Developer Wargaming recently released a major update for its free-to-play MMO flight sim with arcade elements, World of Warplanes. Because the update to the 2.0 version comes with a number of fundamental changes we decided to take another good look at the game that was first released in 2013. Does the new version bring the right improvements and should new players use the occasion to take to the skies and join the fray?
World of Warplanes is the aerial combat entry into Wargaming's stable of online shooters, of which World of Tanks is probably the most well-known. In that game players go head to head in a variety of armoured vehicles such as the infamous German Tiger, while in World of Warships players battle each other on the high seas using massive warships such as the HMS Hood. All three games use a similar interface and so-called 'tech trees' where you collect experience points after each round in order to unlock new tanks, ships, or aircraft. It's also possible to improve your war machines with better armament or camouflage. Additionally, your crew members gain experience that allows you to unlock special perks that offer subtle but often decisive advantages. Alongside normal vehicles, there's also the possibility to buy premium vehicles that generate a higher income after each round and often require their own play style. The premium vehicles are well-balanced though as they are usually weaker than similar fully upgraded normal vehicles which means the games avoid cases of pay-to-win.
Even though in both World of Tanks and World of Warships the capture of strategic locations has been instrumental for your team's victory from the beginning, until now the gameplay of World of Warplanes placed a higher emphasis on taking down adversaries in order to win a round. This is something Wargaming wants to change with the newest update. For this reason, the highlight of the new update is the addition of a completely new game mode called Conquest, which replaces all previous game modes. The Conquest game mode places more emphasis on working together and on following a (crude) plan with your team, because each map now features a number of regions that need to be captured and add to the collection of influence points. The team that manages to achieve air supremacy and with that the most influence points, will win the round.
Like in the older game modes you still join the battle as part of one of two opposing teams out of the Hangar screen. However, in Conquest there are several fortified and defended regions on the map that your team can conquer in order to collect influence points. At the start of each round the regions are neutral and you'll have to defeat the defending anti-aircraft artillery and fighters circling the area in order to gain control. Depending on which map you're playing you can, for example, capture an airfield that allows your team to repair during the battle and it acts as an additional spawn point (respawns being another addition of the new update). You can also capture a military base that fires V2-like ballistic missiles at regions controlled by the enemy to make them easier to capture. Other maps have a command centre that regularly calls in a computer-controlled heavy bomber squadron to attack enemy regions. After your team has captured a region, computer-controlled fighters and AA-guns will appear that defend the region for your team. The maps in the rotation have a nice variety to them, ranging from the Egyptian Pyramids to the jungles of Burma.
The team that is first to acquire the required amount of influence points wins the round. It is, therefore, your primary objective as a player to capture as many regions as possible and taking down opposing players has become a means to this end. Thus it has become possible to respawn and to join the battle multiple times. Each time you are downed by the enemy the respawn will take longer. Only when the round enters its final minutes a 'squall line' notification will appear and respawning will no longer be possible.
In tandem with the emphasis on the conquest of regions, the 2.0 update also brings a new class of aircraft to the game: bombers. In the period just after the update's release this is limited to just a handful of premium bombers that can be unlocked through special missions by all players. Bombers have the capability to heavily bomb regions from high altitudes thereby allowing team members to capture them. The existing aircraft classes have also received an overhaul that clarifies their role in the new game mode. Heavily armed attack aircraft can use their cannon and bombs to destroy enemy bunkers and anti-aircraft artillery. Heavy fighters can use their high-calibre guns to take out bombers and attack aircraft. Nimble and fast fighters must protect bombers and attack aircraft from enemy attackers while multirole fighters have the speed and weaponry to take on a variety of roles depending on the situation. By the time of 2.0's release, you have the option to fly American, German, Soviet, British, Japanese, Chinese, and French aircraft, ranging from 1920s biplanes to 1950s jet aircraft.
Just as in World of Tanks and World of Warships the different vehicle classes are well balanced. A big part of the fun in all three games is figuring out your own play style for each of the classes and even for each individual vehicle. You could, for example, be piloting one of the best attack aircraft with the heaviest guns in the game, but if you're trying to use it to take down light fighters in a dogfight you'll simply lack the required maneuverability and you'll turn into a ball of fire sooner rather than later. If you still find yourself being chased by a fighter plane you had better keep an eye on the minimap to see if there's a teammate nearby who can come to your rescue. The latter case can also be a major source of frustration by the way, because you will not always find yourself in a team with players that look out for each other. In a good match your team makes an effort to work together which will result in spectacular dogfights and conquests, but if you're less lucky you'll end up in a team where everyone flies in random directions without a hint of coherent strategy. In that case your chances are slim when you're trying to capture an area and see a jet fighter coming up on your six.
In our opinion Wargaming's choice to turn things around and add the new Conquest mode was the right one. It provides the player with a clear goal to pursue in conjunction with the team, which brings the game up to par with the other two World of titles. Instead of just rewarding players who are skilled at taking down others, the new game mode also allows players who are skilled in attacking ground targets or who enjoy sticking together and playing in a support role to contribute significantly to the team's victory. In support of the new gameplay, the update also adds new possibilities such as a manual secondary gunner and a new bombing sight. You're also able to enjoy the game through a cinematic view of your teammates when you're waiting for a respawn, a feature that was available in earlier titles such as IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey.
The game also receives a modest graphical update leading to realistic textures and lighting effects. Combined with the ability to add camouflage and paint jobs, this means the aircraft are a pleasure to watch. It allows the game to have the looks of a real flight simulator but with a decidedly more casual approach to gameplay that's easy to learn (yet hard to master). This makes it quite the opposite of the game's main competitor War Thunder. In that game the maps and environments are more realistic and the damage simulation systems are much more complex and more akin to a real flight sim. Targeting your opponent's engine or wings is also an important part of the gameplay in World of Warplanes, but the damage models have not been worked out to the level of a true simulator. War Thunder offers a separate simulation mode that removes the UI altogether, as well as other options such as a very realistic cockpit view, something that World of Warplanes lacks. Therefore after playing both games, we feel that War Thunder is more suited for those players looking for a deep sense of realism and flight or combat simulation. However, the new emphasis on working towards a goal as a team brought by the new update means World of Warplanes offers, in our opinion, the most fun and diverse experience gameplay-wise in comparison to its main competitor.
For everyone who played the game before but eventually put it aside, the new update is without a doubt the right occasion to start playing again. It's also a good moment for new players to give the game a try, because the new update finally brings the game up to the same standard as its more successful siblings. Adding to the game's appeal is the fact that it's also still very playable on somewhat older PCs.
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