War Thunder: Ground Forces Review

There’s some fun to be had amongst the severe frustration.

War Thunder Ground Forces is a game of two minds and while it already brings about a choir of trying to figure out if the Ground Forces portion of the game is an expansion or a work in progress, that’s actually not what I’m referring too. The visual attraction that the game strikes you with thanks to it’s accurate details, vehicle models, dense terrain, and superb quality textures, suck you in and play on the part of your mind which tell you that “Pretty games are good games”.

But the dedication that’s required, as well as general interest in battling with tanks across over-sized landscapes with little to nothing within them, requires you to have patience in order to reap enjoyability. And with that being said I feel it’s fair to say that this is a game aimed highly at a specific audience, and isn’t one that’s shy about turning others away. This unwelcoming feeling is present right from the game’s complex menu system, not to mention the registration system before hand.

Logging in to the game via an e-mail address feels unneeded and proves to be a choir, even if you set the default log-in settings to auto-sign in. Anything that puts up a barrier of entry between the player and the actual game is a flaw. And from what I experienced there was nothing in the way of my inbox, that was even remotely related to the game, other than a Monthly newsletter sent by Nvidia, asking me ” Is Your PC Ready for War Thunder?”…I guess my GTX Titan Black Edition, doesn’t make up for the lack of irrelevance that the initial War Thunder sign-up process wasted my time with.

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The visual attraction that the game strikes you with thanks to it’s accurate details, vehicle models, dense terrain, and superb quality textures, suck you in and play on the part of your mind which tell you that “Pretty games are good games”.

Online lobbies can be something of a mixed bag, and depending on servers can be a walk in the park or an instant boot. Once the match begins loading however, the game presents you with a fictional historical background on the match that’s about to take place. Depending on your preference to campaign references in multiplayer games this may prove to be a nice touch.

However, since it adds no actual sense of immersion to the game as your mind automatically switches to the goals and aims of the game, it feels pointless and unneeded. Needless to say alot of the entire game feels way, and in some instances it feels like one big experiment. It’s almost as if it’s trying to be the Arma 3 of tank warfare.

Contrary to an earlier preview I played of the game during it’s earlier BETA, Ground Forces tends to feel slightly shoe-horned in alongside War Thunder due to the busy contextual nature of the main menu, being overshadowed by War Thunder. And although it works well for what it sets out to be, which is a game about blowing up other tanks, it appears a side option to War Thunder, hidden in the right corner of the screen triggered by a toggle option.

War Thunder places it’s entire existence in every aspect of the game’s main menu and Ground Forces seems to pop in and out, only being acknowledged through a background change once it’s selected. The game attempts to merge the two different portions of the game into a seamless system that doesn’t quite work.

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Needless to say alot of the entire game feels way, and in some instances it feels like one big experiment. It’s almost as if it’s trying to be the Arma 3 of tank warfare.

Although the focus here is meant to be placed upon Ground Forces, it feels shoved into a state where it’s been forced to behave civilized alongside War Thunder. Right from the get go it’s clear that Ground Forces has no idea what it sets out to be. Is this an expansion? Is this a standalone game? Frankly I have no idea and I blame this on the game’s main menu.

Switching from Air battles to Tank battles shifts the game’s interface to something that’s completely different, when going into the game’s choices for battle. Going in to the Custom Battle screen I found nothing to be custom. It was but a selection of online games to take place in, that had already had it’s rules and regulations set by other users. This held almost no distinction from selecting the straight forward game mode titled “To Battle!”.

On the other hand, the single-player portion of the game may as well had been a grey box…since there wasn’t any. With Tank battles selected and the expectations for an offline mission for me to engage in solo, I found myself automatically shifted back in to the Air Battles section of the game, where all the missions required planes and fighter jets.

Why was this game mode even a choice if it’s not part of the game in which I wish to experience? Where were the brackets signifying “(Air battles only)” ? There’s not one attempt of synchronization between the two different yet interlaced portions of the two games. And if there is, then it’s poorly designed. This extends largely in to the game’s dynamic campaign which is also oblivious to the section of the game which involves tanks.

What I can’t seem to figure about the game, or lack there of, is why Ground Forces wasn’t just released as a standalone title which implemented online cross-play features with War Thunder. In all honestly it’s impossible to talk about the game without bringing up War Thunder, as there’s a severe lack of identity within Ground Forces. Separate title or expansion?

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There’s not one attempt of synchronization between the two different yet interlaced portions of the two games. And if there is, then it’s poorly designed.

Despite the game’s minor, or mistaken attempt at marketing Ground Forces as a different title, actually playing the game still doesn’t answer this question as it attempts to standout on it’s own, while constantly being dragged back down. Again I blame the menu system.

As the game is free-to-play the inevitable question of “What’s not free?” is certain to pop up. Using a currency system known as Golden Eagles, the game shifts it’s attention from keeping everything in it’s convoluted menu system to your PC’s internet browser. From here you can purchase Golden Eagle tokens using real world money.

