World of Tanks was one of the sleeper hits of 2011—a realistic, methodical tank shooter that was way more intense than a first glance would grant it. To follow up their flagship game, Wargaming.net is paving the runway for World of Warplanes , which takes WoT's team play and "Nice shot!" heroics and gives them freedom in three axes of movement. But what can WoT players expect when they make the transition from treads to wings? We got a chance to check out an alpha build at GDC, and from what we saw, WoWP will make those Panzer pilots look like pansies.
The most notable design shift is the game's more forgiving, almost arcade-y feel. Wargaming.net's CEO Victor Kislyi told us that the team's putting more emphasis on fun over realism, though they may add more realistic campaign maps in the future. At the moment, there are 20 different ships to choose from, separated into three types: fighters (who focus on air-to-air dogfights), ground attack planes (take out ground-level artillery to make things easier on their airborne buddies), and heavy fighters (the heavily-armored "rock" to the other planes' scissors). Whatever your role, you'll be able to select models of American, Russian, and German design at launch, with Japanese and British designs scheduled for later down the line.
Our demo opened with a rather majestic view over a finely-detailed landscape, complete with a glistening bay, rolling hills, and an under-siege city with buildings that billowed up smoke. As a ground attack plane, we had plenty of targets to take out: fuel tanks and factories littered the area, and destroying them would disable the anti-air guns that were peppering gunfire at our allies in the air.
The larger fighter planes were equipped with automated machine gunners on their six o'clock, so anyone who stuck too close on their tail would be met by a barrage of hot lead. And you'd do well to avoid any and all gunfire: each plane can suffer damage in a multitude of areas, including the wings, fusealage, engine, radio, rear machine gunner, and tail rudders. "Almost every component [can be destroyed]," Kislyi told us, adding that losing each component will have unique, logical effect on the plane's pilot—although a plane's wings are still its most high-value targets.
Luckily, evasion is a huge part of WoWP's moment-to-moment gameplay, unlike WoT's slow-and-steady snipe-a-thons. Fighters can pull a disappearing act by dipping into nearby clouds, rendering them invisible to enemy players at the cost of some of their own mobility. Kislyi recommended that we employ the "zoomboomer" maneuver, where you ascend straight up before dropping straight down to throw enemies off your trail. If you can't out-fly your attackers, you'll be forced to suffer the penalty of a slow death, as your flaming husk of aircraft soars into the ground. We're partially eager to master the art of flight (using either a keyboard/mouse or a joystick) just so we don't have to sit through the death animation again and again.
Besides the in-game flight strategies, Wargaming.net's adopting new strategies with the game's development—fitting for a company's that grown to 800 strong in recent years. For instance, all of WoT's pre-testing was restricted to Russia, which was part of what made the game such a surprise guest when it made its way to our shores. But with WoWP, US, EU and Russian servers will let pilots from all over jump into the testing fray. In an awesome synergistic move, WoWP will also interact with WoT when it comes to the persistent territory control maps. As Kislyi explained it, air battles would take place first; whoever won the shootout in the sky would then give their tank-driving allies on the ground extra recon or air strike support for that territory.
WoT veterans can also look forward to getting straight into the meat of the game: XP and gold can be transferred between the two games, so pro tank-drivers can skip the introductory low-level content in WoWP. The goal with the WoWP's community is to cater to the hardcore players, who will be in it for the longhaul; new players will join in if the hardcore aerialists spread the good word. Kislyi stressed the need to focus on "quality, core, community, and stickiness. If you have that, the rest will come."
For players who thought Wargaming.net would stick wings on their tanks and call it a day, they're in for quite a surprise with WoWP. Sitting somewhere between a flight sim and an arcade aerial playground, we'll have to give our best efforts to perfect our flying formations and evasive maneuvers as more players get into the beta around June.