Free To Play Presents: War Thunder

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Free. Free Fallin.

Free to play games have become immensely popular with gamers the world over, and why shouldn’t they? A game, often a very good one, for no up front cost at all, with no need to spend a single penny on the game. If you want to, however, you can and in a few too many cases it can have a huge impact on the game’s balance.

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For the first of my free to play articles I wanted to talk a little about War Thunder; a game that I think hides its free to play hooks very, very well, while remaining and enjoyable game otherwise.

War Thunder was recommended to me by a friend with the following line, “Come on man, it’s free! Plus you get to fly planes and shit!” Both of those things were true; War Thunder is a game that places many of its plane vs plane battles in World War II theatres; Britain, Germany and France among others. Often the maps are fairly plain; simply flat maps devoid of any geometry at all, with a recognisable tinge of green depending on where about in Europe you are.

Some of the more varied maps are much better; landmarks like rivers, valleys and mountains add some much needed variety to the already fun dogfights, while those maps also feature the more impressive texturing and lighting. War Thunder is, when it wants to be, a very attractive game.

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The dogfights themselves are the star of the game though; the flying model in particular can, on occasion, lend itself to some excellent, tense fights with pirouetting, evading and feinting allowing for some spectacular viewing as well. Teamwork is essential; going into War Thunder with a few friends in tow can prove to be the making of the game, having people guarding you as a bomber, or flying in formation with you as a fighter, makes those smaller wins and losses a little more personal.

There is, of course, an element of free to play at work here. As you play and complete fights you gain experience and research points. While the latter allows you access to better planes (in theory at least) its the experience you gain that is crucial to the game. As it grows you can choose to spend it levelling up your crews; the persistent groups that carry over even as you swap to more powerful planes. They level up in a number of ways; G resistance (how well they can handle G force as you turn) Vitality (health) Accuracy and so on. The game does an excellent job of disguising it; but high level crews are noticeably better than low level ones and, of course, you can pay for the privilege.

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It’s a shame because it’s only so often a frustration. As you approach a dogfight only to see “Pilot knocked out” after one shot from a plane of a similar level to you is extremely disheartening, or flying behind a plane that can take upwards to twenty hits to down points to something being off. I understand the need to reward players for their time invested, but the difference can be stark.

The majority of the time, though, War Thunder is enormously fun to play. It captures the majesty of air combat in ways that other games often don’t; the silent gliding of planes in formation before the explosive engagements is thrilling, as are the fights themselves. The game also receives incredible support from the developers; with tank battles a more recent addition (and an addition I’m very bad at) and endless tweaks and fixes to the main game almost bi-weekly.

When I last logged in I saw the count of 80,000 people online and playing; a feat that many games wish they could achieve. Yes it’s free to play; but aside from the occasional clash with that system War Thunder is riotously fun to play, especially with friends.