PAX East Hands On Preview
This past weekend at PAX East, the Wargaming.net folks were on hand to celebrate World of Tanks’ first anniversary. But there was something even more awesome going on behind the closed doors of their meeting room: hands-on demos of the oh-so-awesome dogfighter – World of WarPlanes. I was never one to get into WoT, I admit it. I just couldn’t get behind the combat. It didn’t thrill me. The company’s founder told me during an interview, that the reason for this is purely cultural and he may be right. When you think classic American Military, you don’t think tanks. You think planes. And oh are there a lot of them in WoWP. During the show, after our interview, Wargaming’s Victor Kislyi escorted Mike Bitton and into their secret lair (note: a small room with Red Bull, delicious pasties, and one monitor showcasing Warplanes from an Alienware laptop).
The game is still in its Alpha testing stages, with about 4,000 people currently running through the many historically recreated planes available for combat. They focus on different tiers of planes each testing phase, to make sure they look right, control right, and above all that are fun to fly. Once we went over the game a little bit, Victor and his colleague Vlad let me take control. Now, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have any real knowledge of historical aircraft (or any aircraft). What I do know is that I’ve always loved Wing Commander, Elite, and even freakin’ Star Fox. I spent my teens with X-Wing and Tie Fighter and I played every Rogue Squadron game to death. Heck, I didn’t even realize it, but I’ve been an arcade flight game fan for years.
Ergo? I quickly fell in love with the 15 v 15 dogfights present in World of WarPlanes.
Similar to WoT, you big at one side of the map, no taking off or landing, just sort of hovering as you wait for the match to begin. Then when it does, it’s 15 v 15 until there are no more planes left on one side or until one side destroys all the base structures of the other team. The latter option sounds easier than it is, because all another team has to do to stop the “countdown” to victory via land-target is take out one of the other team’s bases or down a plane. So if your team destroys all the other team’s bases, you then have to stop the other team from destroying one of yours in order to win the match. In truth the more clear-cut directive of each match is to simply destroy the other planes. And this is much easier said than done.
Now, as in WoT, when you’re shot down you don’t respawn. You’re out. Down for the count. Kaput. But you can watch the action from spectator mode, or you can simply hop out and move onto the next match if you’d prefer. There’s literally no reason for you to stay behind other than team pride, so don’t feel guilty about leaving and starting over. Each plan has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some have better armor, but less mobility, and maybe some bombs to go after ground targets. Others are high speed with a lot of ammo for dog fighting specifically. Vlad and Victor were quick to mention that right now a lot of their alpha focus is on how much ammo to give to each plane, because once you’re out that’s it. You can ram enemies or base structures, but that’s about all the options left to you. So while they want to be realistic, doing so would mean players would have a few passes at a plane per match, so chances are they’re going to up the ammo a lot before WoWP goes into open beta and launch later this year.
The controls of the planes will be easy to learn, and difficult to master (actually the entire game’s theme). Your W key will “after-burn” your engines for a speed boost. Your S key will kill the engines so you can make sharp turns easier (complete with the propellers stalling). Your A and D keys controlling the strafing. Meanwhile your mouse will handle all of the steering and your left click will handle the shooting. Your aiming reticule will always remain in the center of the screen, while the mouse pointer will steer the ship. The further away from the center you go the sharper your plane will move in that direction. Using the A and D keys you can barrel-roll, and looping is also a viable control method.
You will quickly learn that you need to evade as well as going on the hunt. But luckily the environment can be used too. The sun creates a nice glare if you fly towards it, and clouds can be hidden among as well. Mountains can be hidden behind, and there’s nothing quite like taking a chaser down towards the ground only to pull up at the last second and leave him taking a dirt nap. Overall I found the controls extremely responsive, and it wasn’t long before I was making ground runs at missile silos and dodging enemy fire with the greatest of ease. And the feeling you get when you lead a far away enemy just right and watch as his health depletes to zero and he goes falling out of the sky? It’s priceless.
World of Warplanes is a sky shooter done right. It’s not “realistic” like MSoft’s simulator, and it shouldn’t be. It’s more fun this way. It’s about the great air battles of the 20th century. It’s at once strategic, accessible, and just plane (get it!?) chaotic fun. I can’t wait for beta to begin later this summer.
I’ve long been a fan of flight games. Not necessarily the hardcore flight sims, mind you, but games that were a bit looser, though not completely arcade-y. Unfortunately, it’s been awhile since I’ve actually been good at any of them, so I approached my playtime with World of Warplanes with a bit of trepidation, especially after Bill killed it on his first try!
World of Warplanes is a great looking game with an absolutely huge selection of World War II era planes to select from, including planes that may have been in research and development in a variety of nations, but never saw combat or necessarily even production. Naturally, I asked to be set up with the classic and iconic P-51 Mustang, but it became clear to me once I started flying that I’d need quite a few flight lessons before I could really wear my wings with pride.
Flying in World of Warplanes, at least with the mouse, is a bit of a challenge. Maybe it was due to the light and tiny mouse I was set up with or perhaps the controls were a bit more sensitive than I like, but you have to make these very fine movements with the mouse in order to properly steer your plane. This didn’t appear to be a problem for Bill, but man, I crashed a lot! Fortunately, World of Warplanes also supports joystick and gamepad controls and I’m looking forward to checking those out when the game goes live or into open beta.
Even though my experience flying was embarrassing to say the least, I could see the potential for a very fun game in World of Warplanes. The game reminded me of the huge furballs I experienced in the admittedly more arcade-y Crimson Skies. You’ll take part in pretty massive dogfights involving tons of planes, and refreshingly, given the era, there are no missile locks. True old school dogfighting is all you’ll find here.
The only real issue I found with the game during my experience, and the developers already spoke to correcting this, were the anemic ammo levels. Basically, it’s easy to run out of ammo, which may be somewhat realistic, but Wargaming is attempting to make a more accessible warplane game. Fortunately, they seem inclined to bump up ammo levels in the future when we mentioned this issue to them.
All in all, I can definitely see World of Warplanes creating the same level of excitement and mania as World of Tanks has. So if you’ve been itching to get out of your cramped tank and into the sky you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on Wargaming’s sophomore effort!