Gaijin Entertainment’s World War II dogfighter, War Thunder, has just passed its first anniversary on PlayStation 4, with the free-to-play title releasing as as launch title in Europe for Sony’s black behemoth. An overlooked game if ever there was one, War Thunder offers a comprehensive line-up of fighter aircraft and tanks, huge customisation options, large-scale land and aerial battles, plus some of the most sumptuous visuals seen on PS4 to date. In short, this is plane porn, and if you’re a WWII flight sim aficionado, you could do a lot worse. The tanks aren’t half bad either, and with the promise of naval forces in the not-too-distant future, War Thunder certainly has a lot going for it.
Still, its launch wasn’t perfect. The PS4 version was legions behind its PC counterpart in terms of updates, and it took until June 2014 to see release in the U.S. and introduce the much-requested cross-play option. Now that the dust has settled and gamers have been getting to grips with their Spitfires, BF-109s, and Yaks, how does War Thunder deliver 12 months on?
Let’s examine Gaijin’s dogfighter and see how it’s done in the past year.
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One of the most important elements that has seen much improvement is the plane roster (we’ll get to tanks later). While the line-up back at launch was nothing to turn your nose at, Gaijin has really fleshed out the amount of flyable aircraft for all countries, particularly Japan, which was often seen as the nation that got the short end of the stick—it only had one jet after all, and that was effectively a re-skinned Me163. Nowadays, each nation has been bolstered by an assortment of new fighters, attackers, bombers, and jets. The Brits have a multitude of new Spitfires, the Germans have received some brutal new jets (including a devastating version of the MiG15) and FW-190s, Russia’s tech tree has been fleshed out even more, the U.S.A.F now has a huge amount of bombers, various Cobras, and new jets, and Japan now has some decent higher-tiered aircraft. And that’s not forgetting the new premium planes now up for grabs. Back at launch, there just didn’t exist this amount of diversity in each nation’s lineup, and while it’s obvious some countries still haven’t received as much love (Japan is still lacking compared to the likes of Russia and Germany), War Thunder’s aircraft offering packs a much bigger punch.
The performance of every aircraft in War Thunder has been poked, prodded, and tweaked to high heaven. Whether it’s adjusting the rate of climb a plane has, its top speed, or how well it turns, Gaijin Entertainment is constantly updating the performance of its aircraft to more closely match the aircraft’s real-life counterpart. Well, that’s in theory at least. Some planes handle like a brick with wings despite constant updating, while others are far more responsive. Take the Beaufighter, for example. This British fighter-bomber was colloquially dubbed the ‘Broken Fighter’ during its infancy due to its ridiculously superior handling, which for a heavy, twin-engine plane, was laughable. There’s still footage online of it enduring all manner of punishment while cruising along happily, dispatching multiple, nimbler fighters with its 20mm cannons. Naturally, this sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore, with Gaijin having updated many aircraft’s flight models after launching them with ‘stock’ FMs that don’t really have any place on the tech tree. Overall, there’s a much more realistic representation of turn fighters and energy fighters, and bombers and fighter-bombers have toughened up while performing like the slow, lumbering beasts they are.
It’s not just the vehicles themselves that have received plenty of tender loving care in the 12 months since War Thunder’s launch. Gaijin has also given the user interface a much needed overhaul, from aesthetical touches to more practical improvements that facilitate menu navigation and getting yourself into a match quicker. For starters, it’s now much easier to flick through the tech tree thanks to new button assignments, and customizing your plane, viewing its various attributes etc, are all much more seamlessly integrated. Gone are the days of fiddling around dodgy menus with barely-discernible text. Furthermore, hopping into a match of your choice is even easier; hit triangle to bring up a quick, clean menu to flick between arcade, realistic, and historical battles for air/land encounters, and hit square to join the queue.
TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
One of the most significant additions that War Thunder has received since launch is the addition of tank battles for those of you who prefer your encounters firmly planted in the mud. This isn’t an afterthought, either; Tank Battles are just as much a part of the package as aerial dogfights, and before long, we’ll be seeing Naval battles join the ranks. Right now, you can pick between German, Russian, and American forces, although there’s more than enough vehicles to keep you entertainment, from light, medium, and heavy tanks to anti-air vehicles. Tank battles are another kettle of fish altogether, and like flying planes, there’s plenty of nuance to the experience as you master the intricacies of aiming, maneuvering, and aiming for an opponent’s weak point(s). Not only that, but the chance to quickly transition from a tank to a bomber and take out opposing ground forces is a great buzz, and offers a sense of cohesion between the two factions. In short, Tank battles are a mighty addition and just as gripping as dogfighting in the skies above.
PS4 AND PC CROSS-PLAY
This is the big one. To put into context just how important the addition of PS4/PC cross-play is, listen up. Back when War Thunder launched, I noticed that you would typically get around 1500-1700 players online at anyone time, and roughly 60-80 games going on. That equalled rather a lot of sitting around and twiddling your thumbs to get into a match, even just a regular lower-tier arcade battle. Nowadays, there’s in the region of 80,000+ gamers online and roughly 1600 matches taking place. That’s a massive step up, no? As you can imagine, it doesn’t take long to get into a game regardless of what tier you are, and I’ve only had to wait anywhere between 5-30 seconds for arcade matches, although the Realistic Battles take a while longer, but by no means force you to endure the copious waiting times prior to the cross-play update. Outside of this, you also get a significant amount of players in each battle, with very little need for the game to throw in a few bots to make up the numbers; back in the pre-update days, about 1 in every 3 games would consist of half the team made up of AI-controlled bots who were easily dispatched with a volley of machine gun fire. This is rarely the case anymore. Of course, more players means more ramming-crazed newbies who don’t have a clue what they’re doing, but conversely, you’ll also sample a few of the hardcore flight sim PC crowd, which makes for some grueling matches as you pit your skills against the best.
To put it more succinctly, War Thunder is now better than ever and easily one of the best PS4 games out there, so strap yourself in the cockpit now or miss out!