Ship-spinning perfected: Hands-on with World of Warplanes' launch

World of Warplanes dogfight

On paper, World of Warplanes is a game I should love. I've been obsessed with World War II-era aviation since learning to walk, and's free-to-play followup to World of Tanks oozes piston-powered familiarity like a radial engine oozes oil and sweet-smelling (per)fumes. Logging into a WoWP hangar is a nostalgic exercise in mid-20th century iconography, and for that reason alone it's hard to dislike it.

I manage, though, because of the title's grindy progression and a design mandate that eschews traditional flight sim mechanics for arcade tropes aimed at gamers who wouldn't know an accelerated stall from a bathroom stall.

World of Warplanes F4F

This ultra-accessibility is part of Wargaming's ultra-successful formula, of course, so I can't fault the company for sticking with what works and adding to its McDuckish stacks of money. It doesn't make for compelling long-haul gaming, though, and after you've played two or three of WoWP's quickie skirmishes, you've seen everything the title has to offer.

Much like WoT, WoWP is literally a PvP lobby and nothing but. You queue up for 15v15 battles on a distressingly small selection of random maps, and you spend your down time spending currency earned in said battles on various World War II- and Korean Conflict-era death machines. Collecting these warbirds and oogling them in your hangar whilst engaging in some EVE-style ship-spinning is absolutely the most enjoyable part of the game, and Wargaming's artists should be commended for their faithful recreations that capture all of the blustery, belching bravado of the actual aircraft.

World of Warplanes P40

Unfortunately, ship-spinning some of the niftier birds will require plenty of PvP match grinding, as your Corsairs, Mustangs, Spitfires, and any number of classic period planes from the US, the UK, the USSR, Germany, and Japan are locked behind layers of tech tree progression that is only somewhat lessened by the opening of your real-world wallet. Worse, your newbie planes are equal parts tissue paper and bullet magnet, and any Maverick-and-Goose delusions of grandeur die pretty quickly as you pad the kill stats of your first few adversaries.

Team play is essential here, so if you're one of those lone wolf types who likes to fly off all by his lonesome and either attack random ground targets or explore the edges of the map, prepare to die early and often, even if you've already grokked the controls. Wargaming's matchmaking system avoids putting high-tier pilots into newbie and mid-tier battles, but the game places a premium on working together with your 14 mates and knowing the common strategies developed over the past year-and-change of alpha and beta testing.

World of Warplanes Zero

If you've played a flight game before, you'll pick up WoWP's controls quickly. Heck, even if you haven't, it's hard not to get the hang of things after a match or two thanks to the simplistic flight models and the associated inputs that are actuated by your choice of a mouse, a keyboard, a gamepad, or a joystick.

Granted, there's probably a balance to be struck between a slavishly faithful Microsoft Flight Simulator-style title and the more action-oriented game that Wargaming's audience desires. For my money, though, the company erred too far on the side of pick-up-and-play easy. And WoWP quickly becomes repetitive because of it.

If you'll permit me a movie analogy, World of Warplanes has the heart -- and the looks -- of HBO's The Tuskegee Airmen. Unfortunately, it also has the head of George Lucas' Red Tails. While the former manages to get the planes and most everything surrounding them right, the latter occasionally gets the planes right and throws everything else out the window in the name of brain-dead "entertainment."

World of Warplanes hangared F2A

For most players, that will likely be enough, since World of Warplanes runs well, looks good, and does a decent job of providing cheap thrills. I expected something more, however, given the subject matter and given the competition.

I've purposefully avoided turning this review into a comparison piece between WoWP and Gaijin's elephant-in-the-room known as War Thunder, both because that would be unfair to Wargaming and because, well, it would be really unfair to Wargaming.

I have to at least mention War Thunder, though, simply because it takes the same genre starting point and arrives at a more full-featured finish line. When, or if, WoWP gets around to adding optional simulation modes, optional realistic controls, cockpit environments, mission editors, solo- and co-op story and historical campaigns, and a whole bunch of other stuff, I'll get around to replaying and/or re-reviewing it.

The good:

  • Mid- 20th century aviation eyecandy

  • Instant action

  • Fair match-making

The bad:

  • Too few maps

  • Even fewer options for aircraft control

  • Repetitive, simplistic gameplay

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