War Thunder – MMO Game Preview
Promising: Wide variety of aircraft with distinct flight models. Free to play, but not pay to win. Beautiful, well-optimized graphics. Multiple levels of realism, from “arcade” to “full real.” Well-implemented mouse and keyboard controls: no joystick or other controls required. Immersive sound design. Highly detailed damage modeling. Customizable paint and decals on planes.
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Worrying: Inconsistent matchmaking. Heavy penalties for losing certain planes, especially in Historical Battles. Little incentive to cooperate with your team.
War Thunder is a free to play (F2P) air combat game with ambitions to include player-controlled ships and armored fighting vehicles, combining them all into a seamless battlefield. The flight sim portion is currently in open beta and looks to be a solid contender to take on the upcoming World of Warplanes and the rest of Wargaming.net’s “World of … ” series. It’s fun, easy to learn, and doesn’t trap its players in a grind as badly as other F2P games can.
War Thunder is in open beta and in the months I’ve been playing, the balance, mechanics, and unlocks have changed significantly, in addition to releasing new plane models. In light of these changes, I’ll do my best to cover the core, settled portions of the game, noting what works and what doesn’t, then finish up by noting some points of concern that Gaijin should address with future patches. I’m also going to take a few opportunities to compare the game to World of Tanks and World of Warplanes, as these are War Thunder’s most direct competitors.
One of the game’s most appealing features is its flexibility—you aren’t locked into playing either a hardcore flight sim or a weightless arcade flight game like Crimson Skies. You can switch between three very different modes: Arcade, Historical Battle, or Full Real Battles. Arcade mode is easiest to pick up and will probably continue to be War Thunder‘s flagship game mode. The other two modes feature increased levels of realism, adding things like more demanding flight models and removing mid-air reloads and respawns.
Arcade mode has two primary sorts of battles—either ground attack missions in which your objective is to destroy the enemy’s ground units (a mix of AFVs, AAA, and pillboxes), or domination, where pilots land on airstrips to capture them. If you are shot down, you can switch to another plane in your hangar, which will respawn at altitude and reasonably near the battlefield. If you run out of ammunition or bombs, they automatically reload after a short wait. These mechanics keep the action continuous and let you switch between roles as a match progresses, e.g., if you splashed some of the enemy’s fighters in your last sortie, you can switch to a bomber to press the attack against their ground units. This stands in contrast to World of Tanks/Warplanes, where once you’ve died, you have to sit around and watch the match, because you can’t take that specific tank or plane out again until the match is over. Arcade mode is all about instant gratification, fun, and simplicity.
The final game mode, still in development, is World War. Once the ground combat and naval portions of the game have been released, War Thunder aims to allow all three forces to participate in a single battle. The prospect of player-controlled planes, tanks, and ships all interacting is very exciting, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
Arcade and Historical Battle modes make full use of War Thunder‘s responsive and intuitive mouse and keyboard controls—no joystick, throttle, rudder pedals or other peripherals are required (but they are supported). At its simplest, you point the mouse where you want to go and the computer manipulates the ailerons, rudder, and elevator to get you pointed thataway. Skilled joystick users may have an advantage over mouse and keyboard users, but “mouseaim” lets newer pilots focus more on tactics and gunnery instead of wrestling with their own controls.
War Thunder, though free to play, is not “pay to win,” the way some other F2P games can be. I never felt pressured to get a premium account or spend money on eagles just to advance. Nor do I feel that players can buy an unfair advantage that lets them trounce players who haven’t paid—there’s no equivalent here to the “gold” ammunition that can allow World of Tanks players to one-shot-kill each other. That said, I’m happy to support the game in exchange for the fun extras provided. For example, the premium planes offered are all either unusual or obscure planes (the UK’s Boomerang) or Lend Lease/captured planes that augment an air force’s play style (e.g. the Japanese can buy the heavy F4 Corsair and the US can buy the nimble Japanese Hien). Unlike World of Tanks, players generally don’t need to use premium planes to support the repair fees for their high-tier vehicles. The less I have to worry about whether a match was “profitable,” the happier I am with a game. Economics are the enemy of fun.
I’m having a lot of fun in the beta and it’s clear that War Thunder is a very promising game, but I do have a couple points of concern I’d like to bring up. Again, this is a beta, so there’s plenty of time for Gaijin to address the problems raised here, but it’s important to note them. First off, the matchmaker is inconsistent. Though it mostly keeps high-level planes out of low-level matches, the logic it uses is inconsistent and mismatching does happen. That said, the matchmaker is improving with each patch, and as the playerbase grows more consistency can be expected.
Certain mid- and high-level planes are disproportionately costly in Lions to field and repair. This can make players reluctant to bring their big bombers or jets out of the hangar for fear they’ll be taken down by a lucky shot, making the match unprofitable. Fortunately, each newly unlocked plane gets a certain number of “free repairs,” so you can at least get used to the flight model before you have to worry about shoveling out Lions for repairs. The recent 1.29 patch greatly reduced Lion earnings, making upkeep and fielding new planes unnecessarily difficult. Luckily, it appears that Gaijin has heard the loud, insistent feedback on the forums and, though stubborn at first, are rolling the changes back partway. We’re here to fly planes, not play Air Force Accountant.
Finally, Gaijin should consider either removing or drastically nerfing collision damage in Arcade, especially between teammates. Intentional ramming is the most common form of trolling in the game and can be utterly infuriating. Not only do some players do it intentionally for the “lulz,” it happens distressingly often when teammates are chasing the same target. There’s nothing like losing an expensive, high-tier plane to an incompetent teammate to make me want to take a break from the game.
Already fun and engrossing even in Beta, War Thunder is a very promising game that avoids many of the annoying foibles that other Free to Play games have. It is very welcome competition for World of Tanks and World of Warplanes. (Matt does a comparison on his ritalingamer.com blog.—Editor) I hope that Gaijin will fix the problems I’ve highlighted and continue to improve the game. If they deliver on the promises they made, this game will be a classic of its genre. In the meantime, though, I can’t wait to hop back in the cockpit.
About the Author
Matt Richardson is a freelance social media and online marketing consultant in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has a degree in History from Davidson College, with a special interest in military history and the Civil War. He has rotted his mind with video games since childhood. You can follow Matt at @MT_Richardson and read his blog at Ritalingamer.com.