I have been holding off writing about this game for a long time. It is one of the games I have become somewhat attached to recently - sort of a go to game for some fun. However, the more I play it the more I realized the game, that has lots of potential, just continues to take a steeper nose dive, and I think the last patch(patch 1.37) caused compression that not even Gaijin may not recover from.
I’m not going to come right out and proclaim that this game will crush and burn, but if Gaijin continues down the path they currently are - I think they will be hard pressed to stop it.
You may ask why I would say this. Well...I will tell you, but first let me give you a thorough write up on what War Thunder is all about. Also, consider this a review - this is not a preview. Yes, War Thunder is in open beta(at least that is what Gaijin Entertainment calls it), but as many of you who know me(from reading previous write ups of mine) I consider a game released if the company starts charging for services. Gaijin does this. You can spend money on this game and even have a premium account. True beta’s don't charge any money. This game has released(it’s even available for download on Steam), and as such I will be treating it as a released title.
“Well Kristi...can you at least give us some details about the game you’re blabbering about, all ready?”
Sure, sure...I am getting to it. I just had to get a couple of things straight up front before I really start getting into it, because I want to make it perfectly clear, and understood, where I am coming from so that some people don’t get their panties all in a big wad telling me - “the game is in beta - give Gaijin some time.”
So, do your pre-flight, then climb into the cockpit, strap yourself in good and tight. Then prepare to take to the skies, for this is War Thunder!
War Thunder, first off, is a very ambitious title of an online game being developed by Gaijin Entertainment. Gaijin Entertainment is a game developer out of Russia that is no stranger to the world of games. Though they are a fairly young company, established in 2002, Gaijin has all ready made a name for it self in the PC and Console markets with released games - such as: Birds of Steel, Wings of Prey, IL-2 Stormovik: Wings of Prey, X-Blaades, Braveheart and many other various titles.
The game itself will eventually be about...you guessed it - war. Duh...but...when I say war...I mean WAR! Rawr As in tanks, planes, ships...the whole enchilada. The game itself falls under the category of combat simulator. I’ll say more about this a little later - the simulator stuff, that is.
Right now, however, the title is mostly about the planes of war - most notably the planes that were used in World War II and the Korean War. Tanks have just been added, but they are brand new and not part of the main game as of yet. They are still separate, and use their own maps, and in closed beta. So we’re not going to be discussing them or the ships since neither of them are available to the gaming public in general - this write up is about the aircraft side of the game.
What War Thunder does have right now though is impressive. With over 186 planes to choose from, planes that belonged to 6 nations(5 which are playable), that makes for a lot of different battle scenarios.
You can fly the infamous Spitfire or the BF 109 E-3 in the Battle of Britain, or jump in a jet, like and F86 Sabre, and fly a combat mission over Mig Alley against the Mig 15. They also have more than just fighters in this game, but bombers as well. So if flying a fighter isn’t your cup of tea, and you would rather bomb your way to victory...you can pick one of many bombers that are available, like the Lancaster bomber, or the B-17. The one thing this game offers is variety and War Thunders has it is spades.
Note: As of right now, only a couple of light bombers have cockpit views. Unlike fighters, which offer not only isometric 3D over the shoulder view, but also, in cockpit views(which by the way is extremely immersive if you are into that type of thing).
Speaking of playable nations, in War Thunder, you can chose amongst the 5 major powers of WWII; like the allies, United States, Britain, Russia, or fly for one of the Axis powers Germany, and Japan.
Each nations planes have strengths and weaknesses, and Gaijin attempts to make the aircraft behave in flight(what is known as the aircrafts flight model) as they really would have. And when I say attempt...well...let’s just say...there are good planes and their are bad planes. I’ll dig deeper into flight models later because it is one of the things that is hotly debated among the players and the developers. Needless to say...since the game is made by a Russian based game company...flight models for certain planes are a bit supernatural for one particular nation.
