World of Tanks was one of this year's great surprises. The name conjured up images of an MMO world where tanks handed out quests, sold gear and killed ten wolves, but what we got was a glorious deathmatch shooter with a deep and complex RPG unlock system. People made fun of it, but World of Tanks now has a massive five million registered players. And with World of Warplanes, Wargaming.net are planning to take it to the skies.
World of Warplanes might seem the next logical step from World of Tanks, but it's more than a straight conversion. “An aeroplane is more difficult than a tank to control, obviously,” acknowledges Victor Kislyi, the CEO of Wargaming.net. “There are many more drivers than pilots on this planet. That's where we put a lot of good people; trying out different controls, different twists in the flight model itself. If you look at the cockpit of any plane, you see a lot of controllers. We don't want people to be having to switch on all of those.”
So what makes Warplanes different?
“More dynamic, more manoeuvres, less camping,” he says. “Aeroplanes everybody knows, you are in 3D, you have to be moving all the time, like a shark.”
One of the frustrations of World of Tanks is that sometimes your team will decide to sit back and snipe at the enemy, meaning more aggressive players don't have any support moving forwards. The constant movement of World of Warplanes enforces a very different style, unlike any other shooter.
Many of the basic concepts are similar to World of Tanks. You have a hangar full of different planes and winning battles will earn money and experience to upgrade your planes and unlock new ones. It's a simple system, but an astonishingly compulsive one. When you first get a new vehicle, you start chasing upgrades to make it reach its full potential. But when you get there you realise you're tantalisingly close to the next one. There's always something to look forward to.
That effect will be boosted by cross compatibility between the two games. “Let's have mutually acceptable gold, why not?” Victor enthuses. “It's just dollars, or pounds, right? If you have the reserve of gold in your World of Tanks account, you're going to want to try Warplanes, why don't you use that money in World of Warplanes? There's nothing against it.” There's even the promise to move experience points between games. Victor tells us: “You can take one month's experience in Tanks, and because you already have level 10 tanks, you can have those experience points from day one, put it into aeroplanes, and you'll have a level 9 something right away.”
Matches are still 15 on 15, and you can still win by wiping out the enemy. One big difference will be in the alternate win conditions; World of Tanks relied on a control point system, which makes little sense in the sky. Instead each team will have a ground base, with hangars and anti aircraft guns, that the opposing team need to take out to secure victory. Seeing your base exist as an actual object with its own defences, rather than an arbitrary circle on the ground, is a big change, and should lead to a very different style of game.
The game will launch with US, German and Soviet planes represented. Sadly fans of Spitfires will have to wait. The British are the first planned post-launch addition, followed by the Japanese. It's a disappointment for me – I could understand British armour being left out initially in World of Tanks, but the RAF, the Battle of Britain and the Blitz are some of the most iconic images of World War II, and it's a shame we'll have to wait for them to be properly represented.
There will be three broad classes of warplane to choose from: single engine fighters are the iconic dogfighter, light and quick to turn, they engage enemies closely and destroy them before they can react; heavy fighters turn slower but they hit hard if they catch you head on; and strafing aircraft, who focus on dealing out damage to ground targets. The last one is particularly intriguing, suggesting a much greater emphasis on taking out the opposing base.
World of Tanks never had anything like that, and as such games were often decided by eliminating the opposition, with capturing their base only being thought of when there were few players left on the field. By having a class dedicated to the base game, World of Warplanes should pressure their pilots to make earlier, riskier assaults, making games more interesting.
Like World of Tanks, World of Warplanes stretches either side of WWII. Starting planes will be small 1930s biplanes, while the highest levels will be represented by the early jet planes of the 1950s. Wargaming.net will be doing their research on this one: “It has to be historically realistic in terms of models, engines, internal components and relative parameters of different aeroplanes and different nations. Of course, it has to be well balanced, but the gameplay, the flight mode, the controls, they have to be somewhere in the middle, in that sweet spot, so that normal people can play.”
Meeting with the team, it was clear that they had a passion for military history. They know their planes like they know their tanks, but they aren't afraid to fudge things a little in the name of fun and balance. For that reason, World of Warplanes will be removing takeoffs and landings, the most frustrating and disaster ridden part of any flight sim game. Players will get dropped straight into the world, ready to dogfight from the off, with no need to ever touch the floor.