Imagine this: take a version of Microsoft Flight Simulator, with only aircrafts from before 1950. Next, add in multiplayer, sprinkle in some Russian magic, and what’s been created is War Thunder. I loved this game from the very start—I lost an entire Friday night the first time I played it.
War Thunder has iconic aircraft and ground vehicles from the five major countries that participated in World War II. This means that fans of the German Bf 109 can test their skills against British Spitfires and Japanese Zeros; American Shermans and Soviet KV-2s can take on German Panzers.
The game uses a tiered system for unlocks. For every country, the player starts off with tier-one vehicles, meaning biplanes and early tanks. As the player does well in battles, research points and Silver Lions are earned. Research points go to upgrades for the vehicles and progress towards new ones, and Silver Lions are used to repair damaged vehicles and purchase shiny new ones after researching them.
Gaijin Entertainment puts an extraordinary amount of effort into researching the new aircraft and tanks they put into the game. This is something I love about the game, because it offers possibilities for everyone; for example, arcade is perfect for the casual player. It’s easy to hop into a game; the controls are basically point and shoot, and everything is an amazing, chaotic mess. The planes have a higher lift output, making them easier to fly, and all targets have lead markers so it’s easier to land shots on opposing aircraft. I’ve had some good fun with realistic battles, flying in formation with my roommates, and taking on the enemy. It’s a bit more challenging in that there is no lead marker, and head-on ramming is not considered a “valid strategy.” Height advantage and the element of surprise are important here. Finally, there are simulated battles .I haven’t taken the dive into them, but from what I’ve heard simulated battles require the player to fly in the cockpit and have a grasp of how to actually pilot an aircraft.
If I could change one aspect of this game, it would undoubtedly be the tedious grind. It’s not that noticeable in the first two tiers, but once you hit tier three it feels like walking up the down escalator. Let me put this into perspective: just yesterday I had a great game flying as the Americans. I took down seven aircraft, and got three or four assists. But at the end of the battle I got a staggering 1,600 research points. Sound like a lot? The P-51 Mustang that I’m currently researching costs 61,000 research points. Assuming I play as well as I did every game (hint: I get my wings clipped off a great amount of the time) and games take me an average of fifteen minutes, I could research the Mustang in ten hours of gameplay. For a casual player who wants to play with the high-tier turboprops and jets, the goal is simply out of reach.
I could probably write an entire article analyzing the alleged Russian bias. What I will say is that due to the nature of the game, the Soviet aircraft have a natural advantage. Soviet aircraft fly best at low to mid altitude dogfights, which is what arcade tends to devolve into. By contrast, American planes are designed to capitalize on “boom and zoom,” where altitude is quickly converted into speed and then back into altitude, something War Thunder doesn’t lend itself to over the course of a fifteen minute game. Soviet machinery during WWII was also of a notably lower quality than other nations, despite good designs. Since poor build quality can’t be coded into a game like War Thunder, it makes the aircraft seem better than their counterparts.
Complaints aside, I think War Thunder is a fantastic game. The best part is that it’s free, so the cost of giving it a try is zero. Anyone who is slightly interested in a WWII flying game should take a look, because this game could be for you.