War Thunder is one of the most earth-shakingly popular combined-arms warfare games in the world. At the time of writing, around 25,000 people are saddled up in bomber planes, battleships and some of the most iconic tanks in history, pounding shells into enemies while covering their allies on across land, sea and air.
The game features over 2000 playable vehicles spanning from the Battleships that single-handedly swung battles in the early 20th century, to the cutting-edge war machinery used in modern conflict. From the skies above the white cliffs of Dover in the Battle of Britain, to the Eastern Front, El Alamein and - a fan favourite - the verdant fields of Poland, War Thunder's battlefields are a veritable world tour for gamers with a taste for military history.
Big vehicles, fine details
It's a game of fine details. These aren't just driverless vehicles you're chugging around, but ones with richly detailed interiors, manned by living, breathing and named soldiers.
That creates interesting combat opportunities, as you can not only destroy a vehicle by blowing it to kingdom come but by, for example, incapacitating members of its crew or igniting its internal ammo storage.
War Thunder does away with immersion-breaking health bars and gets you to engage much like you would in real battle; cripple planes by shooting off their weak points, pound tank crews into oblivion with rockets and shells, disable the enemy using a mixture of brains, barrage and bombardment.
As you may have guessed already, a big part of War Thunder's appeal is the freedom its game modes offer in creating all kinds of wild scenarios. Yes, you can take part in historical battles that feature only the vehicles that were actually there, but if you want to throw modern tanks into the Battle of Stalingrad or set up some tanks-and-aircraft or aircraft-and-ships battles, then you can (not to mention the cataclysmic battles involving all three vehicle types).
Five years on from release, War Thunder remains relentless in its content rollouts. Its latest update is a case in point. Winged Lions adds Israel as an in-game nation, with an impressive Air Force tree and line-up of 20 new aircraft. Israel also appears as a new map in the game alongside a new mission on the Spain map and refreshed return of old favourite Volokolamsk.
And, in another example of that fine detail we talked about earlier, wind now alters the direction of particle effects like fires, dust and smoke. No longer do the smoke clouds from destroyed tanks rise pillar-like into the sky, but drift realistically in different directions depending on the unique weather conditions during that particular battle.
Different modes for different moods
War games like this may sound a little intimidating, but beyond the fact that it's free to play, War Thunder eases new players in by offering three different modes depending on your play style, or simply the mood that you're in. If you just want to jump in and get bombarding alongside some buddies, start with the Arcade mode, which simplifies controls and displays nameplates above enemy units.
Realistic mode is the middle-ground, making controls a tad more realistic and removing enemy nameplates, forcing you to rely on your senses more. Then at the hardcore end there's Simulator, which limits your view to the cockpit and meticulously recreates the controls for each of the game's thousands of vehicles (naturally, it's best played with a joystick). War Thunder really is a welcoming war sim for players of all levels.
There's never a bad time to jump into War Thunder, as there's always a special mission or event to get swept up in. Right now, as the game celebrates its ninth anniversary, you can join Operation W.I.N.T.E.R, which gives players the opportunity to unlock unique vehicles and decals for their collection.
Whatever your favourite epoch of modern military history, whatever piece of vehicular engineering you've dreamed of driving, flying or riding into battle, War Thunder serves it up to. So grab some friends and jump on in - just be ready for things to get very explosive, very quickly.