The reward for purchasing and then using the Golden Eagles are tied in to the game’s dynamic campaign missions, which increase your secondary in-game currency known as Silver Lions, which are then earned and spent on vehicles, vehicle repairs, armament, and the like. It’s worth noting that when you purchase a vehicle it will then cost an additional fee to train your NPC squad, to drive the vehicle.

Whether this attempts to increase the feeling of immersion by putting you in control of a squadron that you must maintain and look after, or better yet just piss off the player, there’s too much barrier of entry for accomplishing what should be a simple task. Why not cut the middle-man of Golden Eagles and launch the entire game from an internet browser similar to the Battlefield series, accompanied by a real world wallet system that works in a similar fashion to PayPal?

If the game’s going to drag me back and fourth every single time I wish to regrettably pay to top-up my arsenal, why not simplify the process in to one interface? Touching more upon the currency system of the game, it features the options to upgrade your vehicles and crew members through the use of vehicle slots. Within these vehicle slots you can assign and train crew members as well as purchase backup tanks.

The choices for crew upgrades are dictated by their role. This includes the radio operator gunner, tank commander, loader, gunner, and driver. Expanding into these are keen vision, field repair, leadership targeting, machine gun reloading, gun fire, communication, and a short selection more which are only limited by their said role within the abilities of the selected vehicle.

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The reward for purchasing then using the Golden Eagles are tied in to the game’s dynamic campaign missions, which increase your the secondary in-game currency known as Silver Lions, which are then earned and spent on vehicles, vehicle repairs, armament, and the like.

Increasing the scale of what each ability could reach seemed mostly oblivious when actually doing battle, and I feel my own skill level and upgrades to my vehicle had more to do with my progress than the actual changes made to my crew. Visual changes to vehicles are made possible through the use of Golden Eagles with a short selection of decals already available and free to use.

Other decals can be unlocked through the progression of the game, and the player is free to create his or her own skins through the use of a template, which is created outside of the actual game. There’s also the choice of variation between different types of camouflage, which can be adjusted by scaling it’s condition, scale, and rotation.

This is one game where vehicle customization wasn’t even all that fun, and that’s an accomplishment in it’s own right since every game from 2003 onwards involving vehicle customization, have successfully evolved from Black Box Games’ success, Need for Speed: Underground.

This is where the importance of having an interest in tanks play a crucial role, as the only ones who may actually enjoy this aspect of the game would be, for lack of a better word “Tank Nerds”. Also present from this section of the game are the tank’s status and rank. Aspects such as mass, engine power, max speed, turret rotation speed, and the like are viewed within this screen.

All of which, actually do play a role in how your vehicle holds up when taking place in battle. One thing that the game attempts at achieving is an online social existence. For the most part it does well and ticks all the right boxes. It enjoys dragging you out of the game and in to your internet browser to purchase tokens, it’s a multi-player game with a keyboard messaging system, and it displays how many users are currently taking place in battle. But jokes aside this is where the game gets things right.

The presence of being online and urging the player to constantly do battle is forever evident, and the process of upgrading the various aspects of your vehicles encourages competition. And hey there’s also a social connection to your Facebook account should players wish to share their progress with friends.

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The presence of being online and urging the player to constantly do battle is forever evident, and the process of upgrading the various aspects of your vehicles encourages competition.

You can also create your own squadrons and clans with other players, although it be at the cost of Golden Eagles. While Golden Eagles can used for purposes involving the earnings of Silver Lions, it’s best to think of Golden Eagles as the premium account.

Funny enough this is how the game labels the ownership of Golden Eagles, and when spent for the purposes of in-game experience points being boosted, will only last a certain number of days depending on how much of these you purchase. It’s as flawed as it is complicated and is best described through a hands-on experience.

What’s strange about the implementation of the game’s currency system is that it encourages you to play and earn experience without the use of them, but manages to do so in a way whereby it’s constantly in your face that tempts you to make a payment and be done with.

It’s a very contrasting nature that the game holds and it gives free-to-play a bad name. As I’m not particularly keen on the whole aspect of free-to-play games, especially in most recent years where it’s basically a slot machine in hiding, I found this quite interrupting. I’d rather they scrap this false idea of free-to-play and just be honest with what the genre really is. And that is Pay-to-play.

Moving on to a section of the game where I feel most at home is the PC graphical settings. Like every other game is the option to decide between minimum, low, medium, high, maximum, and custom. New to this selection is a choice known as movie, which places itself a step above maximum.

Should the player to choose to scale the game to his or her liking, they’re in for a real treat. Resolution, V-sync, window mode, anisotropy filtering, anti-aliasing, extra AA, texture, shadow, and cloud quality, render resolution, particle density, SSAO, Terrain quality, grass range, and lens flare are just a small selection of what’s available to tweak with plenty more at your demise.

