For a bit over a month now I have been playing a little War Thunder. Not a vast amount – I have solely played with the UK and am now rank 3. I have played a mix of the early fighters and bombers, and overall I reckon I have enough exposure to offer some initial thoughts. This is just what the title says – first impressions. It is not a proper review. With that caveat, here are my impressions.
There is a nicely done tutorial, teaching you the basics. It only covers the basics however – how to take off, land, shoot, bomb, and so on. It is a very good thing the tutorial exists because the controls are a bit more complicated that ASWD + right and left mouse buttons. Also completing the tutorial gives a small portion of gold, which is a nice touch. The only two negatives I can think of is that all the tutorial missions do actually take a certain amount of time to go through – it could be more streamlined – and that the basic bombing tutorial is overly simplistic. The torpedo tutorial (for example) is much, much better.
I have only played on Arcade mode, but the basic game puts all your planes belong to one into the battle. You select which plane you would like to fly first, and if that plane is destroyed you then select the next one and so on until you run out of planes. You can also change planes voluntarily, though I have never done so. The matchmaker appears to work on the basis of the highest rank plane you have – though my experience is limited. It does mean though that if you expand your hangar to five or six planes it is easily possible to still have biplanes facing Spitfires.
Other than that the basic gameplay is fairly self-explanatory – shoot the enemy. Whether or not you win overall is highly team dependent, but teamplay is also basically non-existent in randoms – except towards the end of a match when relatively few people might be left alive. This can result in some very frustrating matches.
Ultimately though how much is there to say? It is planes flying shooting each other, and shooting ground targets. It feels very aeronautical, the planes feel like planes, and all in all it is really quite enjoyable. There seems to be a fair amount of chicken going on, resulting in occasional rams and occasional flamewars in chat.
My one thing about War Thunder that really bugs me is also really petty. Nevertheless this one thing drives me up the wall. It is the fact the camera keeps panning around your currently selected plane in the hangar. I want it to stay still – yet I have not managed to find how to do so. Perhaps there is something obvious I am missing, but right now this one minor thing really annoys me. If nothing else it is a good example of how little things can aggravate.
The research tree is mostly easy to understand – except when it comes to planes that have multiple ranks. Not something I have to worry about in the near future, but intuitively that does not make sense. There is also a nice big friendly “To Battle” button for when you want to start a match. The buttons to display crew experience and aircraft equipment/research are slightly more hidden, but easy enough to find. The other menus are all nice and obvious, respond quickly, and yet, overall I think the stuff in the hangar is well designed. If it were just not for that moving camera!
When I first read about War Thunder one thing that was mentioned is that the crews retain their knowledge of their previous planes, and mostly one advances crews rather than the planes themselves. This is not quite true, as there are equipment upgrades to planes that do require having acquired a certain amount of experience on that particular aircraft. The crews do retain their ability to fly earlier aircraft and, as far as I can tell, you do not actually sell of previous aircraft – just park them somewhere where they cannot be used.
Aircraft experience is fairly easily understood as it mostly just a counter and after getting a certain amount you can unlock a piece of equipment, but the various crew skills most definitely are not. Well, some of them are – but the difference between “Keen Vision” and “Visibility” is not immediately obviously, for example. Definitely could do with more information here.
The initial rate of progression is, of course, quite fast. The acquisition of silver has not proved problematic, but I have no idea how the economy operates at higher levels. No I am yet paying properly for repair – it appears for your first few battles most aircraft have “free repairs”, but in my next few matches I will discover how much repairs actually cost.
I have flown one single-player mission, which was a fun enough experience. Missions get unlocked as you reach various goals in game, so my initial selection is very limited. It is fun enough, but the rewards were rather pitiful. This is no doubt to ensure that the main pvp game remains interesting, but it does make my first exposure to missions to make them seem very much a bolt-on.
I have only really encountered one glitch thus far. That was when starting a match with a friend, I had a ctd. When I reloaded the game I just went to the hangar whilst my friend continued with the battle. I would have thought it would have made more sense to load back into the battle. Seems like a poorly thought out process.
Money / Beta status
This is not a game I am currently tempted to spend any money on. It is a game which, to some extent at least, claims to still be in beta – but given it is accepting real money and there will not be a server wipe I cannot treat it as a beta-game. Rather it is a game paying for future development with current development which, when you think about it, is the essential model of most MMOs (and we do not say EVE was in beta in 2004, for example). The is a live game with some big aspirations – one of which is to part me with my cash, in which it has so far failed. Partly this is because my money is going elsewhere, and partly it is because this game does quite “click” with me enough.
Generally I find this a fun game to play, but very much in a very casual manner.
The inevitable comparison
Throughout I have avoided making direct comparisons to World of Tanks, but it would be ridiculous to avoid looking at them both together. War Thunder (excuse me, Gaijin Entertainment) and Wargaming are clearly in the same business, if not yet direct competitors (tanks are not the same as planes, after all). That will one day change as both have aspirations to cover both air, land, and sea.
Having played some War Thunder I think I have an appreciation of why garage battles are not yet in World of Tanks. Ignore for a moment the problem of tanks camping the spawn areas (not really a problem in the airspace) or of tanks taking a lot of time to get to the area of action after respawning. There is another issue – matchmaking. The World of Tanks matchmaker is, for most non-SPG tanks, two tiers wide. It used to be wider but they narrowed it, in part responding to player demand. People did not like facing tanks that massively overpowered them. In a garage battle people would presumably play a number of different tanks – perhaps 5. How does the matchmaking work? I think this is superficially easy, but in reality could get a lot of people back in the situation with tanks facing tanks 3-4 tiers above them. Definitely something to keep an eye on.
As for the rest, the only real area where I think War Thunder does something better than World of Tanks are the crews not forgetting which tanks they have been trained on. That is one amendment I would very much like to see in World of Tanks.
I cannot compare War Thunder to World of Warplanes – though I note one is in beta and the other is a live game, despite the propaganda. Therefore I would not expect World of Warplanes to be as good a game as War Thunder right now. Also I get the distinct impression War Thunder and World of Warplanes are going to be catering to slightly different sort of gamer, in terms of realism and the like (even in arcade mode). I do think, however, it is good that Wargaming have this competition now.
That said, despite the talk one finds here and there, I do not think War Thunder is going to sink Wargaming. My experience of gaming the last ten years is dominated by two companies – CCP and Paradox Interactive. I cannot remember the number of times x game was meant to be the “Death of EVE” or y game (usually one of the Total War series) was meant to be the “End of Paradox”. Rather I suspect when all is said and done both companies will be offering somewhat different experiences, and the market will be better for it.