Wargaming.net are the big dogs on Gamescom campus. Walls and ceilings bristle with their posters, armies of gyrating
booth babes trade show models hypnotise the masses and toy tanks are clutched in every other gamer's hand. They've got the swagger and merch of a triple-A titan... and that's exactly what they are on the free to play scene in terms of profits and quality. World Of Tanks managed to hit the insanely addictive sweet spot between simulation and MMO when it launched this August, and World Of Warplanes is set to take the series to bold new heights next year.
All aerial puns aside, it looks the business - and is one of my personal highlights of Gamescom 2011.
The basic premise is much very similar to World Of Tanks. Traditional 15 versus 15 multiplayer matches will return, with each player being able to choose from an enormous range of authentic warplanes from World War II up to the start of the Vietnam war. Teamwork will be just as important as individual skill as the slow, lumbering bombers need to be protected by nippy fighters and interceptors. Aerial combat focuses on hectic dogfights, strafing runs and authentic aerial manoeuvres - such as switching off your propeller for a short period in order to vastly decrease speed and cause pursuing planes to shoot past into your crosshairs. Guns are much more important than missiles or homing armaments (since, essentially, they hadn't been invented), transforming the action into tense and exhilarating short range furballs. Many flight sims rely on distant stand-off warfare, but World Of Warplanes brings the action right into centre stage. Where it belongs, quite frankly.
However, fighting in the wild blue yonder is very different from duking it out on terra firma. You might not think that the open sky provides much in the way of cover, but in actuality, the heavens are rife with ways to avoid, evade or get the drop on the enemy. Clouds will mask canny pilots at the cost of reduced visibility, and flying with the sun at you back will blind foes to your approach. Wargaming.net has looked to the simple aviation essentials that real pilots used to employ... and when that fails, aerobatic insanity through canyons and city streets will need to suffice!
It's not just about dogfighting. Wargaming.net assured us that there will be ground targets to engage, provided by gametypes that include bases to assault and defend. Offensive teams will need to shepherd their slow, cumbersome bombers with care and cunning, while the defenders scrabble to repel incoming waves and protect their vulnerable positions from attack. World Of Tanks veterans may remember several familiar locations featured alongside new levels, though naturally from a completely different perspective.
As a sim, therefore, World Of Warplanes is really rather impressive- but it will have to appeal to gamers as an accessible MMO as well. Wargaming.net are focusing on making the controls as intuitive as possible by implementing an incredibly responsive mouse input mechanic (which involves dragging a vector across the screen, representing velocity and direction), keyboard-only schemes and support for gamepads or flight sticks. Regardless of your preference, World Of Warplanes has you covered.
World Of Warplanes stands alone from the original World Of Tanks (no tanks vs planes battles just yet, I'm afraid) in terms of the gameplay and progression, but in a considerate twist, resources can be shared between both games. Transferring experience between the two titles will be practically instantaneous, resulting in two very different games that earn a common currency. Instead of accidentally creating their own competitor, Wargaming.net will be building part of a single global brand with production values that rival full retail releases.
And it's all free. For as long as you want it to be.
The beta will be starting later this year ahead of an early 2012 release window. We'll be keeping our eyes on the skies.