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There are ten tiers of planes, and numerous planes in each tier, so the unlocking process will unfold very slowly. This is where microtransactions come into play. You earn plain old Experience in addition to Free Experience, and in return for Gold (read: cold hard cash), you can convert your Experience to Free Experience. You earn Free Experience at a small fraction of the rate you earn regular Experience, so by spending money, you can unlock things several times faster.
It's hard to say at this point whether players will need to pay to be competitive. There are already a lot of players, but the matchmaking system still puts planes of very different tiers in the same battles—and the later-tier planes do have a pretty big advantage. I don't think too many people will want to keep getting slaughtered until they make it all the way to a high tier, and sometimes it felt like that's what I was doing. Then again, the lower-tier planes are plenty of fun to fly, so if the matchmaking system improves, truly free play might be a possibility.
In terms of presentation, World of Warplanes is impressive for a free title. There's a limited variety of maps, but that's not such a big deal—terrain doesn't matter much when you're fighting in the air, though you'll come across mountains and clouds that can be tactically useful. Otherwise, the graphics are smooth and detailed, especially where the planes are concerned, and I especially loved the intense classical music, which keeps your adrenaline flowing even when the fights get tedious. The sound effects are well-done as well, thoroughly immersing you in the atmosphere of World War II dogfighting.
World of Warplanes is too arcade-like for a hardcore sim fan, and too sim-like for a hardcore arcade fan. But it's just right for gamers in the middle, and its attention to the details of plane design is ridiculously impressive. When it launches, at the low price of free, dogfighting fans will definitely want to check it out.
Date: September 4, 2012