Hands On: War Thunder Ground Forces Closed Beta

Are we all going to the same war? We could have carpooled.

So, here’s a quick refresher: World of Tanks had tanks and War Thunder had planes, and then World of Warplanes had planes so now War Thunder Ground Forces, currently in closed beta, has both tanks and planes fighting in the same world. I feel like these free-to-play World War II MMOs are in an arms race, and soon they’ll be adding submarines and blimps and, I dunno, flying saucers. Anyway, if you’re wondering if Gaijin Entertainment is as good with tanks as they are with planes, I just spent a couple days rolling around in the Ground Forces beta to find out. Let’s tank a look, he said, vowing it would be his only tank pun.

Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads.

The best way I can sum up Ground Forces is: it’s War Thunder, but now there are tanks. There’s really no adjustment period, everything still works the same, the tanks don’t feel shoehorned in, or out of place. It’s still the same game, except, you know… tanks. There are few different types of missions, but as in the plane portion of the game, they all basically boil down to two sides squabbling over control points. War Thunder’s three familiar game modes are also present: arcade battles with plentiful respawning and extra-helpful UI targeting elements, realistic battles (formerly historical battles) with scaled-back UI and limited lives, and simulator battles, with no third person view and no on-screen markers.

Damn commuter traffic.

Currently, only two of War Thunder’s five countries are tank-enabled, Germany and the U.S.S.R, each with a light starter tank and several different branches of progressively sturdier vehicles to earn. The level of detail is on par with the planes, which is to say, the tanks look very nice.

The controls are straightforward, and the arcade matches tend toward the action-packed side, with tanks speeding all over the map, firing constantly, and of course, lots and lots of ramming. In realistic mode, matches tend to be a bit more restrained and tactical, with players concealing their tanks behind boulders and hillsides, poking their snouts out just enough to spot the enemy and send a few shells their way.

Part tank. Part truck. All man. Er. No man.

These realistic matches are generally better and feel like a dangerous game of hide and seek, rewarding the more patient players and punishing those who try to conduct a tank derby. There are a few destructible elements on the maps, like stone walls, though I hope in the future there will be more objects to blow up, especially when someone is trying to use them for cover.

Think I'll wait behind this rock until... 1945.

As with War Thunder’s plane combat, taking damage doesn’t simply mean a health bar gets chipped away. A lot can happen when your tank is hit, depending on where it’s hit, and by what. Occasionally a single shell will completely destroy your tank or kill your crew, but other times your tracks will be damaged, or your suspension or transmission will get fried, or you might simply catch on fire. Some damage is fixable (at the expense of movement, leaving you quite vulnerable for long, nerve-wracking seconds), and sometimes a member of your crew, like the gunner or driver, is knocked unconscious, slowing your firing rate and reloading speed until they recover.

Henderson, what's the smell? Are you smoking back there?

There are only a couple of maps in the rotation, which actually works well for a beta that only operates for a few hours a day. After a handful of matches it becomes easy to memorize the best positions, the bottlenecks, and the trouble spots, and to learn where the enemy tanks will rush from and where they’ll take cover. Flying planes in these missions didn’t feel much different from normal War Thunder business: ground fire is ground fire, and it’s hard to tell if you’re being shot at from an A.I. anti-aircraft gun or a human player.

Shooting down a player-flown plane with your tank, though? That is a crazy amount of fun. You can unlock a few vehicles that specialize in anti-aircraft fire, like the GAZ-MM (a truck with an anti-aircraft cannon on the back) and I suggest you do it as soon as possible. That’s mostly what I spent my time doing, because shooting down planes from a tank is even more fun than shooting down planes from a plane.

I want my gear in top shape when it gets blown to hell.

Of course, propping up all this tank-on-plane-on-tank combat is War Thunder’s elaborate network of experience points (apparently now called research points, or RP), Silver Lions (the in-game currency, earned while you play) and Golden Eagles (bought with real money and traded for in-game currency), and all the menus, sub-menus, upgrades, progress bars, and sliders that come with it.

Keep in mind that using RP to unlock a new tank doesn’t mean you have a new tank. You still need to buy it (with Silver Lions), and naturally, buying it doesn’t mean you can drive it. You need to hire a new crew (with Lions) or train an existing crew (Lions again) on how to operate your new tank. If you’re out of Lions and just can’t wait to earn more by playing, that’s when you punch in your credit card number and buy some Golden Eagles.

Nobody laugh at my rusty butt!

Another thing to keep in mind: your tank, while new to you, is by no means a shining, polished piece of state-of-the-art technology. It’s rusty and dingy and and while it’ll get you around the battlefield, it needs improvement in all respects, like mobility (suspension, brakes, engine), protection (fire suppression, camo, armor), and of course, firepower. Don’t forget your crew, either, the same crew you just plunked down a couple thousand Lions for. The driver, loader, gunners, and commander can (and should) be upgraded so they’ll drive better, load faster, repair quicker, and spot enemies more easily. Naturally, just about all of this slider-sliding and upgrade-ifying can be sped up with an infusion of actual currency.

What, no slider for joie de vivre?

Not that spending a few bucks on the game is a bad thing. When I played the plane-only version some months ago, I spent about $15 buying Eagles, and I have no regrets. War Thunder is a lot of fun, and from what I’ve seen in the beta, Ground Forces will make it more so. I wouldn’t push anyone to spend real money on a pricey premium tank pack just to get into the closed beta, but when the beta opens up, I would absolutely recommend spending a few hours, and maybe even a few dollars, getting your tracks dirty.

