This week, I shall turn my eyes to the skies to look at free to play games for the PC that feature planes and air combat. I have rounded up three games in this category to look at, the first being World of Warplanes which is brought to us by the same team behind World of Tanks. The next game is a one that I looked at for my article on free tank games – War Thunder, or more specifically, the Air Forces component. Finally, for something a little different, I will look at combat flight simulator DCS World to see what it has to offer.
World of Warplanes
What happens when Wargaming.net takes to the skies? You end up with the PVP oriented World of Warplanes (WoWp), which borrows a lot of tricks from World of Tanks (WoT), including acradey feel controls, one precious life and some hilarious matchmaker shenanigans. WoWp takes place in more-or-less the same era as its sister game by featuring aircraft from pre-WW2 to the Korean War. As you might expect, the tier system from WoT is present and correct, starting at Tier I for the earliest planes (such as Biplanes) all the way up to fast jets such as the MIG-15bis at Tier X. This game is newer than WoT, so there is less content currently available, with 7 nation’s tiers to choose from, although 2 (China and France) are restricted to Premium planes only at this time. Among these trees. Germany and the USSR are currently the most developed and offer the widest array of plane types to choose from.
Speaking of types of aircraft, WoWp delivers a few options, from the humble fighter to the less specialised fighter/bomber. All of these planes handle differently according to their role and there is a lot of fun to be had in strafing the various ground targets in a match whilst flying entirely too fast at an inadvisibly low altitude. However, WoW completely lacks dedicated bombers, so fans of unleashing a Rolling Thunder from a B-17 will be disappointed. As for modes, initially there is only 1 which is a standard 15v15 PVP battle, with the added fun of AI controlled ground targets to attack if you please. There may be additional modes, but my highest tier is III so I can’t really comment. As I have been playing WoWp since the beta you may ask why I am only at Tier III? Well, there are two reasons for this. The first is the interminable grind. WoT has this too, but in WoWp it starts to bite fast. This is exacerbated by reason 2. I find this game incredibly boring. Everything feels slow, there is less variety of planes than in War Thunder (on which more later), the maps lack variety and everything feels much less coherent than it’s competitors or even WoT/ World of Warships. There are also little annoyances, such as its incredible sensitivity to lag and small community. That’s not to say it’s a bad game, it’s not, it just doesn’t feel like the game it should be coming from such pedigree.
World of Warplanes is developed and published by Wargaming.net for Windows PCs. You can download an installer from their website.
Next, we’ll take a look at War Thunder (WT). I covered the Ground Forces last time, so this will focus on the Air forces section of the game. Sticking to the same era of WW2 to the Korean War as both WoWp and it’s own Ground Forces section, WT delivers PVP action in the form of 16v16 air battles with added AI ground targets to destroy. As well as this mode, there is also a fun mode where you have to capture various airstrips on a map by landing on them (preferably upright). As in Ground Forces, in WT you have as many lives in an arcade battles as planes you can field, which makes for fast paced action in the skies. The Air Forces component of WT has been around much longer than the Ground Forces component and you can see this in the depth of the tech trees. Whilst there are only 5 nations with dedicated trees (although some trees feature planes from other nations, such as Italian planes in the German tree) the trees are well fleshed out. Also, there are often with multiple “steps” in each tier (known as “Rank” in the game) which means that although you will be spending a lot of time in the lower tiers, there are plenty of vehicles and variants to unlock.
In WT, if you can think of a plane type, it probably has it, with everything from a naval fighter (such as the terrifying Swordfish) to a full on heavy bomber (such as a Lancaster). This means WT caters to every imaginable style of play and, yes, you can even have a boat plane although that makes the capture mode entertaining! If arcade mode doesn’t appeal, then you can also partake in realistic or simulator battles, which modify the physics engine for more realism and restrict your aircraft to one per match. I have been playing WT for a long time, I think it was in open beta when I waded in, yet for the aforementioned reasons in the tech tree I am still only just breaking into Rank II. However, this doesn’t feel like I have failed to make progress as I have a hanger full of flying toys and the little increments such as unlocking countless variants of aircraft lessen the grind. Another nice feature is that instead of buying garage slots, you buy crew, so if you really feel like taking a Swordfish out, even though you swapped it for a natty heavy fighter, you can, you just need to swap them over. Overall this game feels mature and well realized, as well as being a lot of fun, especially in Arcade mode.
Finally, we have something a little different in the form of combat flight simulator DCS World. Whilst this game does have PVP elements, it does a good job of PVE with built in missions based around the two planes included for free. This is perhaps a good thing, as I have yet to foray into PVP due to my inability to a) hit anything and b) not hit the ground. I come from a background of IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946, so, fully equipped with a fancy joystick and regulation whiskers, I though I would have this down in an hour or so. This turned out to be a rather incorrect assumption, as the (sadly non-existent, although the option is there if you want it) black box recordings from my few hours in the game would undoubtedly show if they were ever dug out of the large craters my aircraft made. As with most flight sims, there are buttons and bloops and beeps all over the place, so you would be well advised to give the tutorials a look before charging in with nought but naive bravado and a towel, as I did. Three hours on with the tutorials done, I still have trouble maintaining flight, but I can at least appreciate more of the simulator than the physics of hitting the ground and I have to say that it looks great. The handling takes some getting used to (and I would strongly recommend a joystick with throttle as a minimum), the planes respond well and it generally runs smoothly, although I have seen some serious framerate stutter in more intense combat.
Speaking of combat, the PVE elements are presented as missions (no free flight, unfortunately) which change depending on the plane (or in DCS speak, module) you choose. The game comes with the Su-25T “Frogfoot” and the TF-51D “Mustang” included for free, one being a ground attack jet and the other being an unarmed prop-driven trainer circa WW2. You can choose from various loadouts on the Frogfoot which are key to success in missions and the difference between being flying death or a bullet magnet. With the Mustang, you’re pretty stuffed, being unarmed, although you do get to try your hand at reconnaissance. The aircraft feel distinct and have their own little quirks which adds to the immersion immensely. However, DCS world has more to offer than just these two aircraft and there is a wealth of modules available on the store that add anything from the mighty A-10C “Warthog” to the “Black Shark” chopper. The downside to most of these is the price, being up to £32.99 a time. I tried to rationalise this as that would be the price tag you would expect to pay for a simulator of that particular aircraft and there are modules that add multiple aircraft such as the Flaming Cliffs 3 module which adds 7 aircraft for £25.99. There is also the Combined Arms module (£14.99) which gives you control over the ground forces offering a more RTS play style. Still, the price does feel a bit steep, but it is perfectly possible to play for absolutely nothing as I have been.
Conclusion – Who has the best planes?
So, in conclusion, which of these games would I recommend? Well, it depends what you’re into really. DCS World is a fine simulator and is a lot of fun to mess with even if simulators aren’t really your thing, but if it’s PVP shooty-death that you’re looking for, then I would say War Thunder without hesitation. It has the most to offer in terms of aircraft and gameplay, development appears to be going on at a fair pace and if you get bored of planes then it also includes the Ground Forces section (and, apparently, naval combat in the future). Because of this, and because I mainly play PVP, War Thunder earns my highest recommendation in this group.