STAFF REVIEW of War Thunder (Xbox One)

Friday, August 3, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

War Thunder Box art It’s no secret that if you wanted to have online tank battles against a healthy community on console, World of Tanks is where you’ve gone ever since the last generation. Gaijin Entertainment wasn’t satisfied having only PC fans enjoy their competitive title though, so now they’ve brought it to Xbox One players while also including cross platform play. War Thunder is much more than tanks though, as not only do you fight in armored vehicles, but you’ll take the skies in planes and also across the seas in naval combat as well. To say that War Thunder is an all-encompassing battle simulator is an understatement.

Better yet, it’s free to play. Well, it will be, but currently in Early Access, you’ll need to pony up for one of the packages if you don’t want to wait until its full release. Since cross play is included against PC players, you’ll have plenty of opponents, and teammates, to play against and alongside (though this can be turned off if you wish to only play with console players). World of Tanks may have had a huge head start on console, but the experience War Thunder delivers is quite a different one altogether.

Much like the competition, War Thunder is pegged as an online military battle game, so don’t expect any sort of traditional, or any really, campaign or narrative. So while you’re simply playing in online matches, the vehicles are from the World War II and Cold War era, and since there’s more than just tanks, but planes and navy fleet as well, there’s a ton of historical weaponry for you to choose from based on your fleet preference.

If you have an Xbox One X, the first thing you’re going to notice is its great visuals. Enhanced for Xbox One X, War Thunder supports 4K resolution for those that can make use of it. Even without a 4K TV myself, everything looks very crisp and sharp in the heat of battle. Exterior damage will show visually, and certain mechanical problems will arise when you become damaged, jamming your tracks, turret, flaps along with another multitude of issues, so damage isn’t just visual, and adds a whole layer of realism. The audio is equally as impressive, as the cannons from each tank sound varied (and I assume authentic), engines can be heard straining going up a hill or dive-bombing in your plane and even the tracks from a tank have a lot of subtle sounds that feed into the immersion.

As soon as you begin your War Thunder experience, you’ll probably run into the same problem I had: being utterly lost and confused with the menus and what to do. It’s clear that this console version was a port of its PC counterpart, so much in fact that you need to move the ‘mouse’ around with your Left Stick and use the Right Trigger, not the standard ‘A’, to select anything. Pressing ‘A’ does do certain things though, so it took me quite some time to figure out that the Right Trigger was meant to emulate the Left Click of a mouse. Confused yet? I haven’t even delved into the menus confusion.

The fact that even this isn’t explained is only the beginning. There’s a lot of menus you’ll need to navigate; a LOT, and it’s not explained at any time where to find things, what they mean or how to do what you want. If you were a previous World of Tanks player, you’ll have somewhat of an idea, as it’s the same premise and layout for leveling your tanks and vehicles, dumping research points into them so that you can move up in tiers, but if you’re fresh into the genre or casual, you’re going to struggle from the opening moments, leading to some early unneeded frustration.

Every tank, plane and boat will handle differently, and there’s a massive amount of button combinations you’ll need to master if you want to become proficient, again, that really isn’t taught to you well. For example, if you want to use your binoculars to spot enemies from afar, there’s a button combination to even do so. Or you’ve put a plane into your lineup and don’t know why it doesn’t let you fly one ever in a tank match? That’s because someone needs to call in air support, which you need to then do another button combination to even take part of this quick air run against the enemies.

My favorite part though has to be when you land a good shot on an enemy, as a small window will pop up showing an X-Ray view of not only where it hit them, but the penetration angles inside against the crew as well. This helps you see where you hit if it ricocheted and bounced off, so that you can adjust your angle, decide to flank or change your ammo type. And yes, there are multiple types of ammo for different situations, something you’ll need to decide on how much to bring into each battle. After dozens of battles, I now know how much ammo I average in a match, so I decide to not bring as much, as it leaves you more susceptible to blowing up and explosions if you’re carrying tons and tons of ammunition.

Up to 32 players can play in a match, and you’re given the option to choose to play cross-network with PC players. This has pros can cons, as matchmaking is usually under a minute with cross play enabled, but substantially longer without. Also, when you’re just starting out and not well versed in warfare, I’ve found that portions of the PC community isn’t very friendly to you as a newbie console player, not that that’s any fault of the game itself.

There’s a healthy amount of maps that you’ll be randomly put into, each of which will require very different strategy and teamwork, from snowy hillsides, to heavily populated residential buildings and barren deserts. I did find though, just like its competitor, is that it’s not uncommon to be placed in a match that’s not balanced very well. Even one person having a tier or two higher of a tank can make a massive difference in a battle, as does player rankings for the experience factor.

