If you were to ask any teenager with even the slightest interest in military aviation, or just the military in general, if they had heard of War Thunder then you will most likely get a yes from them. Nowadays, it is almost impossible to have not heard of War Thunder or have watched/played it at least once, to the point that saying that this game is influential would be an understatement. Why we visit this title should be more than clear now.
War Thunder is a very different game to others that we have covered in the past, especially considering that we have never covered exclusively-online games such as this. Some of its characteristics, such as the grind that you have to do to get aircraft, or even the nature of the national tech trees, are more than understandable once we comprehend that War Thunder is a "free" game. But today's article is not about the state of the game.
Instead, I would like to talk a bit about what my experience has been for the past two to three months since I started playing War Thunder with a group of friends during our free time. My perspective comes from someone that is used to more in-depth simulation titles and that of someone that got, unwillingly, gifted a couple of premium aircraft in the US tech tree, and a couple of tanks on the US tech tree (Thanks, Riko and Kosmos!). As you would expect from us, our focus will be solely on the aviation side and not on the armored one.
As someone that is used to solely flying by holding a flight stick and a throttle, with a pair of pedals at hand, getting used to the mouse and keyboard controls of War Thunder was a bit of a struggle at first. The immediate lack of physical feedback from the mouse and the use of binary inputs on the keyboard for flight inputs was a bit off-putting.
It is also important to state that War Thunder does have proper control customization, and allows the use of HOTAS and any number of peripherals. It is up to the players to decide what to do and how to do it, but I decided to follow a more conventional set-up that would be similar to those used by most players in the game. The only modifications I made were those that came with Riko's personal keybinds, which I used as a base for my set-up.
Some of my first matches were on my friend's Riko account, which he lent to me, so I could get a grasp of all the basics without the commitment of building my own account from scratch. During this time, what impressed me the most was the nature of the game itself.
Spawns were chaotic, with at least a dozen aircraft taking off from the same crowded runway at the same time. It was a bit overwhelming to try and evade other aircraft as you rolled on the runway, but that is a feeling that faded quickly. There were bigger things to worry about.
GAMEPLAY, THE GRIND AND FRUSTRATION
A surprisingly strong aspect of War Thunder is its gameplay. While a bit unintuitive at first, flying with mouse and keyboard is the best way to do so in Air Realistic Battles. The best way to understand this is by taking a closer look at the gameplay loop that reigns top-tier matches in modern War thunder as a novice in the F-4S or (INSERT PREMIUM HERE).
It goes something like this:
You need research points (RP) and silver lions (SL) to advance in your tech tree.
You go to a match and load yourself with bombs and some missiles.
You take off, call your base and fly straight to it.
You fly as fast as possible to make sure you get the points and the base, not your teammates.
You either get shot down before dropping your bombs, or you manage to survive long enough to drop your ordinance over a base.
If you survived step 5, then you will now engage air targets.
You either get a kill or two before being shot down, or just get shot down.
You go back to hangar
When the gameplay is that fast, and the grind is so repetitive, you don't want to spend an absurd amount of time setting up a HOTAS or anything like that. Mouse and keyboard offer maximum flexibility with the least effort, and considering that most players use it, then it is fair to say this is not an unpopular statement. They make the game accessible and easy to play, while also being precise enough to pull off some nice maneuvers.
The grind will take precedence over everything in War Thunder, even fun. Will you have fun while you grind? Of course, you will. Good matches are more common than you might expect, but you will get some bad streaks of luck that will make you question yourself.
This mentality can be applied to many MMOs and free to play games, which is the other aspect that makes them appealing for a certain population. The grind gives the game a purpose, but to what extent does this purpose justify the amount of money or time you will have to spend to get to where you want to go, well, that is up to you.
The game is much more grind-heavy and time-consuming without premium aircraft and a premium account, both of which accelerate your progress ten-fold. Without them, the game feels like a sluggish and punitive experience, something that was made clear by the constant reminder that you could have gotten more RP and SL if you had premium.
THE FUN MOMENTS MAKE IT WORTHWHILE
Are you familiar with the saying that goes, "everything is better with friends"? Well, that would describe War Thunder pretty well for my point of view. What has made the game worth it hasn't been the passing moments of glory or even the victories against all odds. It has been my friends and our interactions that have made it very much worth it.
Today I had an experience just like that, despite me playing alone but with my friends on an open voice chat. I was about to bomb a base with my Phantom, flying low to avoid being spotted, when I saw six different spots coming towards me as I peaked a mountain. Half the enemy team merged with me in less than two seconds. I took some damage from one of the enemy fighters, and my vertical stabilizer ripped right off. Against all odds, I managed to fly my brick for long enough to drop my bombs on target, destroying the base.
My friends and I laughed, shared a moment. That made that moment special, and made the grind of going back into battle 15 seconds after being shot down a bit less frustrating.
If I can take away a couple of things from my first months playing War thunder, they would be: If you want to get into War Thunder, I would recommend you get into it with friends, and be prepared to spend some money at some point, as premiums are becoming more and more of a necessity as top tier content becomes harder and harder to grind.
About the author:
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000s, leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities, but only started being active around the mid 2010s. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and the co-founder of Skyward ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy