This is all fine and dandy. The trouble is, these sprawling menus of upgrades and new equipment all funnel into just a single game mode, Battle, and in terms of its quality Battle is very much a hit and miss affair.
World of Warplanes can be a lot of fun. The controls are extremely simple, and work well whether you're using a joystick or a mouse. What's more, all planes start in the air, so there's no need to worry about taking off or landing. Warplanes is all about the dogfight.
Defeating enemy planes involves getting either above or behind them and peppering them with gunfire until that dastardly Jerry or Toffee-nosed Brit gives out and plummets down to earth trailing black smoke. When there are a dozen planes all clustered in the same small area, this is a thrilling, frantic experience, as you try to hunt down a circling Messerschmitt while another German fighter bears down on your own tail, and friendly planes threaten to collide with you as they zip past on their own personal missions.
However, the battlefields are quite large, so it's equally likely that it will be you and another enemy fighter chasing each other in an infinite circle of tedium. You can't fly off, because the moment you do they'll immediately follow you and turn your tail into wood chippings, but neither can you bring your plane around fast enough to get a clear shot.
Tactically, Warplanes is rather limited. In World of Tanks you could hide your vehicle around corners to form ambushes and drive around to flank the enemy. But the open skies of Warplanes means no such manoeuvres are really possible. You can use cloud-banks as cover to a certain extent, and each map has a number of ground targets that can be destroyed which affect the opposing team's defensive capabilities. But you'll find most players head straight for the opposing planes, and the fact that it takes a while to chip away at an opponent's health bar means the circle of tedium is always a wing-tilt away. There's not much else to replace the tactical side, either. The simplified controls and locked third-person perspective means that, while accessible, it isn't particularly immersive.
But World of Warplanes' biggest problem is there's very little else to it. You battle, you upgrade, you battle again. And that's fine for a couple of hours, but there's nowhere near sufficient variety or depth to convince you to stick around long enough to spend any money.
It doesn't help that there currently seems to be an issue with the map selector. There are supposedly nine maps to play on, but when entering a game it only ever selected the same two - Harbour and El Halluf, and there doesn't seem to be any way to manually pick what map you want to play on. Not that it matters, given that you're fighting in the sky, and the sky is pretty much the same wherever you go.
World of Warplanes is a pleasant enough distraction, and Wargaming.net deserve credit for their very literal interpretation of the term "free-to-play". But the airborne combat simply isn't as engaging as the thundering ground battles of World of Tanks. It needs be brought down to Earth with some depth or variety soon, or it'll end up crashing likes so many of its free-to-play contemporaries.