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War Thunder Beta Impressions by Mats "Centurion" Liljeroos http://warthunder.com/ War Thunder by Gaijin Entertainment is an air combat game set in World War 2 and the Korean War time period, and features an impressive almost 300 aircraft to date! And it does not cost a single cent to buy, which would have seemed too good to be true a couple of years ago. The free-to-play concept certainly has proved successful these last few years, and it seems that almost all multiplayer titles these days adopt the free-to-play or f2p concept at some point, with massive boosts in revenue as a result. For the consumer, the f2p concept has some very obvious strengths, the biggest being that no money is required up front, allowing the consumer to sample the offerings for however long he or she wishes. The largest criticism of the f2p model is that is actually free to play, but pay to win, and that the player has to pay to have any chance at succeeding in the game. War Thunder is a free-to-play title, but is it pay-to-win too? And is it a serious air combat game? Installation and introduction War Thunder is currently in open beta, the last major update was version 1.35. The release date for the full version is not disclosed, but there is already at this stage a large amount of content implemented, and the developers have stated that they will not perform a reset of player stats once the full version goes live. The game is available for Steam or stand-alone, but you will have to register an account for the game that will track your achievements. As stated previously, the game is indeed free so the threshold to install the game and give it a whirl should be quite low. The download is about 5Gb in size, nothing exceptional in this day and age. Once downloaded and installed (I went for the stand-alone route) clicking on the game icon will take you to the launcher that ensures that you have the latest version and also offer the latest news regarding the game. Once actually in game and logged on, you are treated to a somewhat bewildering array of menus and a view of you first aircraft for the nation you chose to play for. The choices of nations are USSR, USA, Britain for the Allies, and Germany (which also has Italian planes in it's roster) and Japan for the axis. There is no requirement to actually stick to that said nation, however. The first launch also prompts the player to set up controls and complete a basic training mission.[/size] Main screen Economy After a little while, the menus will start to feel rather familiar, and the UI design is actually rather well executed. The main elements are your player profile, with a separate level rating for each playable nation. A higher level will give access to better planes through the research panel. The planes will, however, cost you which brings us to the in-game currencies. Yes, you read right, there are two in-game currencies: Silver Lions and Golden Eagles. Silver Lions are earned for more or less everything and are not really in short supply while Golden Eagles are the premium currency, and these are generally bought with real money even though they can be earned in-game in certain special cases. The good news is that the majority of the planes in-game can be bought with Silver Lions, the bad news is that certain planes actually need to be bought with Golden Eagles. For the most part, these planes are special cases like captured enemy planes, and I am fine with those being charged extra for. If you want to fly for the USA but still do that in a Bf109 you should be forced to pay in my opinion. My gripe is that USSR players are forced to pay Golden Eagles for lend-lease planes like the P-40 Kittyhawk or P-39 Aircobra, even though these were employed en-masse by the VVS. Be that as it may, there are a lot of planes available for Silver Lions and the planes are divided into logical technology-trees, forcing you to think about what you want to fly not only now but also later on.[/size] Research panel. The planes to the far right are premium planes, avaliable either as gifts or for purchase by premium currency. Once you buy a plane the basic idea is that you receive a second-hand, slightly ragged example that needs repairs and upgrades to operate at maximum efficiency. These are unlocked by flying the plane and symbolic sums of Silver Lions, and do make a difference for the total performance of your plane. Upgrades range from an engine supercharger to new machineguns, and are overall rather reasonable and realistic, and makes the time between level-ups seem meaningful. And they are a great excuse to fly just another mission! Planes are assigned to different slots which each have their own air and ground crew that can also be leveled up, allowing you for example to decrease the re-arming speed or increase your pilots g-tolerance. An almost fully upgraded plane Gameplay There are three main modes of gameplay that will earn you experience points and Silver Lions: Arcade, Historical Battle and Full Real Battle. These differ rather much from each other. Arcade is an all-out furball over fictional, but oh-so-pretty, landscapes. There are no limits on plane nationality and the players can respawn for as many times as they have crew slots with planes. In arcade you also start out in the air and all planes have an WEP (Wartime Emergency Power) boost that can be used for a short while. Machineguns and cannons are reloaded in the air as well, making for some pretty hectic gameplay. If you just want to get in there and have a fast round or two of flying, arcade can be your pick. Because you are allowed to respawn, it can also be a lot less frustrating for beginners. The arcade scenarious are divided into various mission types, ranging from ground strike where the elimination of enemy vehicles is number one priority, to