World of Warplanes – E3 Preview
My first appointment at E3 was sitting down for a hands on with World of Warplanes, which is currently in closed beta, and an opportunity to meet some of the team from Wargaming.net. I had played World of Tanks back at Eurogamer 2011 and was impressed by its ability to appeal to a wide audience while retaining a certain ‘hardcore’ element about its gameplay. This isn’t a forgiving game by any means, but can be mastered provided you have time, patience and perhaps some money to hand.
Yes, World of Tanks and World of Warplanes operate a free-to-play model which offers players the opportunity to spend real world cash, should they wish to gain a quicker advantage on the battlefield. Players not willing to spend their hard-earned coin can still earn the upgrades through gaining experience points.
I didn’t know what to expect when first getting to handle World of Warplanes and, having spent some of my younger years playing a mix of fighter pilot and flight simulator games, I was curious about how it was going to feel and react. The build-up to battle is very much the same as in World of Tanks, in that you must select your plane, choosing from one of many countries, and decide on any potential upgrades and armament.
The plethora of options at your disposal is one of World of Warplanes’ best selling points. It is, quite frankly, ridiculous how much you can tweak and change your plane. Every single plane has its own tech tree which allows for a huge amount of tinkering and changing – everything from engines and body of the craft to what sort of guns and missiles you want to carry. Its incredibly in-depth, but equally the sort of thing you’d expect from this kind of title, with some real choices to be made, as taking one advancement may lock out something else entirely.
For our play session there were three countries available – the United States, Soviets and Germany, although I was told that the British and Japanese fighters are also confirmed to be an addition in due course. The beta features over sixty aircraft – the final version will include more – which hints at just how much diversity is on offer. I decided to opt for a Soviet aircraft, and loaded it up with the best guns and engine I could find. Much like World of Tanks, each game is fifteen versus fifteen and the game starts with everyone in the air awaiting combat. There is an incredible amount of detail to each plane, faithfully re-created to be historically accurate and although they all look excellent to begin with, you can choose to add your own decals and clan markings to your plane, to replicate a proper ‘squadron’. Very cool indeed.
I was using the keyboard and mouse for my playthrough, but there is joystick support for those who prefer the accuracy a Thrustmaster may offer (giggles). As expected, the controls were a little complex – buttons assigned to affect my altitude, acceleration, using my flaps for sharper turns, and that was all before even attempting to shoot anything down, which turned out to be an entirely different challenge altogether. Just prior to the game starting I was told that I would actually be participating in the live beta, so all of the opposition would be actual players. Wonderful. I’ll be pushing up daises before anyone can scream “Goose!”.
Somehow I got to grips with the flying very quickly, climbing rapidly so I could get a better look at the battlefield, but this worked both for and against me – although I could see much further, my vision was equally obscured by clouds which, I was told by the developers, was a very important tactical feature… just as a small fighter burst through the fluffy white stuff, guns blazing. I took quick-thinking evasive action (read: smashed the keyboard in blind panic) and broke cloud cover. Christ almighty, it was like straying into the Battle of Britain. Planes were cutting in and out of dives, bullets straying wide of their targets, some unfortunate souls plummeting to the incredibly uninviting surface.
While I was busy being impressed with how everything was looking graphically, the German plane that had chased me out of the cloud earlier had found me again, and was intent on watching me explode into a fiery mess. A sense of determination washed over me, knowing that I couldn’t allow myself to get shot down in front of the five people who’d gathered together for my appointment, including the Global Brand Manager. It would tarnish GamingLives’ excellent dogfighting record and my credentials as a gamer would be ruined.
I waited until the German plane had got lined up, using the mouse to rotate the camera around my aircraft and, just as he was about to pull the trigger, I banked left, climbing as quickly as I could. He followed suit, but was ready for me to cut the engine so that he’d close the gap far too quickly for him to react. He overtook me and I mashed the acceleration key, straightening up… he was now in front of me, both of us in the middle of a complete loop. Other planes were flying, crashing and burning all around us, but this was our own personal war and I wasn’t going to lose.
He turned left and right, desperately trying to escape, but it was no good; I recited my favourite line from Harrison Ford’s terrible film, Air Force One, and as quickly as ‘not so fast you son of a bitch’ entered my mind, the machine guns blazed and tore straight through his right wing. Smoke erupted and the wing broke away while cheers and shouts of victory broke out around me as I grinned maniacally. It was all to no avail however. Before my maverick-like reactions had time to do anything, the rest of his plane – the left wing, cockpit, and main body – all smashed into mine. Like a sledgehammer to a peanut, massive damage was inflicted, and before I had a chance to see what was still actually working, another fighter had picked me off.
I sat back, somewhat deflated that I didn’t have a chance to shoot something else down, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to get straight back in and try my hand with a different aircraft, carrying a different load-out, in different weather conditions, trying to best another pilot doing exactly the same. I could sit here and tell you about all the intricate little features, the levelling system, in fact everything those guys from Wargaming.net told me, but you don’t need to know that. All you need to know is this: World of Warplanes will be free to play and is more fun than you can shake a Spitfire at.
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