War Thunder was an interesting proposition when it was first announced; it's a type of game that players have wanted for years and several developers had tried and failed to deliver. World War II Online tried a similar formula years before, but it was essentially for the hardcore; a seemingly inaccessible game for most. The developers behind the relatively popular IL2: Forgotten Battles/1946, Maddox Games, attempted to bring land, sea, and air combat together during the ill-fated development of IL2's first true successor, IL2: Cliffs of Dover.
At the same time as the announcement of War Thunder, the Belrusian company Wargaming also began planning and developing their own take on the same genre through three different titles tied together on a single account system: World of Tanks, World of Warplanes, and World of Warships. While both Wargaming and Gaijin's titles are F2P MMOs and are direct competitors, only Gaijin is attempting to mix land, sea and air into the same environment.
Currently, War Thunder's air combat iteration is more or less complete enough that it's offering customers the full suite of purchasable content. The air portion of War Thunder is what this review covers. We'll no doubt review the other parts as they release.
F2P AND NOT P2W
War Thunder's business model is the standard free-to-play design for these kinds of games: You can play for free, but it has Premium accounts and content which offer faster leveling and increased income. The principle model of the game is to advance in levels; each nation has a separate experience level, and to access new planes you have to advance up that nations tech tree and reach those new levels using experience accumulated in battle. Once you reach a given Tier for a nation, all aircraft for that nation at that level are unlocked.
Each aircraft also has its own upgrades, which include different ammunition belt configurations, factory fresh engines, additional mounting points for deployable stores (aka bombs and rockets), and a wax polish. These items are individual to each aircraft, and the only way to access them is to get experience with each individual plane, which is gained by flying them. For the most part, this idea is fairly well done, but there are exceptions. For instance, some Beaufighter variants require experience to unlock bomb racks and rocket rails. This is a little daft, as the specific aircraft in question had these as standard. Crews can also gain experience, which can be spent on numerous skills; for instance, making gunners more accurate or less susceptible to the rigors of pulling high Gs over time.
The game play is spread across various modes, but the core is to shoot up the enemy team, capture their bases, and/or kill their AI-controlled ground and sea targets. Depending on the difficulty, the flight and damage models increase in realism, the length of the missions are greater, and more strategy and tactics are involved. Throwing real life dollars at the title will allow you to purchase aforementioned crew experience or in-game cash, making that grind all the more easy to swallow.
A big part of these titles is offering players the ability to level faster and skip the level grind, and War Thunder doesn't miss a beat. It offers a fairly comprehensive selection of Premium aircraft, all of which offer an increased percentage to experience and credits made in battle. Contrary to the Premium vehicles in Wargaming's titles, the ones in War Thunder tell you exactly how much extra earning potential they have. In many cases the Premium aircraft are slight variations on ones that can be gained in natural progression through the game. Some Premium aircraft just offer a particular plane under another nation's banner; it's possible to buy an FW190A5 in IJA livery in the Japanese tree, or a Wellington in Luftwaffe livery and in the German tree. With a few exceptions, the Premium plane offering actually makes a lot of sense, being for the most part real-but-rare aircraft, either because of the number built or the situation they ended up in.