Gaijin also gives players plenty of options with which to control the aircraft. You can use a standard mouse and keyboard, a joystick, a joystick and rudder control foot pedals(like a real plane), joystick, rudder control, and throttle control(even more like a real aircraft), or a console type game pad. The game can also make use of head tracking systems like IRTrack, and of course the soon to be released virtual gaming headgear Oculus Rift.
Now, from my experience, the best way to play depends on what game mode you are playing. I’ll be discussing the game modes later, and with it the different player controls. The game modes are very unforgiving and favor certain game control styles.
One cool thing about War Thunder is the game is totally free to play. You really don’t have to spend a dime to play it, though you will most likely decide to in the long run if you really want to progress in the game at a steady pace. Having a premium account will allow you to gain rewards faster...and this of course allows you to get into higher ranked planes as you progress.
Think of it as leveling in your typical MMO. The higher you level, the more planes you can fly and get into.
The games planes are broken up into what is known as “Era’s”. Era’s let players know when that plane first came into service. Inside each Era is a set of planes that were known to have been in service for that time. Planes are also ranked based on performance. So it can be a little confusing, since some planes that should be in Era 1 plane listing are found in Era 2 listing due to the planes overall “battle rating”(aka performance rating). I don’t understand this myself, since Gaijin promotes the game as being a historically accurate online flight sim - when clearly it is not...for the most part. Though I will say it is less arcadie like than a major game competitor(World of Warplanes by Wargaming.net - makers of World of Tanks) in this online flight sim market.
There are 3 main modes of game play in War Thunder: Arcade Mode, Realistic Battle Mode, and Simulator Mode. The “Arcade Mode" game mode plays exactly like it sounds...like an arcade game. You are tossed into a world map with upwards of 32 players - 16 vs 16. Each map has different task that players most perform in order to when a game match. For instance one map might be a ground attack task map, where whichever team destroys the opposing teams ground targets first wins. Another map might be capture the flag type game, but in this case, the players capture a base and then must keep the opposing team from taking control of it...the longer you control the base, the more points your team gets until one team wins. You also have unrealistic flight models, auto reloading(no need to land at bases to reload), and planes can take a lot more damage. This mode is very fast paced and very unpredictable. In this mode you may encounter planes that can be two and three ranks different. That means, that you might be in a early bi-plane with two guns, going up against a faster mono-plane that has four guns and two cannons. What can I say...that is how Gaijin does it.
As I mentioned earlier, what method of game control you use makes a huge difference in the various modes, and I highly recommend using a mouse and keyboard for the arcade mode. The planes flight models are so jacked up and unrealistic in arcade mode that using a joystick in this mode against a player using a mouse and keyboard will just frustrate you.
Don’t even bother with a game controller in War Thunder - they suck in every mode(unless you are playing the PS4 version of the game - then it tends to work OK).
Realistic Battle Mode is a game mode that tries to re-enact actual battles or realistic battle situations that occurred during WWII and the Korean War. This mode also includes game maps that are called “alternate history maps” and “training mission maps”(I’ll explain these two shortly). RB mode includes game maps from the Battle of Britain, Battle of the Bulge, Berlin, Guadalcanal, and Midway. The match making system can screw these “realistic battles” up more times than not, and that can have a huge impact on the outcome of the game. When I say match making, what I am referring to is the system the game uses to place your plane into a game that fits the battle and Era that plane was present in during WWII. It rarely gets it right as you get into the higher ranked planes. It’s just something you’ll have to deal with because Gaijin doesn’t seem interested in trying to make this mode all the historically accurate(even though this mode use to be called historical battle mode). For instance, there were no Spitfires present at the Battle of Midway...but you may find yourself flying a Spitfire at the Battle of Midway, or you might be flying in the Battle of Britain in a F6F Hellcat...which of course was not there. Maybe someday Gaijin will fix this, but I do not see that happening anytime soon. So as a player, you just have to deal with it.
