As of today, World of Warplanes is a pretty vanilla experience, albeit one that contains a very tight and interesting core. In Wargaming’s latest free-to-play extravaganza, you fly an airplane that has guns on it into an arena in which you shoot at other planes with guns that are flown by other people, while also dealing with computer-controlled ground baddies — anti-aircraft guns.
It feels polished as hell, and it functions as intended, but it really doesn’t explain itself well. When you load it up for the first time you’re prompted to take part in training exercises that don’t demonstrate what kind of game World of Warplanes is so much as lets you get a feel for air-to-air combat against a computer instead of real players. What it doesn’t do is tell you about the ground elements in the real fights, and it also doesn’t tell you that if you’re not flying a plane with rockets that you shouldn’t shoot at said ground elements. It doesn’t explain how customization works, or why it’s crucial you upgrade your planes when you can. It simply tells you how to fly and nothing more.
That’s not a huge obstacle, and it took me exactly two short battles and five minutes of looking through menus to figure out what was going on. And in a paid game, that lack of an introduction wouldn’t be a big problem, but in a free-to-play game, on the other hand — without any initial financial investment on the player’s part when this confusion occurs — it would be easy for folks to shut it down forever after a single frustrating flight. “I don’t know what’s going on and the game isn’t telling me” would be a perfectly valid complaint.
Maybe World of Tanks fans won’t be bothered by this, but Wargaming surely made World of Warplanes because it isn’t about tanks. It’s for those players as much as it is for anyone, but WoWP is here to broaden Wargaming’s horizons, not just tap into their existing, and substantial, fanbase. When a random person downloads the game, runs the short tutorials, then gets her ass kicked 15 seconds into her first battle, what’s the message? The message I got was that this game is not for me, but I had to keep going because that’s what I do. You’re going to have a difficult time extracting money out of people who get mad at the game after one fight because it feels inaccessible to the normies. That it isn’t actually inaccessible doesn’t matter.
Speaking of money, there really isn’t a ton of monetization going on in WoWP today. Cosmetic items buyable with cash are minimal, which is rather disappointing, and so the money pull is all in upgrades and new planes, all of which can be directly or indirectly (through Wargaming’s exchange) purchased with gold, in addition to an option for paying with in-game currency.
But the core experience, the flying around and shooting things, feels just about airtight. It’s intuitive and uncomplicated, and WoWP accommodates all the input devices, from mouse and keyboard to stick to gamepad, with all appearing to my hands to be equally viable depending on each player’s personal proclivities. The planes handle arcade-style rather than hardcore sim, and so it’s not difficult to get the hang of it, and the very simple “blow stuff up and shoot other people down” gameplay keeps it simple enough. From that standpoint it’s quite accessible, assuming once again that players keep rolling with it despite the missing tutorials.
That’s a big if, however, and the small number of cosmetic customization option currently residing in WoWP also doesn’t help matters. But we’re still in 1.0, and you can bet the farm that the World of Warplanes experience will not be the same in the months ahead that it is now. Today it’s just so vanilla as to not seem like an enticing long-term prospect, though hopefully Wargaming will be doling out the meat in short intervals moving forward. Once we can go way deeper with customization and new players can be better trained, I get the feeling WoWP will be a dominating force. It’s just not there yet.
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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