Publisher: Wargaming.net Developer: Wargaming.net Platform: PC Price:Free to play
Some games you can play for hundreds of hours and still never fully explore their vast, detailed worlds, or master their deep, intricately tailored systems. Behemoths like Skyrim, Starcraft II, and Dota 2 can keep their player-based satisfied for literally years, and to a games critic are the equivalent of climbing Annapurna. There's so much to do, so much to see, and yet somehow you've got to cram that experience into a few days' play and then simmer it down into 1,000-ish words of delicious review sauce.
Then there are games which you can play for all of an hour and know that you've seen pretty much everything they have to offer. Of course, you keep on playing it, just in case it suddenly changes tack and becomes a rhythm-dance game halfway through, but very rarely do such surprises occur. World of Warplanes is, sadly, one of these games. It's an accessible, occasionally delightful dog-fighting game that is also shallower than a Hollywood socialite.
The problem with World of Warplanes is that it is a free-to-play game, specifically, one that is approximately 80% free to play and only 20% game. It's important to stress that the content available is for the most part enjoyable, but that doesn't help redress the imbalance that currently resides between Wargaming's free to play model and what you actually end up playing.
For the uninitiated, WoW (oh, that's an unfortunate acronym. Let's just call it Warplanes), is the follow up to Wargaming's previous F2P mega-hit World of Tanks, a multiplayer vehicular shooter that deftly balanced arcade thrills and enthusiast simulation, and was built around a generous free-to-play model. Warplanes is essentially the exact same idea, but with wings.
Here's how it works, two teams of planes duke it out in a "Battle" mode in the skies above a large, meticulously crafted battlefield. The first team to destroy all enemy planes wins, at which point you're returned to your "Hangar" to spend the credits you earned during the battle on new planes, upgrades to your current ones, training your pilots, or increasing your hangar space.
On the free-to-play side, content is plentiful. There are dozens of planes from all the major combatants of World War II, with each nation's planes arranged into a tech tree. So, the British start out with the Goldfinch, a slow, lightly armoured but nimble bi-plane, and from there can either upgrade to light-fighters, which include various versions of the Spitfire, or the slower but more powerful heavy fighters such as the De Havilland Mosquito.
Each plane can also have its engine, armour and weaponry upgraded. Like World of Tanks, the game is generous with its distribution of credits, so you'll be able to purchase a significant number of upgrades with just a few hours play.