I would highly recommend a joystick for this mode. It will take practice to get good with a joystick, but I can tell you from my own experience that a joystick in RB mode beats a mouse and keyboard player due to the fact that the joystick control allows you more control of your plane. In other words, you can make your plane do things with a joystick, that a mouse and keyboard player cannot do. The good news is though, a mouse and keyboard can still hold there own in RB mode, but you’re at a bit of a disadvantage compared to a joystick user.
Then there is what is known as “Simulator Mode”. This can be a very challenging mode and I only recommend it if you have at a minimum, a joystick and IRTrack system. It is best to have a joystick, rudder control system, throttle control and IRTrack - because then you have ultimate control and as realistic flight model as you will ever encounter. You really have to be into flight sims to become good at this level of the game. This game mode also does a better job at match making. The big difference between this mode and the other two...there are no markers for enemy planes, positions, or ground vehicles. You have to know what you are looking for and looking at in order to get anywhere in this game mode. In other words...there will be no names above targets. You have to identify them by sight alone. I would at least play RP mode for a bit before even attempting the simulator mode. Get use to using a joystick and flying from the cockpit view of the plane - because that is what Simulator Mode is all about...it puts you in the cockpit of the plane and all the gauges and displays will tell you how your plane is operating. Though you can have a couple of things on your game UI HUD like airspeed and altitude. There is also no lead aiming reticle - you have to use your aiming pip on your aircrafts dash and then you have to also learn where to place it before you shoot in order to even hit your target. This will take practice. Learning to gauge distance, target speed and lead time is critical in a dogfight. So as I said...play in RB mode, use a joystick and go full control, with IRTrack, at a minimum, before heading to Simulator Mode.
Alternate History Maps are just as it sounds...alternate history. In these maps, you will see what might have happened if the war had been played out differently. For instance in one map, you might see British and US fighting Russians. Or maybe US, Germany fighting the Russians. Be aware that in these maps...things can get really borked up, not only due to balance issues, but match making as well.
Training Mission Maps are, again, just like they sound - training maps. These maps toss allied planes against allied planes. So for instance you might see British plains vs US planes. Again, be aware that sometimes match making can have a impact on these maps and you might see a wide variety of planes from different ranks.
There is one more mode I’ll mention and this is called an EVENT. Event modes are by far the best modes in War Thunder - in my opinion. This is where Gaijin gets it right 90% of the time, especially in the RB and Sim Mode. In the RB and Sim mode, you will only see planes that were actually in a particular battle, and battles are recreated as accurately as possible(within the limit of the games capacity). For instance, let’s take the Battle of Britain. They have an EVENT called, “the Hardest Day”. This recreates the the air battle during the Battle of Britain that took place on August 18th, 1940. In this battle, you’ll only see planes that actually fought during that battle, and if you fly it in RB you’ll get a pretty accurate version of what occurred that day. EVENT’s are only offered for 24hrs at a lime and then they change to a new map. So one day you might have a Battle of Midway Event, the next day(24hrs later) it will switch to Guadalcanal or maybe the Battle of the Bulge. And as I said, these Event’s is where War Thunder really shines...and if you are a fan of history and airplanes...you’ll love this mode. I know it is my favorite and I play them as often as I can.
Also, there are single player campaigns you can play through as well as custom mission maps made by players, and custom campaigns created by players. The custom player maps I would be watchful of because sometimes these maps have allow Korean Era jets to be pitted against bi-planes. It is no brainer to guess which plane is fodder and which is not in this situation. Personally, I just stay away from custom maps and campaigns unless I know the person that made it.
Single player campaigns like the “Pacific Campaign” can be bought separately and played offline.
The games music score is decent. Not anything to write home about, but it can set the mood for the game. So no need to stay on this topic for very long. It is what it is and with the main theme of the game being war, the music has the typical sound to it that is distinctively identified with soldiers marching off to war and such.
