The term “free-to-play” certainly has turned into a bad word in modern gaming, hasn’t it? With the rise of mobile gaming as a force to be reckoned with, the F2P model has taken over gaming by storm, for better or worse.
There are games that absolutely abuse the F2P model. When major components of the game or even progression through the game itself are withheld unless you pay, then that’s something I don’t like. It’s not a lot of fun when you play a game where another player is so completely overly dominant simply because he/she happens to have more money than you. It’s not about skill anymore in that case; it’s about the size of your wallet.
However, there are plenty of games that do the F2P model very well. When the full game and all progressions are available to you, and the only thing you pay for is to speed up the progression, then that’s awesome. Marvel Heroes, despite the issues I may have had with the gameplay itself, did the F2P perfectly. The entire game, from the first level to the last, was available for free. Each class had one free character right off the bat, and nothing in terms of skills or powers was withheld. All you had to do was play the game. If you wanted more characters or costumes, you had to buy them, but the game also gave you some with rare drops from time to time.
World of Warplanes straddles a middle ground between these two models, though it leans much more towards the “good F2P” model. The entire game (save for a select few “premium” content) can be played without paying a dime, though you will progress extremely slowly. You can get nearly everything in the game…just be prepared to devote a lot of time and effort to doing so.
WoW’s F2P model works by giving players three types of in-game currency: XP, credits, and Gold. XP is earned in battle by playing the game. You can use your XP to progress through the tech tree by unlocking new items or planes via research. Once a new item has been researched and is available, it can be purchased with credits. Credits are also earned by playing the game, and are earned in battle (the amount for both XP and credits will vary depending on performance). As the free in-game currency, credits are used to actually purchase planes and upgrades. Anything from ammo, secondary weapons, paint jobs, etc. can be bought with credits. Gold is currency purchased with real money. With Gold, you can purchase a premium account or premium planes. A premium account allows the player to earn up to 50% more XP and credits. All it basically does is speed up your progression throughout the game. Also, if you purchase premium planes with Gold, you won’t be put into the same games as those who don’t have access to premium content.
WoW matches you with other players of similar ranking, so if you are not a premium player, you should not ever be matched with people who are flying around in premium super planes. This is good since premium members now get to play the game with other premium members of the same level, while those flying around in a biplane won’t have to worry about a jet coming down to rain on their parade. It essentially eliminates gaining combat advantages simply by buying them, which is often the plague of many F2P games. Good on Wargaming for this system, since it had the potential to really create unfair mismatches.
Now that you know what the F2P model is like, how does the game actually play? World of Warplanes is a ton of fun, though if you’re just starting out, be prepared for a lot of waiting. Once you die in WoW, you die. There are no respawns, so if you die early, you are stuck spectating until the next match. Of course, you can leave the battle and re-enter another battle in another plane, but chances are if you happen to like your plane and the people you are playing with, you need to wait (planes are tied to the matches they are used in). The better you get, the longer you’ll be able to last, the better gear you’ll be able to buy, the more you’ll actually spend playing.
WoW supports pretty much any type of control scheme you can think of. Anything from gamepads, flight sticks, keyboard, and mouse are supported. I tried each option out, but opted for the mouse. It seems that while using a gamepad and flight stick work just fine, using the mouse is probably the easiest control scheme. With the mouse, you just point to where you want your plane to go, and the plane will adjust itself to point in that direction. It makes tight maneuvers much easier. If you want a more “sim” experience (though the game is in essence an arcade shooter), then yes, you’ll want to use a flight stick or controller, but things seem a bit more sluggish that way, and it’s harder to aim.
Graphically, WoW looks pretty nice. It’s not the most visually stimulating title out there, but it’s beautiful to look at if you have the settings pumped up to max settings. It’s not going to stress your GPU ever, but I’d be surprised if you found yourself nitpicking at the game. The water looks great, planes have a nice sheen to them, and atmospheric effects look nice. The one thing I could have used more of is some “oomph” in the explosions, but I suppose this isn’t meant to be a Michael Bay movie. Overall, I have no complaints about the visuals of WoW, and I’m glad that pretty much any machine can run it.
All in all, World of Warplanes is a surprisingly meaty F2P game that gives its player more than a fair share of free content. If you don’t have the time or patience to sit through a slow grinding process for levelling up, then feel free to pay for a premium account, but just know that if you do, so you will be restricted to certain servers with others who are as overpowered as you will be. For everyone else, enjoy an incredibly well made dogfighting game. Very few games can match the thrill of participating in a 30 player deathmatch over a beautiful map, but WoW can offer that. A bit more variety with game modes might have been appreciated, but there’s no saying that won’t come in a later update. As it stands now, the matches are short and sweet, something that I appreciate as I don’t have all the time in the world to dive into an hour-long match. If you have any interest in aerial combat games at all, then do yourself a favor and give this a shot.