The idea behind World of Warplanes is easy to fall in love with. Who doesn't relish the idea of high skies dogfighting with a heady selection of World War II planes? Add to that an extensive set of realistic upgrades, crew members that can be trained and improved, and the ability to form a squadron of your real life friends, and you have a recipe which should spell success. Unfortunately for World of Warplanes, Wargaming.net has proven that a good game is much easier dreamed up than delivered upon.
Logging into the hangar for the first time, it's easy to be optimistic at the visual punch World of Warplanes could offer. As is fitting, the plane models are the most visually stunning part of the game. Wargaming has spared no expense in recreating their historical airships, right down to the individual rivets of the fuselage. Sadly, the maps where you'll actually fly those planes fail to live up to the same high standard.
If first impressions are everything, then World of Warplanes may shoot itself in the foot. Our review machine far outpaced recommended requirements but the game still defaulted to medium settings. Even at its highest, however, the game still feels disappointingly stylized. Perhaps it's that everything seems to have a soft, rounded edge. Or maybe it is the overall lack of detail in the game's texture work or the jagged edges that appear too often on objects. Either way, impressive motion blur and incendiary bullet trails aren’t enough to redeem an entire aesthetic.
It makes sense that Wargaming would use the same in-house engine as its mega-hit World of Tanks but its age is beginning to show. It is not a total bust, but the artwork lags behind many of today's graphical standards. Thankfully, Warplanes is a game that will live and die based upon its gameplay, not its look.
This is a game that generates stories. Time and again, I found myself against all odds, performing dangerous maneuvers to shake my tails, only to cut back around for a bombing run on a ship or anti-aircraft station. At its best points, Warplanes is an exhilarating thrill-ride: the kind that keeps you coming back for just one more match to earn that next plane or upgrade.
Progression in Warplanes takes its cues from World of Tanks. Every match rewards you with experience points and in-game cash. These currencies can be used to move forward in a number of tech trees based from the Soviet Union, United States, Germany, Japan, and the U.K. In total, there are over 100 planes each with their own upgrades. Crew members – pilots and gunners – can be hired and trained to provide in-air advantages such as increased sight and the ability to put out engine fires. These abilities and more can also be outfitted through consumables. Together, this creates quite a gameplay loop where each match pushes you inexorably toward the next; goals begetting goals.
Unfortunately, playing the game just isn't consistently fun. Basing its control options entirely on mouse, keyboard, gamepad, or joystick, it struggles to bring out the best in any of them. Like most games of its type, taking aim involves first positioning the nose and then lining up the reticle with a hitbox. The delay between the two makes targeting feel sloppy, and the convoluted mess that is the options menu does little to alleviate the problem. Nearly any other mouse option is better than the default, which makes the “standard” slightly puzzling. Warplanes lags behind the responsiveness of its prime competitor War Thunder but it maintains a skill bar some players will love. For those willing to climb it, the game can be quite fun. Still, its insistence on mouse or keyboard demonstrates an unwillingness to meet players on their most natural plane.
It is also worth noting that many planes feel almost plodding and puppet-like. Even at their lowest flight speed, planes should feel like planes. This simply isn't the case.
With only one game mode and a handful of maps, World of Warplanes feels unfinished. The maps are interesting, if underutilized, but ultimately become familiar far too soon. Much of this is because matches play out so similarly to one another. The lone game mode tasks each team with either destroying every enemy plane or suppressing them by dominating the land targets. Most players ignore land warfare entirely and with only one life per player, matches start and finish in mere minutes.
Players concerned about World of Warplanes free-to-play model can breathe a sigh of relief. Free-to-play is not the destruction of this game and real money transactions can be safely ignored if you so choose. Subscribing for a premium account – sold in increments as low as one day – provides added experience and faster advancement through the game. Real money currency can be used to purchase a handful of premium planes, new paint jobs, or converted into in-game currency to fund research and training. None of this is necessary.
As is the trend, Wargaming allows you to try out premium planes for free, but if you want to upgrade them, you'll need to go premium. These planes, while obvious advancements in the early game, are not the “gold ammo” of World of Warplanes. In fact, even higher tier planes seem quite balanced when considered by stats alone. That said, the maneuverability and sheer power of a fully upgraded tier 10 plane is obviously going to outmatch a lower level newbie.
In the beginning, Warplanes can be punishing. You will be meat for the grinder as you learn the ropes and earn upgrades. When you do, the game unfolds before you.