The sounds in this game are just frikking awesome. No honestly...when you start up the Spitfire or the BF 109's engines, they sound like the real thing. Add to that the sound of the various weapons, the wind, and other little noises you might hear while flying an aircraft and Gaijin gets another A+ for effort. Dude...let me tell you, it can make your palms sweat when you are flying through a mass of flak from the AA guns over an airfield or a city. You can actually hear some shells fly by. And when they explode near you, you can hear the the shrapnel falling onto your plane like little pebbles on a car hood. It can get pretty intense.
Now for the graphics.
One thing I have no issues with regarding this game is it’s graphics. Then again, it is not your typical MMO and has no need for overwhelming character graphics or architecture. However, the graphics it does have - did I tell you I want a Spitfire! Gaijin did a fantastic job modeling the planes and their graphics for them are just awesome. When you look at the planes...they look gorgeous. Being a fan of all types of aircraft and having done my share of reading about aircraft and their development - Gaijin gets an A+ for the effort they have put into making the aircraft look as authentic as they could. From the chipped paint due to weathering - to the oil streaks on the cowling’s...this Gaijin got right.
I’ve always had a thing for Spitfires, and I just love how the Spitfire looks in this game. I know it is a weapon of war, but...I dunno, there is just something so beautiful about the look of certain aircraft, and the Spitfire have these graceful lines and curves that make you think it is more than just a piece of equipment or a vehicle - it is a work of art. A work of art that you can fly. A work of art that is as deadly as it is beautiful. Oh and did I mention how fun it is to control this aircraft in game? Oh I will...just keep reading! ::huge grin::
Another thing that I find impressive is the ability to customize the look of your aircraft. You can add decals, nose art, and enemy kill markers to your aircraft - just as they did long ago. Though it is something you can’t just do, at least Gaijin gives you options to do this, either through earning it with accomplishments in game, or buying it with the games form of currency - Golden Eagles.
One note of contention regarding customization is planes can be upgraded. You can add better engines, engine parts, guns, and such. You do this via research. You earn what is called research points(or RP). Before patch 1.37 we earned and used Silver Lions to upgrade and buy planes. Patch 1.37 changed this and Silver Lions are used primarily for reloading, repairing and buying new aircraft in a tech tree. RP is used to research planes and to upgrade them. With the new system it can be slow going because you do not earn as much RP as we use to earn Silver Lions. This has been another thorn in the side of the game that has really annoyed and frustrated many of the players. There are many threads with hundreds of pages discussing this on the main forum. Gaijin doesn't seem to care or be very interested in making any reasonable adjustments to this new system. So be aware that once you hit the upper ranks in planes, it can be quite a grind to earn RP at a reasonable rate - especially in the RP and SB modes of the game.
Back to the graphics.
From the cliffs of Dover to the Island of Malta, the land graphics for the maps are impressive, too. Gaijin must have spent a lot of time going over old maps and pictures to accurately display the locations that you’ll be flying and fighting over, because I am telling you...it is awesome. The view distances in this game are incredible and at height...you can easily get taken in an immersed into this games settings. Oh, and this game has some of the best weather and cloud effects, I have ever seen in any MMO. Sunsets can be spectacles of gold, red, and pink hues so vivid you think you’re looking at a real sunset. Just beautiful.
One thing I wish Gaijin would add is contrail’s. One of the most iconic sights during the Battle of Britain were the contrail’s left behind from the bombers and fighters at high altitudes above the English country side. It was rare that the planes didn’t leave them on those cold September days when the planes were dog fighting at altitudes above 4k meters. It would just add to the over all immersive feeling of the game experience.
Now let’s talk about game play. This can be a hit or miss. I say this because of one reason - the way the game puts matches or battles together in the general game modes(not the EVENTS I mentioned early). As I stated before the game is broken up into different game modes. In the arcade game modes you will face aircraft from all the nations and depending on the rank of the planes in your hanger/s, this will determine the other ranks of the planes you’ll face in any given battle. For instance, if you have ranked 1 planes in your hanger/s, you will most likely encounter planes that are ranked the same or near to it - at least that is the ideal. But what works on paper doesn’t always work in reality - and that is one of the major drawbacks to Gaijin’s system of match making(or MM) in War Thunder.