airfield domination where the team wins by holding a number of airfields that are captured by landing on them. Both are good fun and can be surprisingly tactical. The historical battlefields are a bit more low-key, but well made nonetheless. Historical battles are more realistic in the sense that you start on the runway and can not change plane after dying. If you run out of ammo you need to land to reload. The flight dynamics are also more apparent and stalling as well as spinning is a more distinct possiblity, as is ripping your wings off if you try to manouver too hard while having a high airspeed. The maps are based on historical locations and have various objectives. More often than not the game ends with one side loosing all of their aircraft. Historical battles are good fun and better to fly with a joystick since the lead marker that shows you where to shoot in arcade battles is absent, and thus the mouse aim players advantage in accuracy is a lot smaller. Full Real Battles (FRB) are just that: Full realism simulation, with all engine and flight dynamic settings enabled. Mouse-aim is not permitted meaning you need to have a controller like a joystick, since the "mouse joystick" is very counter-intuitive, and you can only view from within your cockpit. In this mode, some kind of head tracking is probably very helpful to keep situational awareness. On an interesting side note, War Thunder is ready out of the box to support the Oculus Rift VR headset, and as you might know the production Oculus Rift is set to be released sometime next year. The latest version, Beta 1.35, has added a new setting, called “Events mode”, which are customized battles with varying settings, for example a specific day of combat during the Battle of Britain where only the historically correct aircraft get to participate. An event. Flying in War Thunder really brings me back to the days of Il-2 Sturmovik, which was the last WW2 sim I played. I'd personally say the feel of the flight dynamics are rather excellent, and coupled with the quite granular hit and damage modeling makes for some very satisfying dogfights. In Arcade mode the flight model is definitively more forgiving and entering a flat spin is damn near impossible, meaning that you can yank your controls around with abandon. In HB and FRB you need to pay more attention to energy management and your planes characteristics. Limping back to base in a shot-up plane to re-arm and repair can be exhilarating in its own right, which is a good testament to both the flight model and damage modeling. I made it! There is also a lot of extra events and special commemorative days that gives players discounts for certain aircraft, and during some events you can even earn free aircraft that are otherwise premium for kills or other tasks. So if you just got a month long slot opened in your calendar, there certainly is a lot to do in War Thunder if you really want to have at it! For those who are not too keen on multiplayer gaming there are some single player missions avaliable, but the AI of your opponents and especially your wingmans leaves a lot to be desired. If you are prepared to overlook that you can fly custom battles, single missions and even a dynamic campaign versus the AI. You can also play these mission with friends allowing for traditional co-op play. Overall though, the game places a lot of emphasis on the multiplayer component. A single mission Controls As I mentioned earlier you can either control the game by just a simple mouse and keyboard combo or then a joystick. There are many different types of ways to set up the controls, so if you have a joystick, rudders, throttle and even one of those trim switch controllers with a lot of programmable levers and aim to fly FRB you can map things like propeller pitch or fuel mixture to these in addition to all the basic controls. I think this is a great approach, as there is something for everyone and even new players that may not own a joystick have a good possibility to just get into the game. One should not scoff at the mouse aim either, because it more than makes up for its lack in turning proficiency for its deadly aim: putting well aimed shots is a lot easier with the simplified mouse control than with a joystick and making small corrections is quite easy. If you want to fly with a joystick you can opt to use a simplified control scheme that has a “instructor” that prevents you from stalling and spinning your aircraft. After going into a few flat spins and crashing because of poor energy management in a P-39 Aircobra you might want to consider this. The author certainly did. In FRB mode this is not available, however. It should be said that the control issue is a pretty big one, since the super accurate shooting that the mouse enables makes joystick flying in the arcade mode a bit impractical if you want to really rack up a good score. Flying with the mouse is still amazingly fluid and you can really feel like a good pilot zooming low over the threetops. Only in the FRB mode does the joystick actually become a necessity. Planes, planes and more planes The plane set is satisfyingly large, and no matter what nation you chose there is a lot of choice. Want to fly a nimble biplane fighter or a lumbering four engine bomber? There is a choice for you. The planes are ranked approximately by year, so you start out with mostly bi-plane designs of the 1930s and move up from there. Korean war jets like the F-86 Sabre and MiG-15 represents the top-of-the-line. And don’t worry, the matches are set by plane rank so you won’t have to take on Me-262s in your I-153 Chaika. There is also a lot of stuff to upgrade for each plane making the time between levels more meaningful. You can also customize the look of your plane by adding decals and changing paint schemes, however the selection of different paint jobs is pretty