For a game that came out in fall 2012 it's quite unusual to review War Thunder some 9 years later, but maybe that shows the enduring appeal of Gaijin Entertainment's MMO military game. That said, if you were to show a new player what War Thunder looked, sounded and played like back then they would struggle to comprehend just how small of a game it was and just how much it has grown.
Back in my day...
In the beginning, War Thunder started out as more of a flight simulation game featuring only 200 aircraft in which you would start off with interwar era Bi-planes. Players would gradually work their way through the progressional XP based system to early WW2 & Late WW2 Propellor planes all the way up to Cold War era Jets (Jets being the pinnacle of the game, and they always chose the uber cool ones to keep you hooked).
Players could use these planes in 3 different game modes to suit what style of play and player you were.
"Arcade" - for those who just wanted to hop on, and shoot down loads of stuff whilst all players and plane types were marked complete with a lead indicator so you knew where to aim.
"Simulation" - This was geared towards people who enjoyed games like IL2, DCS and Birds of Steel, a realistic flight sim where you would have to identify enemy and friendly planes meanwhile taking part in set missions/objectives and locked into cockpit view
"Realistic" - Probably the widest played game mode, it was the perfect balance between Sim and Arcade with great flight physics but you still had to spot your targets.
These 3 game modes are still the core of the game today, only now there are thousands of planes through 8 nations but with the addition of Tanks, Helicopters and Ships all of which have been incredibly hand crafted to the most incredible detail.
New Players, Don’t Be Scared
For a new player coming into War Thunder in 2021, initially, it all does look rather overwhelming, but Gaijin have very cleverly placed plenty of tips, tricks and hints all around the game to make it far more inviting. Chiefly, the game includes tutorials for each vehicle category, showing you the basics to get yourself started, and in some cases, you earn in-game currency for doing it too which is a nice little bonus.
The hardest thing for a new player to do is choose what path you want to go down seeing as you have plenty to choose from, but once you have made that decision you're straight into the thick of the action!
Go Solo Or Squad Up. You Decide
War Thunder is one of those games that you can easily sit and play for hours solo, but similarly, each game can generally last between 5-15 minutes. For those worried about the in-game chat box system - used mainly for calling out enemy locations - don't worry. Gaijin are very strict on profanity as the game is aimed at a wide age range so generally speaking it's always a good-natured environment.
If you can rope in some friends to play though, it's even more fun. You'd be surprised at how much some good teamwork can really sway a game . There is an in-game "Squad" system that allows up to 4 players to join games together with the addition of your squadmates being marked on the map as Green to stand out from the usual blue.
You also get bonuses for playing together in a squad with proximity type assists and “Best Squad” rewards which will boost how much in game currency you earn each game. You can also do this as a solo player by enabling “Automatic Squads” if you wish, and it will squad you up with 1 other random person so you both get the benefits of being in a squad without having to get your friends to jump on! But generally speaking, it's more fun when played cooperatively with people, and not just against them.
Last but by no means least, you can also join player Squadrons, which most players would probably associate as like a "Clan". Doing so unlocks a few extra cool features such as being able to research a few qute rare high-end vehicles and access to a pretty cool 8vs8 PvP mode. This 8vs8 mode essentially pits your squadron head to head with another squadron for what can usually be a very intense and competitive battle, especially given that all the results are tracked and players will be keen to see their squad make their way up the leaderboard in hopes of being the games #1 Squadron!
1900+ Playable Vehicles
With nearly 9 years under War Thunder's belt, content is still as fresh as ever. Regular major updates usually occur at least every quarter (most recently Direct Hit) containing a new map or 2 and a whole host of new War machines for all categories and nations.
On top of this Gaijin will host various events during the year (usually 2; Operation Winter and Operation Summer) where you participate in carrying out certain special tasks & objectives on the battlefield in whatever category of vehicle you prefer to play in - all of this works towards unlocking some rare premium machinery that you usually cannot buy (unless you want to fork out hundreds of $$$). So again, there's always something to do or a goal to keep you preoccupied.
There's also a BattlePass system and Daily Login rewards as well which also allows you to work towards unlocking a handful of premium vehicles, usually 2 tanks, 1 boat and 1 plane, but you also get loads of other little tidbits along the way to keep.
As we touched on before, one of War Thunder's biggest strengths is just how well modelled the vehicles are. An important feature for a game that's placing you smack dab in the middle of a realistic vehicular combat MMO.
Not only are vehicles highly detailed in terms of aesthetics, weaponry and performance, they are also designed to behave just like the real thing; and that includes when they get hit by enemy fire!
Modules such as engines, fuel tanks, control surfaces, ammo racks all play a crucial role in the backbone of the gameplay. Rather than having an actual Health pool or Hit points in which we're used to seeing in War Gaming's World of Tanks or World of WarShips, War Thunder's way of doing things is more in-depth.
Let's take the Tiger Tank, for example, you could be parked up on the battlefield in your German Tiger at a nice range away from a few enemy Shermans armed with the classic 75mm gun. Now, so long as you have positioned your tank correctly (commonly known as Angling) you will "bounce" or ricochet pretty much everything they can throw at you. This is usually the case until you come up against someone who not only knows his Sherman inside and out, More importantly, they'll know where the weak spot on your Tiger is, and where to aim to put your tank out of action, or at least, severely damaging it to a point rendering you useless until your remaining crew can repair the tank.
So not only does this system add in realistic style hitboxes to aim for, but it also adds in a level of skill that isn't offered elsewhere. Fantastic if you're the kind of person who really loves to throw yourself deep into a game and learn the nitty-gritty. Don't let this put you off if you're more of a casual player mind because you still naturally learn a lot of this stuff on the fly by purely playing the game.
War Thunder Is Free, But Is It Pay To Win?
Don't let the fact that War Thunder is "free to play" put you off.
It is perfectly possible to play this game without spending a penny, just don't expect to be able to get to your beloved M1a2 Abrams overnight - maybe set your target closer to 9-12 months at best.
This can be sped up by using "Premium". What this does is double your winnings and research scores, now this system is not "pay to win" in any shape, way or form, but more "pay to progress" as it just speeds things up.
You can also buy "Premium Vehicles" for various prices too and they also offer the same bonus rewards as having "Premium".
Again they're not a pay to win asset. Trust me, you could give a brand new player a premium T72 tank or Sea Hawk jet, and they are not guaranteed to just wipe the floor with everyone, in fact, more than likely they'll get crushed by your opponents who have worked their way to the top and know-how to take down these vehicles properly.
All of that is optional, you don't need premium or premium vehicles to play War Thunder as none of the main content, updates, game modes or maps are locked behind transactions.
Is War Thunder Worth Playing? The Verdict -
All in all War Thunder is a completely different beast from the game first launched in 2012. If you're been sleeping on the game for a while, or maybe you're a lapsed player who hasn't played in a few years, it still comes highly recommended in 2021.
With a steady flow of new content, a flourishing player base and plenty more to do this is a fantastic game to play, be it something to do whilst you wait for the next 2500GB Call of Duty update to install or something to really sink your teeth into every day. War Thunder has something for everybody and all occasions.
The unique mix of Air, Sea and Land battles gives plenty of variety to do and let's face it, this is probably the only way you'll get to shoot a T72 with your British Challenger 2 without starting WW3.
All of the above is what has kept me coming back to War Thunder time and time. It's not every day you see a game continuing to thrive nearly 10 years after release, and I'm quite sure I'll still be playing for many more years to come.