On Your Six! War Thunder Does Not Disappoint - Review
Russian developer Gaijin Entertainment's breakout hit War Thunder is slowly but steadily taking to the skies as the premier aviation arena-based game on the market. The main reason for this is because of its free-to-play* model, and the simple genius of its gameplay.
The premise is simple enough:
- Pick a faction
- Pick a plane
In essence, the game is that easy. And really, the enjoyment-factor is derived from that simplicity: anyone can pick up the basic mouse-based controls and start living out their WWII fantasy immediately.
All major factions of World War II are represented. You can freely change between the United States, Great Britain, Russia, Germany, Japan, and Italy. Each country has its' own progression so deciding which country you want to play as has an important impact early on as the experience you accrue from each battle can only be attributed to one plane at a time.
However, as you progress in the game you can hire and train new crews so you can fly multiple planes per mission (up to five before you have to pay) allowing upgrading of all of those planes simultaneously.
The research system is rather robust and does allow for modifications significant enough to give the pilot an edge during combat. The different load-out capabilities also allows some of the more hybrid style planes to more effectively deliver those roles. When it is all said and done however, real player skill will normally determine the outcome of the battle.
The matchmaking system reflects this as it will try its best to pair you up with people of equal skill.
There are five tiers of planes that you can unlock for each country. The idea being that the higher tiered planes are instantly better than their predecessors. And although from a statistical standpoint they normally are, the game does a very good job of rewarding the pilot's skill instead of plane choice. Players control the planes with the keyboard and mouse, but support for both controllers and joysticks is also available.
The best part of the real battles is how quickly the battle begins. Starting only a few kilometers from each other, it does not take long for each side (normally 16 vs 16) to engage one another.
The two main game types in the Arcade Battles (the standard PvP mode) are Domination and Ground Attack.
Domination is a zonal control mode where each side fights for control of the runways on the map. Each player kill results in a loss of tickets as well as tickets lost if a majority of zones are controlled by one team. In Ground Attack, tickets are lost per ground unit destroyed, with bonus tickets awarded if you manage to destroy the other teams' bases.
Domination puts a focus on the aerial combat, whereas Ground Attack puts the focus on supportive team play to protect your bombers to ensure victory. Some ground units can be destroyed with regular guns, but others require bombs or rockets.
Each battle lasts between 10-15 minutes.
If you happen to go through your available planes there is the option to return to the hangar (main menu) and wait for the battle to end, or you can spectate the remaining action. Either way, you cannot enter a new battle until the one you were in originally ends. However, if you have enough planes, you can switch out your lineup and enter a game with the newly selected planes. Once this is an option it allows for nearly limitless/endless action (depending on queue and loading times).
All in all the actual gameplay is superb.
The recent patch brought DX 11 support and an improved soundtrack. The controls are simple and responsive and reward mastery of them. As stated before, skill is the ultimate trump card, if you can manage to fly your plane back to base with one wing, more power to you.
The asterisk on "free-to-play" above is (sadly) there for a reason.
The developers understandably have to make money somehow. Before this most recent patch, there was no sense of a pay-to-win system in place. New planes were unlocked by leveling up your pilot and subsequent research earned by doing well in the battles. Now levelling up your pilot bears zero reward and all in game purchases or advancements are done with the games' currencies.
There are three types of currency in the game; research points, silver lions and golden eagles.
Research points and silver lions are earned by performance during gameplay. Generally the better you do, the more of the currency you get. Yet, you can only use a portion of the research points earned unless you spend golden eagles to "unlock" the remaining points. This "pay-wall" becomes more and more apparent the further you get into the game. As of around 15 hours of gameplay I have yet to need to utilize this function, but it is always suggested to me as an option after every game. I don't mind their pay model, but I can't stand being constantly reminded of its existence.
Yes, you can earn the "premium" golden eagles through gameplay, but only by completing achievements, a process that can take tens of hours to finish. And when certain research takes 100,000+ research points, it is always going to be tempting to hand over a few dollars to speed things up. There is nothing wrong with doing this and because the rewards for using currency will be attained, eventually, through gameplay I suppose it isn't truly a "pay-to-win" game.
The only portion of gameplay that can instantly be boosted by paying for it comes from each planes "crew skill".
The various categories directly affect your ability to stay alive in the game.
If you have zero skill points in Vitality, you will die in a couple of hits, or bleed-out as the match progresses. Have a bomber with gunners? If their accuracy and weapon skill is poor they will never hit their targets and their guns will jam. Things such as reload and repair speeds are affected as well.
You can either buy skill points with the premium currency, or spend the golden eagles to accelerate the rate at which you gain the skill points.
Ultimately, you have to use the golden eagles to advance your qualification for that plane through the ranks, novice-ace-expert. Each new rank makes the A.I in the game perform better in your favor. So, even though the game itself rewards skill, if you are going head to head with someone in the exact same plane as you and their crew skills are higher than yours, chances are they will emerge victorious.
A small but significant enough advantage can be attained through this process to allow me to call it a "pay-to-win" function. However, as this is the only obvious way to increase your chances of winning through real payment, it is way less at fault than many other F2P games.
War Thunder is probably the kick-ass dogfighter you've been looking for.
The good in War Thunder vastly outweighs the bad. The controls, gameplay, visuals and even community are all top-notch. Yes, you will always have the occasional person who thinks it is funny to ram your plane and take you out of the fight, but these rare occurrences don't take away from everything that Gaijin is doing well.
With a solid developer that responds to their fans and with a pay model that doesn't give people who are willing to spend real money an upper hand, War Thunder is probably the kick-ass dogfighter you've been looking for.