War Thunder and the Realism vs. Gameplay Dilemma

Howdy Y’all,

Our group made a solid amount of progress today. We decided upon the Wild West as our setting and Twine as our software. Overall, the project outlook is bright. However, I wanted to use this blog post to speak on something near and dear to my heart, the free-to-play online multiplayer game War Thunder.

In many ways, Russian developer Gaijin’s War Thunder was the game that shifted the flight simulation genre from aviation enthusiasts to more general gamers. Straying away from their niche and highly realistic Il-2 Sturmovik series, Gaijin sought to broaden their player base.¬† War Thunder employs intuitive, easy to learn, hard to master, controls that take advantage of the mouse and keyboard instead of the fabled and largely dead flight-stick peripheral. This control decision, as well as the monetary decision to make it free-to-play, nets War Thunder eleven thousand monthly players on steam. By comparison, the newest Il-2 simulator nets only one hundred and fifty players a month on steam. Therefore, it can be drawn from numbers that stylistic decisions benefit War Thunder as it offers a more fun gameplay experience for more people than the realistic offerings.

Multiplayer is at the core of all the gameplay decisions in War Thunder. Everyone who has seen Top Gun knows that air combat (stylized as “dogfighting”) is an extremely intense and high-adrenaline experience. Coupled with the World War Two setting, which many believe was a golden age (for lack of a better term) for air combat, War Thunder allows players to take part in the high-octane dogfights above the Pacific and Europe with little entrance requirement. Being able to choose from the five major powers, with France and Italy having been recently added, gives players a true sense of freedom and creates interesting multiplayer matches. However, this freedom has been a pervasive, core issue that a community that I have been apart of for almost four years has dealt with.

War is never meant to be symmetrical and balanced. Every day, contractors are hard at work designing weapons that are not only better than their opponents but capable of countering them at every turn. This was on display in WW2 as much as any other war. This creates an interesting issue for a multiplayer game which stresses accessibility. For example, German aircraft in the early-war were far superior to their Russian opponents. Another example, Japan was not the production behemoth that the U.S. was and therefore had to stretch early-war fighters into the late war. This is all rectified in the name of balance. German early-war fighters will often face Russian fighters that did not see service until years later. In the case of the Japanese American late-war fighters face aircraft that never left the prototype phase. This allows games to be interesting and for players to feel like they have a chance to affect the outcome of a match regardless of the plane they choose. Obviously, this is not historically accurate and there have been many heated forum debates on the place of historical accuracy in this game. Personally, I am in the camp that historical accuracy can suffer a bit for the overall balance of the game, but there are hardliners that think the game show maintain historical integrity even if balance suffers in the process. It has been a debate for War Thunder players for as long as I can remember playing the game. Gaijin has protected game balance by continuously updating the game and fixing issues that the community raises. Accuracy is also a major part of these updates, they often change aircraft and weapon characteristics so that they better resemble their real-life counterparts. This continued support means that the developers are concerned about not only delivering a fun game but also the burden that they bare as a historical medium.

War Thunder is not the only game that suffers from the historical accuracy dilemma. In fact, most multiplayer war games will struggle with this in some way, shape, or form during development and post-release. What separates games that survive and games that fail is how well they are able to balance this dichotomy. War Thunder is a perfect example of a game that has been able to balance accuracy and fun, and it has been rewarded with a loyal playerbase.