This is a huge thorn in the side of the game right now and a major issue with the players and the developers. The players say it sucks...Gaijin says it is working as intended. Well, I have to side with the majority of players on this issue, because nothing sucks worse than to be in a WWII era prop plane and facing Korean War era jets. Or, flying a rank one bi-plane and facing planes that are nearly twice as fast with twice the armament. 20mm cannons make bi-planes go all explody and can make for a miserable game experience - and more often than not - this happens a lot in War Thunder. Trust me on this. When you take into consideration the flight models of some planes and then add to that the difference in overall performance, getting a bad match is almost a given.
Back before Gaijin’s latest patch(patch 1.37 - a patch that almost single handedly took this game back to what many would consider an alpha state), the games match making was notoriously fickle and amusingly mean at times - it was nothing compared to what we see now. Now...it is no longer amusing...it is just down right mean and ugly - especially in the higher ranks(ranks 3 and 4).
At ranks three and four, it is not uncommon to face planes that just outright do not belong facing one another in a dogfight. And as I stated before, add to that that some of the flight models are in need of major tweaking and you’ll be pulling your hair out in no time with frustration because its as if the game just loves to cause you grief.
Speaking of flight models - be aware - this game was made by a Russian based gaming company and there is some serious bias toward certain planes in the game. Anyone that has played War Thunder knows what I am talking about - I’ll just say, if you fly bi-planes beware of the Chaika. In fact, just be ready to deal with many planes that are extremely OP from this nation.
If I had to least best performing planes to the worse performing planes in game as I write this, this is how my list would look.
I know some people will disagree with me on this, but from my experience, this is how I see it. Oh and just how bad is the US planes in this game? It is sad that the most highly sought US plane is not even a US plane! It is a British plane. The Spitfire. You can purchase what is called a Premium Spitfire IX and fly it for the US. It is without a doubt the best prop plane you can get in the American tech tree. Most US planes flight models are borked to hell and gone and resemble nothing like the actual planes that flew in WWII. I’ll mention the P38 as a prime example of US planes that are borked. Players have for months been asking Gaijin to fix this planes flight model and Gaijin refuses to budge on it. They say their data sheets they are using are accurate and are the sheets they use to create the fight model of the P38 - yet refuse to show the players these data sheets they are using. Players have dug up the planes actual performance data sheets and compared them with the way the way the P38 handles in game and it is nothing like what the data sheets say the plane should behave. That is how it is with most of the planes in the US tech tree. So be aware of this. Certain nations planes have questionable flight models and some are just outright wrong.
Despite this...if you are good at FPS and are also an avid flight simmer, you might still do well in War Thunder. It is very unforgiving to noobs, but for experienced FPS gamers and flight sim people - you’re going to love this game despite its serious short comings when it comes to flight models and plane performance.
That is why even if a plane is a little under-performing, in its flight model, a good player can make it seem like the plane is OP as hell. This comes down to player skill. Not everyone can take a BF109 and do good with it. Others however, make it seem like that plane is evincible. It is all about player skill in the long run. Good planes that have good flight models with a good player controlling them...they are untouchable. Sure you might get a lucky shot and shoot one of these planes down, but more often than not...its you that are a streaking pile of flaming wreckage falling out of the sky. Trust me on this...either you are good at this game or you are not. You can practice and get good, but that will take you some time, but truth be told not everyone is cut out for FPS type gaming. War Thunder is a very unforgiving game to the inexperienced. If you do practice and get good, it can be a very rewarding game experience. I personally love this game, despite all its problems, I just love the challenge of being good at this game, and War Thunder, in a lot of ways reminds me of Mount and Blade in that - it challenges you like no other FPS.
