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Monday, November 11, 2013

Spotlight: War Thunder by Gaijin Entertainment

by Rich

"War Thunder is a next generation MMO combat game dedicated to World War II military aviation, armored vehicles, and fleets.  You will take part in all of the major combat battles, fighting with real players all over the world."

War Thunder is perhaps the most enjoyable flight simulator that you will ever play.  There's something for everyone here: whether you're a seasoned air combat ace with hours of classic games under your belt - or a rookie flier who might feel more comfortable playing real-time strategy games or Battlefield, there's a War Thunder for you.  War Thunder also supports many different playstyles: you can fly high and paste ground targets with level bombers, swoop in for the kill through enemy flak and fighters in a dive bomber, mix it up in a tight-turning dogfighter, or go hunting for the big dogs in a heavy fighter.  Combine a fun flight model with truly jaw-dropping graphics and epic sound effects, and you've got a winner.

War Thunder is also free to play, although you can easily buy-in to the game for $20 and set yourself up for quick success.  War Thunder is currently available for the PC via Steam, but will also launch with the PS4 this month.

"Leave the flaming fighters, it's the bloody bombers we want!"

The Basics:
War Thunder features 5 playable nations: USA, Germany (which also offers Italian planes), Russia, Great Britain (which also features a few Aussie and French planes), and Japan.  Early level planes are pre-WWII biplanes and monoplanes, top-level (level 20) planes are Korean War jets.  You start with the ability to field up to three planes from each nation, although extra slots can be purchased for each nation by spending silver lions (the main in-game currency) or golden eagles (premium, real-money currency).  When you take a nation up to fight a battle, you will earn both experience (for that nation only) and silver (for general use) depending on what happens during combat.  Score a few hits on an enemy, get silver and XP.  Shoot down 3 planes in a row, get a nice bonus.  You get the idea.  

An IL-2 gets a rare bomber kill.

Once you've flown a mission or two, you've got the basics covered.  At this point I should mention that the difference between being a premium member and being a simple, free-to-play type player becomes quickly noticeable.  Premium members gain twice as much XP, and 50% more silver, than regular players.  In other words, you can play WT and never spend a penny on the game . . . but leveling up and unlocking new planes will take twice as long as it would if you were a premium member.  Fortunately, it only costs 100 gold to be a premium member for a day, and you can purchase 5000 gold for about $25.  IMO, the premium is totally worth it.

"You can teach monkeys to fly better than that."
The simplest, most intuitive control scheme for the game is called "Mouse Aim."  If you've ever played a space combat sim, you will be at home with this setting.  The keyboard controls targeting, bomb- and rocket-dropping, throttle (if you wish), and camera views.  The mouse steers your plane and fires your guns.  Point the mouse where you want your plane to fly, and it will turn, climb, dive, or zoom there according to semi-realistic flight attributes.  A heavy bomber like a B-17 will take longer to turn than a single-engined ME-109 fighter.  As you play the game, you get to learn the flight characteristics that separate each plane (and, to a degree, each nationality).  Taking advantage of what your plane does best is the first step to victory.
Those of you with a game controller or joystick will be able to plug and play as well, if that's your thang.

I'm going down, but I'm going to take a couple tanks with me.



There are 3 ways to play War Thunder: Arcade, Historical (HB), and Full-Real Battles (FRB).  Having only played the first two modes, I feel I should stick with them.  It's worth mentioning that FRB tries to be what it says: a very realistic flight sim.  You are limited to cockpit view, there are no icons for friendly or enemy targets, and the plane handles like a real plane should.  Hard-core sim enthusiasts, eat your heart out.

Bf-109s are just glorious.

Arcade is the go-to mode, the one most players are using at any given time.  Jump in, make your plane dance around the sky, dive from 20,000 feet straight down to the deck at 650mph and drop a bomb on the top turret of a tank.  When you are within lethal range of your guns, an aiming reticle appears in front of your victim, and you simply line up your crosshairs with the reticle and watch your enemy go down in flames.  Unlimited ammo (you can reload in mid-air!) means lots of kills, and if your machine gets shot away you can just respawn in another one.  These games are often long, crazy, full of adrenaline and killstreaks, and some pretty spectacular moments.

Especially when you unlock the extra wing-mounted cannon.

Historical Battles are for the connoisseur.  Your plane handles more realistically than in AB, without the micromanagement of FRB.  Icons and different views are all activated, but weapon reloads and respawns are gone.  In HB, tactics matter a lot more than loadout.  A typical HB involves climbing as high as possible, picking out targets below, diving down and unleashing a barrage (so-called "boom and zoom"), and then returning to high altitude.  Limited ammo means waiting until you can see the whites of your enemy's eyes to shoot, making for a very tense experience.  HB is the most rewarding way to fly for yours truly, as it is just enough of a challenge to be worthwhile, while still allowing you to rack up serious XP and silver due to the higher difficulty level.

A flight is ready for takeoff.
Graphics and Sound 
War Thunder is a beautiful game.  Clouds are volumetric, offer real cover, and differ in shape, size, and depth/altitude.  Planes are very detailed, down to the rivet.  This is especially noticeable in cockpit views, which are spot-on replications of the real thing.  Shell casings fall from your blazing guns, realistic damage not only affects the look but also the controls of your vulnerable craft, and disintegrations are rendered in the most beautiful and unpredictable of ways.  Sunlight filters through clouds, mountains, canyons, and - if you're low enough - trees in convincing patterns.  Take my word for it, you've never seen a sim like this before.

Sound quality is very good, if less stunning than the visuals.  The first time I flew the tier-9 P-47 Thunderbolt for the USA, I might have giggled like a schoolboy.  That thing sounds like a hot rod in the sky.  Meanwhile, flying the twin-engined British Wellington (a medium bomber) makes my floor vibrate a little.  Gun sounds, unfortunately, are very bland, except when it's a REALLY big stinking gun!

"Negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full."

One thing that I, an MMO noob, really like about the game is the strong community.  Every week, Gaijin runs a promotion for the game.  Most recent example: For the 69th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, they reduced the cost of buying Japanese Zeroes and American F4F and F6Fs by 10%.  These kinds of things happen every week, especially if the event can coincide with something important that Russia did in the war (Gaijin is proudly . . . VERY proudly, Russian-owned).

It's easy to shoot down a plane if you have a big gun, even if that gun was almost never used in real life.

The Future:
In subsequent articles, if y'all are keen on it, I'd like to break down specific nationalities strengths and weaknesses and talk tactics.  If there's anything you want to hear more about, leave it in the comments and we'll definitely get something going.

This guy wrote a check that his body couldn't cash.

As I mentioned, this game is constantly evolving.  You will have noticed in the blurb from Gaijin that the game involves "aviation, armored vehicles, and fleets."  As of November 2013, airplanes are the only human-controlled vehicles in the game.  Soon (probably by December), the ground forces will roll out . . . but that is another post for another day.

Good luck and have fun!

"You can be my wingman anytime."
". . . You can be mine."

Ever since watching "Top Gun" as a 10 year-old, Rich (sylvansealy on the forums) has dreamt of flying the not-so-friendly skies.  Poor eyesight may have kept him from being Maverick's wingman, but it did not keep him off the highway to the digital danger zone.  Rich's fondest early video game memories revolve around the classic "X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter", flight sims, and real-time-strategy games. When he's not gaming or juggling his 4 kids, Rich can be found co-hosting the Outpost 309 podcast with Jared every few weeks.


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