It's been a few years since I practised my Immelmann turns and barrel rolls in World of Warplanes, but any fears about being out of the loop were put to rest when I jumped into World of Warplanes 2.0 and realised that everyone was in the same situation. This is, effectively, a new game. And in many ways, a much better one.
Old World of Warplanes was a straightforward dogfighter. You had to learn how to fly a roster of diverse planes, sure, but once in a battle, the main objective was simply to destroy as many enemies as you could, and hopefully survive until the end of the match. This is no longer the case.
Conquest is the new primary mode in 2.0 and it's objective-based, dramatically changing the flow and focus of the aerial battles. Each team must fight over a variety of ground objectives, like garrisons and airfields, in an attempt to gain air superiority. Control is gained by bombing structures, taking out AI defenders and then defending it from enemy attack. Success demands teamwork and prioritising, rather than seeking individual glory.
These battles, then, are much more purposeful, and there's more to winning them than just being a flying ace. If you love dogfights above all else, however, then there are still plenty of one-on-one scraps to be found. Fending off enemies and hunting down bombers is just as important and capturing locations. Conquest doesn't remove dogfights, it just adds more diversity.
If anything, it improves on the previous version's dogfighting by introducing a modular damage system. While planes have hitpoints, destroying an enemy is no longer a matter of just keeping it in your sights and firing. Pilots, gunners, wings and the engine can all be damaged, temporarily reducing the plane's effectiveness, making it a softer target. Combined with the objectives, it makes battles feel more tactically complex.
They're also a little less harsh, as death no longer means the end. When your plane is destroyed, you can eventually respawn. It means you get more chances, and you won't be punished for one mistake. That said, the high stakes are maintained, since reinforcements are eventually halted by bad weather, meaning that pilots can't respawn anymore. This way, that tension and fear of death persists, but everyone gets plenty of chances to pull of some slick aerial manoeuvres and riddle their enemies with bullets.
Despite being rusty, I actually felt like I was able to contribute to every fight, and as I unlocked new planes, there was even more that I could do. See, objectives have made plane roles more clearly defined. There's the new bombers that take out ground targets, fighters that get into dogfights, heavy fighters for taking out tough targets, and multirole fighters that, you've guessed it, dabble in a bit of everything.
Bombers were only just introduced with 2.0. While other planes can carry explosive payloads, bombers get a unique bomb sight for accurate destruction, and they're able to deposit their bombs from higher altitudes, reducing the risk of being intercepted. When they do have to tango with enemies, they're blessed with thick armour and extra defensive capabilities.
In battle, it's hard to find something that hasn't been improved. It looks better too, thanks to a visual overhaul. There's nothing quite like chasing a burning plane through AA fire while tracers cross-cross the screen—it's a striking spectacle. Outside of battle, however, problems appear. The hangar and the accompanying menus continue to be extremely hard to parse, made even worse by Wargaming's Byzantine business model, with its myriad currencies and loot boxes. And those aforementioned bombers? If you want to fly them, you'll need to spend some cash.
Locking an entire class behind a paywall doesn't seem like the best way to seduce players back into a game that sorely needs more bodies. There was an event that let players unlock them for free, which finished on November 2, but even that required a lot of effort, playing through oddly severe daily missions in an effort to get random loot boxes, with no guarantee that you'll get anything worthwhile.
World of Warplanes 2.0 is easily the best the game has ever been; it's essentially a sequel that fixes a whole mountain of problems that had been ignored for years. It's just a shame that it's shackled to a counter-intuitive free-to-play system. Veterans might be used to it by now, but newcomers may find it very off-putting.