The main draw to this game though right now is the planes and the dog fighting, and this game delivers - in Aces(no pun intended). Truly, this game succeeds at bringing dog fighting, flight sim, from the single player experience to the multi-player like no other game on the market right now. I’ve played my share of combat flight sims, but never have I experienced the thrill of flight and dog fighting like I have in this game. Every time I sign in and then wait for a match to start my heart starts to beat a little faster and my stomach gets little butterflies. I really, truly, love this type of game play. It pits one players skills against another in a way most other games fail to do. Maybe that is why I am drawn to it. It is the air warrior in me that says, grab your gear, suit up, climb into the cockpit of a suped up aircraft and find an opponent worthy of a good challenge. Only one of us will come out the winner - and if I have my way, that will be me.
BTW - there are many great planes to experience in this game War Thunder, but in my opinion, the one plane that stands out from them all is the Spitfire. Truly an exceptional plane. It was a great plane for real in WWII and it is a great plane in War Thunder if you know how to properly control it. Sure you can fly one of the better planes in game that is faster and has more fire power, but let me tell you something - none of that matters when it comes to the agility and pure smooth controls of the Spitfire. As a real Spitfire pilot once said in an interview, you don’t fly a Spitfire, you wear it and it becomes one with you. It is this way in the game as well.
I had the opportunity to play War Thunder using an Oculus Rift and I swear...I felt as though I was in the cockpit. Short of the smell and the actual g-forces you might feel from actually flying, the Oculus Rift does a great job at making you feel like you are there. The next best thing to this is a good monitor, a joystick, rudder control pedals, thrust control and IRTrack 5, but nothing can touch the experience of the Oculus Rift.
Here are a few tips for the new Sprog.
Learn a few basic ACM’s(air combat maneuvers), like the Immelmann, the split-s, and the hammerhead. You can practice these maneuvers by test flying planes you have access to. I highly recommend doing this, and if you are going to use a joystick this is a great way to get a feel for how the aircraft behave. Just learning to take off with full controls can be a task in itself. Single prop aircraft tend to turn left and nose over as you begin to gain speed to take off. You’ll have to adjust for the torque of the engine to keep your plane from nosing over and flipping. Which is a common occurrence for new pilots who use a joystick. Gaijin has a great example of many ACM’s you can use in game - here is a link.
Air Combat Maneuvers Page: War Thunder Website
Another tip. In Realistic Battles and Simulator Battles, you have limited ammo. So use burst shots. Don’t spray and pray. Make every shot count. Holding down the trigger will cause your guns to either overheat or possibly jam and the bigger the gun the more likely it will jam or you’ll just run out of ammo quicker. So burst shots. You can aim at specific parts of planes. Unlike some FPS games, Gaijin has done a great job at how damage is recorded and detected in game. You can target cockpits, engines, wings, tails, gunners...so just a few well placed shots can cause some serious damage if you hit a plane in the right area. If you do run out of ammo or your guns get jammed. Make a B-line back to base to re-arm. You do not have to do this in arcade mode, however, just simply hit the proper key on your keyboard to do it, but in RB and SB, you must land. So remember that.
Here are the basic pro’s and con’s of the game again.
- Great Graphics
- Great Sound
- Online Multi-player Air Combat Sim
- Large Selection of Planes To Fly
- Semi-Historical Recreations of World War II History That You Can Experience
- Free To Play
- Balance Issues
- Flight Model Issues
- In Game Reward Issues
- Developers Seem Biased
- Broken Match Making
- Developers Tend To Ignore Playerbase Concerns
If you can put up with this games cons, War Thunder is a great, fun, little game with a lot of potential. The developers have put their sights on making it one of the best online combat war sims, and if they can pull it off, and work out the kinks...War Thunder will be one of the best free to play games on the Internet.
Battle of Britain Video - Inside the cockpit of a BF 109 F4