small and a lot of these are premium meaning they cost golden eagles. Here you can see my P-39Q with two custom decals. If you have a premium account, you can apply up to four decals! The planes are modeled to satisfying detail and feel "right" in the handling. Things like roll and turning rate and armament really does make a difference in the battles and you find yourself researching your next purchase pretty tediously. The level of detail is quite high If you for whatever reason feel limited by the choice of aircraft, you can check the official homepages release roadmap and note that there seems to be plans for damn near every combat aircraft that flew for the various nations. One can only wonder how long it will take before this huge plane set is a reality. Graphics and sounds I have been playing computer games and sims for over 15 years, and I can remember the time the first graphics accelerators came out on the market. By that I wish to say that I’m not very easily impressed by graphical gimmicks anymore, but I’ve got to admit that War Thunder is stunning to look at. The planes are modeled and textured beautifully both on the inside and out, the terrain is rendered wonderfully in full detail and the light and atmospheric effects are like icing on the cake. Flying from inside the cockpit towards a setting sun with light-shafts and shadows dancing around while you look at a misty valley below is almost poetically beautiful, only to be torn apart seconds later by the chattering of gunfire and bursting flak shells. I can only imagine what it will look like while wearing the Oculus Rift. The sounds are also excellent, heavy machineguns have a satistfying "oomph" to them and the sound of cannons like the Yak-9K's NS-45 45mm cannon is downright terrifying. The engines sound convincing and they sputter and whimp when damaged in a convincing manner. And it is all comped by a suitable orchestral sound track that never gets annoying. Ultra low graphics The graphics are excellently scalable and there is even an Ultra Low mode for those with older machines that eliminates most of the graphical fireworks in exchange for a lot more frames per second. I initially run the game on my laptop in ultra low but after some trickery I managed to update the graphics drivers to the latest Catalyst version, and after that I consistently get 30+ fps even on my laptop on higher graphics settings. All in all, the graphics engine deserves the highest of praise! The future Obviously, War Thunders imminent future involves getting out of the beta phase and adding more planes and scenarios. In addition to that, the developers aim to introduce player controlled ground and naval forces. There are some early screenshots of the ground module available, but no concrete details yet. Only time will tell how well these additions will work. The official homepage has a roadmap page which lists planned new features of War Thunder to be introduced during open global beta: The earliest changes: personal statistics; squadrons (clans); enhanced game balancer; new missions, locations and game modes; major update, new menu and interface; further FM corrections; new aircrafts (check the Release Tree section); economic model update; Other updates: localization for more languages; control over ground vehicles and battleships; tournaments; player authored missions, and full mission editor; «World War» game mode; bomber cockpits; voice chat. So there certainly does not seem to be a lack of effort on the part of Gajin Entertainment. In a recent new update they have stated that playable ground vehicles will be added to the open beta during 2013! War Thunder is also scheduled to be a launch title for the PS4. Conclusion War Thunder offers a lot of content for potentially no money at all, so there really is not much negative to say about that. The business model chosen means that progression is a bit on the slow side if you decide to not buy any premium currency to speed things up or invest in a premium account which gives you even more experience points. On the other hand, the slow progression means you get to spend a good deal of time with each plane you get. Ultimately, your enjoyment in this game will not be down to the actual game but to whom you play it with and what your preferences are. Competitive multiplayer gaming is not for everyone, and the game is a whole lot more fun if you have a friend or two in your squad to cover your six. There are frustrations in this game, but so far I have encountered a lot less of them than in other multiplayer titles. Voice communications and a bit of planning can go a long way in this game, and helps you avoid frustrating deaths. Perhaps the best of all is that in the end, it all comes down to player skill. A good pilot can thrive in this game even if they don’t put a single dime into it. Score: Gameplay 4 / 5 Excellent flight dynamics and damage modeling coupled with a wide array of supported devices means anyone can hop into the fray and not be at an disadvantage. The game really captures the excitement potential of the air combat genre and it is all too easy to say to yourself "just one more mission". The only downside is the somewhat lacklustre single player portion, but on the other hand it is great that the developers added it in the first place. Graphics and sounds 5/5 Simply stunning visuals that run smooth as silk, comped by excellent sound effects and music. Overall: 4,5/5 It is really difficult to find serious faults in this game, because it offers so much for basically nothing. And it seems that War Thunder has found that balance that makes playing without paying quite viable while rewarding those that do sink a few bucks into it. I bought a premium plane just as much for the better stats it offered as to support these developers, and the future certianly seems bright for the title!