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Monday, December 30, 2013

War Thunder: Under the Hood with the New Update

by Rich

It's like shooting rats in a barrel

After reading and hearing some of your feedback on War Thunder, I've decided to take this sucker into the hangar for a look under the hood.  The newest patch for the game (1.37), released on the 18th of December, has completely changed many fundamental systems of this MMO.  The entire leveling and progression system has been redone, flight models for various planes have been tweaked, and the terminology for basic game mechanics has been re-written.  This is as good a time as any to talk about modifications and upgrades, and look into leveling and advancement in War Thunder.

With the new patch, the number of levels has been reduced from 20 to 5, in order to reflect actual development stages of WWII warplanes, as well as their efficiency in battle (a very helpful 5-minute video showcasing these changes is here).  XP, that old reliable indicator of progression, is gone.  In its place are "research points", RP.

Once you unlock a new plane, you'll see in the weapons tab (see above) a whole array of upgrades and modifications.  When these became a part of WT months ago I remember thinking they would be useless, and a waste of precious silver currency.  In reality though, the upgrades are totally worth it.  The vanilla plane you unlock and put into the air is a very different plane when its guns, engine, and fuselage have been buffed.  Upgrades like a new cover will increase your airspeed and climb rate, while others lower the likelihood of your guns jamming or grant you more effective ammunition.  In many cases, like for a P-47 or IL-2, earning experience in battles will eventually unlock the rockets and bombs needed to make your fighter-bomber a true killing machine.  Even the level bombers benefit from upgrades, as the default low-weighted ordnance do such little damage compared to 500- and 1,000lb bombs you finally unlock.  In short, upgrades are very useful, and they are numerous and inexpensive enough that you're unlocking them at a good clip.

Talk to me, Goose.

The new patch has also changed the flight models of many planes, supposedly matching up their historical flight performance to in-game flying.  I can't say whether this is actually happening or not, but some planes do feel slightly different to fly.  There's also been a change in terminology:  Arcade battles remain the same, but Historical Battles are now called Realistic Battles, while Full-Real Battles are called Simulation.

The new patch has also made it necessary to research planes (via RP) before purchasing them with Silver.  Previously, in the 20-tier system, leveling up a nation via air combat unlocked every plane in the new tier for you to purchase.  You might have to grind a bit to earn the silver lions to purchase planes, but (especially as a premium player) this was not egregious.  You earn silver pretty quickly in the game, especially as you become a more skillful pilot.  To be fair, as you get higher in rank and have to pay upwards of 500,000 (or 1 million, in the case of the Tier 20 jets) silver for a plane, you definitely have to sink some time into the game to get that reward.  

Anyone see an aircraft carrier around here?

The silver grind is still present, and still not a major problem, but the addition of RP coupled with a very curious decision by Gaijin has created a monster.  We are now only allowed to research one plane at a time to unlock.  Instead of unlocking a whole hangar full of planes and just having to purchase them, I now can only unlock one. damn. plane.  To mitigate this, the "free" (read: loose/unspent) XP you used to have is now called Free RP, and can be converted to RP.  The catch?  You knew this was coming - converting free RP into a plane you can fly costs Gold, which means your real-life, hard-earned money.  

The defense department wishes to inform you that your sons are dead because they were stupid.
So, how does it all shake out?  I've put a few hours into the new version and here are some impressions:

Graphics are improved, with nicer explosions and fire effects.  Gameplay is largely the same, but air combat "feels" subtly different.  The new flight models are barely noticeable across the board, although some planes (like the B-25 medium bomber) are surprisingly different to fly.  It's really hard to describe, but both myself and longtime wingman Jared both agree that flying just . . . feels . . . different.  And as far as we are concerned, "different" feels a little less fun than usual.  All in all, flying a plane in the digital skies is still a reasonably fun time.

I feel the need . . . the need, for speed!

So that's gameplay, what about the massive changes to progression?  Well, G-R-I-N-D spells grind my friends, and grind is what you get with the new War Thunder.  Experience/Research is gained at an excruciatingly slow rate, planes (especially at the higher tiers) require exorbitant amounts of research to unlock.  Couple this reality with the fact that you can now only unlock one plane at a time and you have a very drawn-out progression system.  Observe the following screenshot from an after-action report of mine:

This is a screenshot of the game of my life - 14 air kills!  That's ridiculous!  No one ever gets 14 air kills!  And those 14 kills got me all of 3188 RP towards my Fw 190 A-8 I'm researching.  Only 127,000 more RP to go!  Only 42 more godlike rounds of War Thunder to unlock one plane!  Are you kidding me?!  Average RP gain is in the 2000s, meaning you will need to eat, sleep, and drink War Thunder to unlock one plane at a high tier.  Yuck.

To be fair, new players will probably not feel the grind as much, because leveling through Tier 3 requires less RPs.  Once you hit Tier 4 and the high-end planes though, you may as well resign yourself to just playing for fun, as you will not be leveling up or unlocking planes anytime soon.

Merry Christmas!  Let's hope that Santa doesn't drive this sucker over your house during the holidays.

What can we expect in the future?  Gaijin have shown themselves to be flexible and to work with their community's input in the past.  Those of us who have enjoyed this game for the past year are sincerely hoping they tweak the research/progression model significantly.  If such a correction happens, yours truly will make sure to put it up on The Outpost for your edification. 

Until then, good luck, and have fun!

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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