being based off the World of Tanks controls for players coming over from that game. More advanced control options such as target snapping and locking and a variety of camera modes are on offer, though there’s no in-cockpit view.

Purchasing this little lot will take you a while, but it’s worth it.

It makes for a game that’s quick to jump into the action - you start off in mid-air so there’s no tricky take-off and landings to be negotiated - and rapidly becomes very hectic, especially if teams of fifteen or so players are facing off against each other. The usual F2P fear that higher tier aircraft will lead to a pay-to-win scenario has thankfully been avoided.

The jets do have some performance advantage, but it has clearly been reined in from their real-life equivalents, and as I found time and again as my spangly press-account enabled Me 262 HG III got blown out of sky by lower tier aircraft, player skill is always the defining factor. The inclusion of ground and water targets means that those who are less competitive in the circling dogfights above can contribute to the team cause and rack up healthy experience point and credit totals after each round.

While there’s still clearly some way to go in terms of in-game content before the game will be ready for launch, even at this closed beta stage appear to have built very solid foundations for World of Warplanes to prove as equally compulsive as its predecessor when it releases for PC sometime later in 2013.

Most Anticipated Element: Testing out some of the more insane aircraft designs from the final years of World War II that never made it into the air in real life.

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By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Mar 11, 2013
Personally prefer War Thunder, but I wouldn't call it a bad game
By Longsword (SI Core Member) on Mar 12, 2013
I just tried out War Thunder today and I am absolutely hooked!
By nocutius (SI Elite) on Mar 12, 2013
I'm avoiding games. I dislike the absolutely huge amount of grinding required, the silly multi-tier matchmaking and most of all that crazy randomness in hit detection, "we got them!" -> 0 damage.
If I managed to hit someone and the shot penetrated it DID "some" damage dammit :(.
Nah, no more games for me.

Will give War Thunder a try though, thanks for the reminder.