The Free Agent: Episode 17 - World of Warplanes

Dodging bullets and dollar bills as we take to the skies in World of Warplanes

Hello to all our new readers, and welcome back to those who have been following ZAM's bi-weekly column, The Free Agent. Our mission, as always, is to answer the question "Can gaming REALLY be free?"

If you missed the last episode, be sure to check it out for our long overdue coverage of Path of Exile.

This week the Free Agent gets airborne with the latest title from Wargaming.net, the recently released World of Warplanes. Does it crash and burn or soar to new free-to-play heights, or maybe just fly along somewhere in the middle? Read on to find out.

It would seem that we here at ZAM have had airplanes on our minds. Not only has the Free Agent been in the cockpit for the last two weeks but also fellow ZAM writer Jeff  "Undestructed" Wright had the chance to sit down with the Wargaming devs for a live stream event on Twitch.tv. Be sure to check out the recording if you didn't get a chance to see it.

But of course you don't just want to take the devs word for it. You want to know what the average gamer can expect from World of Warplanes right? Well never fear because the Free Agent has you covered.

Let's talk Warplanes!

For starters, I'd say World of Warplanes lands somewhere in between a combat/flight simulator and an arcade style multiplayer online game. Of course that begs the question, does it appeal to both types of gamers, or to neither?

Considering that a true World War II era fighter plane flight simulator would probably involve an awful lot of flying in a straight line while escorted bombers, I'm rather pleased they didn't go over the top to provide an authentic fighter pilot experience.

On the other hand they also didn't trivialize the experience to the point where the choices you make regarding your aircraft don't really matter. The deeper in you go the more you realize that not every plane flies the same way, and there are definitely niche roles to fill depending not only on your plane but also your particular load out.

In that respect I'd say they nailed it. I felt as though I was receiving a well researched and authentic experience without being mired in the details.

The first time you sit down in a Tier I cockpit and enter a match you will immediately notice a several things:

  1.         The graphics look really great
  2.         The controls are pretty easy to grasp  (though I can only speak to using a mouse and keyboard)
  3.         It takes a bit of time before you actually see combat
  4.         When enemy planes do show up they close the gap quickly
  5.         That's weird my plane is on fire
  6.         Wow, I suck horribly at this...

I'll be blunt and say that those first few matches are brutal on the ego. Despite the easy-to-use controls you will find it takes some time before you can start to feel useful on the battlefield. Thankfully matches are quick, and once you've been destroyed you can exit out and queue up for another match before the flaming pile of metal that was once your plane even hits the ground. Unless of course you just crashed into the ground, which I'll admit happens from time to time.

The more you play the better you get, not an earth shattering concept, but be warned the learning curve with World of Warplanes is a little steep. Getting yourself into higher tier planes also helps a fair amount and luckily you can get into a Tier III plane fairly quickly, which is around when I started to feel a little more competent and a little less like bait.

Around that time you'll also start to realize that although there are only 3 categories of planes (fighters, heavy fighters and attack aircraft) there is surprising amount of depth in the roster of air craft assembled by the World of Warplanes team. Even though the five nations represented (USA, USSR, Germany, Japan and UK) don't necessarily have access to all three types, there are plenty of options available to each nation.

Even for players who decide to focus on one particular nation you will likely find yourself unlocking a couple different planes to use for specific circumstances. Add to that different load outs such as machine guns, bombs and engines and you'll find yourself spending as much time in the hangar customizing your planes as you do in dog fighting in the open sky.

But will I stay interested?

Therein lies the challenge. I think for some, World of Warplanes offers exactly what they expect and that works for them. But others may be left asking, "Is that it?"

I wouldn't blame them for asking either. I found that I generally only remained interested in World of Warplanes in short sittings. If I played for more than an hour at a time I started to find loading tedious, battles repetitive and my tactics going down the toilet.

More maps would help, but ultimately that's not the issue, as the map doesn't seem to affect the gameplay overly much. More game modes would also be a step in the right direction, considering right now there is only one, but admittedly it would be difficult to vary things up much with World of Warplanes gameplay resting firmly on the backbone of aerial dog fights.

For me the only longevity that exists in World of Warplanes is to play it infrequently in short sitters, but that's typically not my MO. I'm more likely to find one game, sink my teeth into it, and play the crap out of it until it no longer interests me. Flat out, I just don't see World of Warplanes as the kind of game.

I accept that there are likely plenty of people in the Wargaming community that don't agree with me and somehow find a way to keep their teeth thoroughly lodged in this title, but it baffles me a little. But rather than argue over the depth, or lack thereof, of World of Warplanes maybe the better question to ask is does it need to have depth. If you can drop in and play a few games every so often, and have a good time doing so, then perhaps it’s mission accomplished.

For the moment, I'm content to give World of Warplanes the benefit of the doubt and let it be what it is. Though I sincerely hope that as the game matures, it develops some additional layers. Perhaps when the promised interconnectivity between World of Tanks, World of Warplanes, and World of Warships, comes online, those layers will begin to develop.

Until that time, however, while I won't outright decry World of Warplanes as "too shallow to keep me interested" I will say, it will remain relegated to the "I'm bored and only have a few minutes to play something" category; which is more than I can say about many of the games I've covered on the Free Agent.

Of course none of that matters if it's not free, so check out page 2 for more...

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