The main differences will be depending on where, and how, you decide to play. There’s essentially two modes you can choose from: Arcade, which is just that, quickly played matches, enemies being spotted and other assists. Or, Realistic, which is a whole other ballgame and experience in itself. Realistic doesn’t have any guidance, enemies will kill you without you having a clue from where and teamwork is absolutely essential. I think of Realistic Mode as a racing game without any of the assists turned on in ranked competition, then getting the crap kicked out of you because you don’t know how to play properly. It’s no joke, and will require dozens of hours of dedication if you want to play in this more simulation mode. I even have a friend that’s been playing non-stop since War Thunder has released, and even he is apprehensive about going into the Realistic matches.

Lastly, there is a fun Assault Battle mode which has you and a number of other players playing cooperatively against increasingly difficult waves of enemies that are trying to take your base. These can be very fun, but your lowly Tier 1 tanks will be wiped out quite quickly if that’s all you bring to the fight, so I suggest going in once you have a few tanks of different tiers ready to go.

While War Thunder is all about land, sea and air battles, its bread and butter really is with the ground warfare of tanks vs tanks. You’ll be able to grind to unlock dozens and dozens of tanks, from many different countries; from light, all the way up to heavy tank destroyers or AA guns. Just like its competition, there are also premium tanks, of which have to be bought with real money, but these are kitted out and upgraded and are amongst the best in the game. We were lucky enough to have been given the Elite Bundle for review, so we had access to some premium tanks as well as the premium currency to buy more, and upgrades, with.

There’s a healthy amount of aircraft to choose from as well; not as many as the tanks, but still a fair amount, ranging from standard gunfire to bombers. You’re able to freely choose if you want to play a tank or plane match, but the beta for naval battles is also included. It took some time to figure out how to play these, and even more for a match to populate, but it is there for those that are able to navigate the confusing menus. Currently there’s nowhere near the amount of naval ships to choose from compared to tanks and planes, but I can see these being added later quite easily.

You’ll begin with choosing between a handful of free beginner vehicles, eventually earning XP and able to upgrade them and purchase better ones. Research points are needed to unlock the next vehicle down the line you’ve chosen, which you earn through battle. Money, represented as Lions, is the main currency which you’ll need to hire new crew members for your tanks and aircraft, or to upgrade them to be more efficient. Of course, you’re constantly tempted with a quick unlock with the premium currency, Eagles, and the game will remind you at any chance that you should buy some, either to buy a fancy new premium tank, or upgrade your current one without having to grind as much.

And that’s where you’ll start to notice the grind. If you have your hearts set on a top tier tank, plane or ship, it’s going to take quite some time to earn it by simply playing. The ‘money sink’ is a very easy trap to fall into, especially if you want the better premium vehicles, of which some are only sold in bundles. This means that those with more disposable income will have a head start and easier time from the beginning, or have an insanely cool looking tank that they bought cosmetic items for with their premium currency.

Yes, it’s free to play (eventually), but you’re going to be outclassed with someone that can drop $50 on a super tank that comes fully kitted out. With multiple types of currency, it can become quite confusing on what you should use and when, again, something that’s not really explained all too well. As a newcomer, I know I was quite confused and frustrated trying to figure it out, so I can only imagine others that actually paid for access, only to find out you’re going to “have” to spend more money to be competitive, or dump hundreds of hours into it to be competitive at the higher tiers.

Given that War Thunder is in Early Access, and essentially a PC port, right down to its mouse controls, expect bugs to creep up now and then. I’ve had my ‘mouse’ become bugged and slow numerous times and the game crash at inopportune times, but I keep coming back, as getting a really good match in when you’re on point and making all your shots count is exciting. Yes, War Thunder is fun, but it’s a not just a mountain to climb for its learning curve, but more like a sheer cliff. While Arcade Battles are slightly easier to simply dive into, once you’ve figured out the menus, it can still be quite a hardcore experience, and that’s not even including the realistic mode.

The menu, currency confusion, being outclassed by pay-to-win players and lack of help is very off-putting in the beginning, but it does start to make sense if you can devote the time to learn it and stick with it. It’s not going to be for everyone, and I’d still wager it’s more catered towards the hardcore crowd, or those with disposable income, but War Thunder can be a deep and exciting game in the heat of battle. Once it’s free to play and out of Early Access, there’s no harm in giving it a shot, like your tank cannon.

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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