War Thunder is a muli-platform vehicle-battle playground that allows air, sea, and land warfare with a rather large list of upgradable transportation. Equipped with the ability of PVP, battle reenactment, beautiful explosive destruction, a leveling system (not to mention that FREE price tag), War Thunder has: Everything we have seen before. So why was it so addicting?
The action packed sequence of skies crowded with warships and tanks running over trenches while track-crushed dirt sprays into the simulated eyes of the camera in the background of the installation screen really gets one pumped to fly in and get gritty. This is, of course, taken with caution as a non-gameplay sequence can be anything but alike to the actual gameplay, especially in hyped war-based games (I’m looking at you, Battlefield: Hardline).
Finally jumping into War Thunder, we have a few options to choose from including country and whether you prefer air or land vehicles. Making your selection, you are then thrown into a basic quick tutorial then nudged from your nest into the Arcade which you can begin working with other players to complete your objective. The game objective ranges from capturing objective or assaulting AI ground forces all while protecting your own forces from enemy players and destroying them in the process. Aside from the Arcade, there is also a Realistic Battle mode is presented in relation to the name of the mode itself as the damage physics are more realistic and vehicle movement reflect similar to the actual historical vehicle it is modeled from. This includes simulations to historical battles such as defending Pearl Harbor from Japanese fighters or the Battle of Midway. Sporting 80 maps is a surefire way to provide many different scenarios which will keep growing.
Starting out, I chose Aviation within the Japanese region in hopes to fly a Type-5 Kawasaki Ki-100 into anything but the ground (due to the realistic controls, of course). It was immediately apparent that the controls were extremely easy. In the beginning, the arcade air battles I started with were slow and the dogfights I attempted to engage were extremely boring. The “Intuitive” control scheme for flying my plane seemed useless and whipping the craft around fast enough to retaliate machinegun fire was apparently impossible.
From this first hour, I assumed this was a “Pay to win” situation where I would finally get the agility I felt I needed in order to be effective during matches let alone have any fun. That feeling soon fell short when I realized that I was not utilizing the points I received from completing objectives on upgrading my aircraft. Engine throttle, Radiator, Defensive Turrets, and a new MG were not the half of the upgradable modifications that were able to be applied to the aircraft which, from this point on, truly changed my game experience. The changes were quickly noticeable as my craft went from the agility of a chicken with a brick strapped to its back, to an eagle who had just mastered gymnastics and crushing beer cans on the heads of its enemies. And that is what I did: crush my enemies with joyful ease. Realistic variables during dogfights surfaced as I found that shooting an opponent’s fuselage while tailing too close would spatter fuel on your screen, banking too sharp without decreasing engine speed will bring a vignette on your screen indicating your pilot is blacking out, Incendiary rounds can easily ignite aircraft fuel tanks, and crew skills such as pilot stamina play a part in how many G’s your crew can take and still have stable control of the aircraft. All the little things will pop up like a fly in your rear-view and each one seemed to put substance to the detail of gameplay.
After Immersion, a pattern soon became apparent during online play of completing a match, upgrading your ship, completing a match, waiting for your crew to cool down, rinse and repeat. I became impatient waiting for my crew to “cool down” as unfinished matches must be completed before you are able to jump into the next match. I felt this was the turning point where I would have to pay some premium price in order to not feel that I was limited on playing War Thunder since it had sported a free price tag. That was, until I realized that I had only played a quarter of the game as a metaphorical tank tread left an imprint on my attention span.
Tanks. There are tanks. I had mastered mediocrity of piloting and completely forgot that War Thunder is a trifecta of Land, Sea, and Air warfare. Tank battles produced an entirely different style of gameplay where focus strived away from attempt to destroy the other vehicle, to prioritizing the destruction of the crew within the opposing tank; remember kids, a disabled crew is a disabled tank, and at half the cost of ammunition too! Tank warfare presented a great mechanic that will show a 3D X-ray style heat map of the effects of your shot on the enemy tank each time you shell strikes the opposing metal. Enemy tank type knowledge and shot placement becomes an important factor when attempting to maximize effectiveness of your shots against a regime that squares up when attempting to capture your objective. Decisions such as tank tread disablement, cannon traction targeting, disabling the engine block, or going straight for the crew are all quickly strategized based on number of enemies in the area, your visibility to the enemy, and of course your own reloading speed. Reloading speed too slow? We’ve learned that a good ol’ fashioned upgrade’ll take care of that!
There is a laundry list of war games to be played and if you want to shoot down planes and drive a tank into your AFK teammate until they are stuck in a ditch, it’s not very hard to find a game that will fit that criteria. However, what War Thunder brings to the table is uniqueness and polish, which most freemium games do not typically hand over right out the hangar gate. In War Thunder, you can shoot planes down like other airplay shooters except you can do so in your favorite historical aircraft with a multitude of variance and in style. In War Thunder, you can ram your tank into your AFK RichardHead69420 until his tank is stuck in a ditch like in other land shooters and dump a smoke bomb on the hood, but you can also use your included hitch to redeem yourself from online toxicity and pull Richard out of that ditch. And possibly into the river across from the ditch, because you have not learned your lesson and think it would be funny to see Richard’s tank turn into a submarine. War Thunder appears to be as basic as every other war game, and it essentially is just that when looking at the surface, however you will soon see that there are hundreds of unlockables (and each upgradable), realistic gameplay, and the inclusion of a countless little things (such as a Towing Rope to troll RichardHead) that are not required to have fun, but definitely add to the pool of joy and all without requiring you to spend a cent.