Gaijin Entertainment really struck gold here. They based their model off of the World of Tanks experience and progression systems, and released War Thunder (formerly known as World of Planes) before Wargaming's own World of Warplanes. As a direct competitor to WoWp, War Thunder really has taken off in terms of numbers. Often filled to the brim with players, you’ll have trouble not getting into a match. This comes with good reason too, as War Thunder is a truly exceptional game that has been introduced to a very profitable market. If any of you readers feel like giving it a shot, I encourage you to get a lot of people into it as well: the game is that much better with decent wingmen!
If there is one thing that can be said about War Thunder, it can be a truly stunning and beautiful game. The planes are all very expertly crafted, and nothing quite compares to dropping out of the sky to unload machine gun and cannon fire on an enemy fighter. In this respect, the explosions and fires are equally impressive. The sounds accompanying all the bullets, cannons, bombs, rockets and flak are all quite great (and realistically loud!). The music is fitting for the period the game takes place in, and is certainly a high quality. The only problem is that it is rather forgettable once you’re in-game and flying around. You can also ‘paint’ your planes with a variety of different insignias and symbols, which allows you to further customize a plane to your liking. There are multiple maps that you will play on, and some of them have a ’night’ mode. I’m not sure what triggers this, but it is amazing flying through the air shooting at things while spotlights shine up from the ground.
War Thunder’s gameplay is pretty solid, and is a good way to kill some time. The matches tend to last anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes usually, so this was a great thing to play when I was bored but didn’t want to devote myself to a full play session. My friends and I had a lot of fun grouping up as a fighter squadron. Forming a mob and swarming on a single target is extremely entertaining. Ramming is also very prevalent in the arcade matches, I’ve noticed. People tend be polarized on the act of ramming to get a kill, but as a last ditch effort I don’t see an issue with doing it. Some planes, however, seem to be made of space-age materials, because sometimes they hardly get scratched. As of late, there have been complaints regarding some balance issues. Despite this, the game still manages to be an exciting ride for anybody even slightly interested in dogfighting or flight.
There are plenty of options of weapons as you become more experienced with a plane, however at the start you are locked to two or three choices or worse: only one. One thing that shines is that even though the planes could use some balancing, almost every plane has a use in the matches. There have been higher level matches where I’ve seen bi-planes (the starter planes) take down fighters and bombers because they can be so nimble. In the same respect, I’ve seen competent bomber pilots switch to the gunner seat and completely shred a chasing plane (normally gunners are manned by AI). War Thunder also plans to introduce land-based and ship-based fighting as well, so eventually the matches will encompass all variables of the battlefield. With that in mind, this game is certainly something worth looking forward to. A minor problem I should note though, is that the matchmaking is almost non-existent. You won’t go up against MiG prototypes in a biplane, but you won’t always go up against people with an equal level of skill. I’ve gone against people interested in flight, and then I’ve gone against people who could probably pass R.A.F. courses with flying colors. It’s largely a gamble and it could have a negative impact on one’s experience.
Despite scoring extremely well in other categories, the social aspect comes up somewhat short. You can only have 4 people in a squad which, while accurate, you can’t play the game with a large group. Other than that, there are the normal features present everywhere: friends, clans, messaging in-match and out-of-match. Gaijin provides a rather extensive forum, however, and this can prove to be a very useful tool for people who want to find others to play with.
While some problems existed in the early beta, War Thunder has been patched into a pretty solid and stable state. There are plenty of options for customizing the graphics to your particular system. One also has the option to use multiple forms of controls, with keyboard and mouse, controller, or joystick as the obvious choices. Also, the game is very optimized (I haven’t crashed once!), and by all accounts can run on a wide range of systems. The UI is quite minimal and transparent, but that works beautifully for a game as immersive and action-packed as War Thunder.
World War II games aren’t very numerous as of right now, but in the past they have proven to be very successful. Notable titles include the first Call of Duties, Tripwire’s Red Orchestra series (and the mods included), World of Tanks, and what can be considered the direct competition for this game, World of Warplanes. While not as plentiful as the fantasy titles on the market, these games all shine in their own ways. One of the biggest innovations with War Thunder is the level of control you have over your plane. The aircraft tend to operate well enough without any fancy maneuvers, but go ahead and try to master all the keys on the keyboard and check all the unbound controls. By doing this, War Thunder is a must-play for the average joe and the avid dogfighter alike. Also offered are historical missions that encompass the 1940s theatre of war. While this is not the real thing, it still provides a high level of intensity and entertainment.
Overall, I can’t recommend this game enough. It isn’t cash shop heavy, which is something we've seen with other recent releases. I do have some issues with certain cash shop planes (friggin’ P-39s), but they all seem to level out pretty easily. A good rule I learned: if you can out climb it, you can escape it. With that said, one could easily play this game for a reasonable amount of time and unlock everything they could want. I was never bombarded with notifications to get premium, nor did I ever felt the need to purchase real-money planes to get an edge. If you know your role, and you know what the enemy plane is, you can survive just about anything.
War Thunder certainly impressed me, and the good far outweighs the bad in this case. With fun, exciting combat combined with plenty of customization and room for personal skill, this game is sure to be a fan favorite. The cash shop is minimal, and doesn’t intrude on the gameplay, so I never felt the need to pay for anything in order to get ahead. However, I did purchase some of the mission packs just to show support. After playing this for a while, I’m sure most people would do the same.