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I feel it’s best to start with arcade and work your way up as you become familiar with how each weapon, viewpoint, and driving system actually handles, before taking things up a notch.

There’s also a secondary menu available titled PostFX Settings. Through here you’re able to tweak the Vignette screen filter, the quality of the FXAA, lens flare, LUT texture, tone mapping, and the range of focus coming from the cockpit, TPS, bomber, and gunner views from the inside of your vehicle.

The selection of graphical settings to adjust is quite remarkable and PC gamers will be pleased with everything the game has to offer, especially since the game looks so good once dialed to it’s highest settings.

Other visual settings the game cares to hand over include the adjustment of HUD elements, font scaling, crosshairs, subtitles, map size, and various player and in-game indicators. One complex system that the game does well at simplifying and making more user-friendly lies within it’s control system.

While the player is free to use a gamepad it’s something I wouldn’t recommended, as it doesn’t offer up enough buttons or control variation from a pair of measly analog sticks when compared to that of a mouse and keyboard. The player control menu splits itself up in to six tabs with only four you should really be paying attention too. Basic, Tank control, View controls, and Miscellaneous are what you should be taking note off.

Everything that involves maneuvering your vehicle, firing it’s assortment of weapons, toggling gears, reloading guns, target locking, and the like, are decided through these tabs.  These can be automatically selected by picking either simplified controls, or realistic controls, which can still be further adjusted should the player wish to make themselves more comfortable with their keyboard setup. Despite the game’s confusing main menu of not knowing when it’s a tank game and when it’s an aircraft game, the good news is that everything from it’s control scheme and visual setup are very user-friendly and a joy to play with.

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Everything that involves maneuvering your vehicle, firing it’s assortment of weapons, toggling gears, reloading guns, target locking, and the like, are decided through these tabs.

But how well does the gameplay fair up? Well this is largely down to your preference on the game’s play style which is decided across it’s realistic approach to the handling of tanks, and in the way it’s weapon systems function. As said previously the gameplay can be approached through three styles of play, appropriately titled, arcade, realistic, and simulation.

It’s easy to guess where each one stands, with realistic being a crossing bridge between the first and last. But regardless of how interested the player may be in progressing and getting to grips with how the vehicles actually control.

I feel it’s best to start with arcade and work your way up as you become familiar with how each weapon, viewpoint, and driving system actually handles, before taking things up a notch. Playing the majority of the the game using the arcade method I found it to be most enjoyable and satisfying in terms of control.

Everything is at it’s most basic here and I was reluctant to change my comfort levels. Where things get interesting however lies in the actual course of battle as the players you may battle against aren’t included in your style of play, and their familiarity with the game is down to their overall time with the game.

There’s a real feeling of dog eat dog world, and your only hope in doing better is to progress through play time. Fair to say this requires patience and practice, and despite the choice of arcade play style, there’s no option to “Run ‘N’ Gun” on a blood-spree massacre like you would do in a first-person shooter. This is strictly team work, time, and effort. And frankly, what you put in you get out, and it’s this feeling of skill and progression that makes the game worthwhile.

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Playing the majority of the the game using the arcade method I found it to be most enjoyable and satisfying in terms of control. Everything is at it’s most basic here and I was reluctant to change my comfort levels.

Similar to other shooters be they an FPS, third-person shooter, or vehicle based, are usual game modes that most are accustom too. Domination, conquest, duel, and, operation. These are all enjoyable in their own right, and while these game modes are most common with first-person shooters it’s the replacement of tanks that give these modes a fresh perspective, as well as giving the game an edge and something that feels new to experience.

While operation is just a fancy name for king of the hill, the game does well in combining both the elements of War Thunder and Ground Forces by having players decide which vehicle they would rather go with, be it on land or air. This sadly enough brings up the problem of the game’s identity crisis.

Is Ground Forces an expansion? DLC? Standalone title? Or an additional section to War Thunder? From the game’s actual website you would be hard-pressed to know which is which, and what exactly you’ll be playing once you start downloading the game’s launcher. But hey at least it’s fun…sometimes. Ground Forces has quite a few questions to answer for, and while it’s menu navigation system is a train wreck on caterpillar tracks.

This huge emphasis on realistic tank battles and the patience that’s involved in its player progression system means it has a strict and niche audience. But in no way is that an indication that the game is bad, the gameplay itself is certainly out of the everyday norm and there’s something to be had here. My only worries for the game lie in it’s adaption rate and the number of players within it’s fanbase being forced to keep the game alive.

This game was reviewed on the PC.

The Good

An interesting perspective on common game modes most known to shooters, along with graphical fidelity sure to take advantage of your hardware.

The bad

Terrible menu navigation in desperate need of an overhaul.

FINAL VERDICT

Ground Forces has some enjoyability to it. It's just a shame it wasn't implemented all too well, since it reeks of in-game purchases and a convoluted menu system.


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