Screw the control point. Imma shoot me some planes.


  1. Cinek says:

    UI is crap in the game (there’s basically no UI – most of the important informations appear on a screen as a text without any graphical representation o_O) and the it feels very much like an alpha version (plenty of functionalities missing, game does everything to hide an important information from you, no way to compare tanks side-by-side, or find out what exactly are the bonuses you get from your crew training) but overall? It’s extremely fun game with tons of awesome features that you won’t really find in other games (SPAAs are one of my favorites). Can’t wait to see more tanks in and new features implemented :)

    • P.Funk says:

      “(plenty of functionalities missing, game does everything to hide an important information from you, no way to compare tanks side-by-side, or find out what exactly are the bonuses you get from your crew training”

      One might suggest part of the game is playing long enough to figure out these stand off figures yourself. Even in the real war pilots and crewmembers often scoffed and derided their new mounts before coming to understand their value as they actually used them in combat.

      I know, its a shitty arcade game, but still I see it as no different than having to learn a new map in CS to know how to not die.

      • Cinek says:

        By that logic – they might hide everything, including upgrade progress bars, and just let us randomly guess what we’re upgrading. Cause you know – we’ll figure it out on a battlefield.


        • Emeraude says:

          You laugh, but for some of us, this is actually game candy.

          I have full notepads of reverse-deciphering the mechanics for some Kawazu games for example.
          And really that’s something I really miss from old school gaming the “throw the player in the thick of it and let experimentation follow its course” approach.

          That and manuals, paradoxically.

          • MellowKrogoth says:

            I too love that feeling of ending up in a mysterious place run by mysterious rules in old-school games! Figuring things out yourself (or by sharing with others) instead if being drip fed is IMO an important part of Minecraft’s success.

            This said in a competitive multiplayer game, it’s a bit more frustrating as you get your face run into the ground repeatedly by people who know the game better than you. It makes the moment where you finally come out on top really satisfying, but sometimes it’s just too much.

          • Cinek says:

            Emeraude – you sound like someone who really needs to find himself a hobby if you have so much spare time to waste of things that other games show you right at the beginning cause the game is about something different than discovering meaning of elements in the interface.

            It’s a computer game. I want to have all of the necessary informations on a screen so I could enjoy combat, tactics, and gameplay itself. Doing shit the developers should have done is totally ridiculous. And there’s IMHO absolutely no excuse for things like lack of proper descriptions on a crew skills when you cannot reset them and progress is so slow that you never notice a difference after upgrading it by few points out of a hundred.

          • Emeraude says:

            @Cinek: I have one. It’s called games. You know, that unproductive things people do on their spare time to idle away the hours in a pleasurable fashion ? You play them you way, I’ll play them mines. (Had you put bit more attention in your reading, the missing manuals bit might have better informed your answer: I don’t play games only one way. Hopefully you don’t either, variety is the spice of life they say).

            @MellowKrogoth: yeah, obviously, a multiplayer online game is probably the least indicated category for that kind of game-exploratory play. The fact that some people can’t even seem to understand, let alone imagine, that playing that way happens to be a reality is disheartening though.

            I just find it amusing how opinionated we all can be here – just yesterday, in the Dark Souls 2 thread, there were two people demanding opposite things, each of course certain to be right.

      • Smoof says:

        I want the game to have a readable UI. Coming from World of Tanks/Warplanes where the UI is readable and understandable, I have no idea what’s going on with WT’s UI in the garage. It’s just a confusing mess of shit.

        • Cinek says:

          WoT or WoWP got nothing to deal with that. Nearly every freaking game on a market got a proper GUI. WT:GF is one of these rare exceptions where they completely fucked up.

  2. Hunchback says:

    I’ve been playing quite a bit of WT in the last few months, on planes only. I really wonder how it’ll all work out with objectives in missions and all, when actual real people drive the tanks and other ground vehicles. ’cause right now tanks all drive in a neat column, waiting to be bombed to hell. Bombers can make a nice fat stack from decently bombing vehicles, or quite a bit less when bombing bases. Both options lead to the eventual win of the game, which is nice since it’s really different from WoT. However, if it’s real players driving the tanks, they wouldn’t really be driving in those columns, and i feel like the only real anti-tank threat would be dive-bombers, which are kinda restricted to early “tiers” of the game. So i wonder what it’ll be like to play with real players on both sides.

    Then later on they’ll add Boats too, which will be the 3rd part of the game, all mixed together, and this will go even more weird. Might be interesting, but it might be really OP/Shitty for some sides of the battle. *Ponder*

    • Cinek says:

      Well, right now tanks go only up to tier 3 – and there’s plenty of ground-attack planes in these tiers.

      IMHO jets will find it most difficult to fight any tanks – you need precision and time to observe enemy, something jets can’t really offer when everything runs fast and you need to drop bombs way ahead in order to come out of a dive. Even high altitude bombers got it easier – you just load tons of bombs and spray & pray through the usual camp-spots. Most often it doesn’t work, but when it does – satisfaction is enormous ;)

      • Detrian says:

        The current test on the live servers includes tanks all the way up to tier 5 or 6 (I forget which one is the highest). I also don’t think that normal plane maps will get their armored vehicles replaced by players, instead they are introducing new maps for combined tank and plane combat.

        • Cinek says:

          Did they? Looks like something changed since I played last time week ago. Sadly I cannot download the most recent version of War Thunder cause launcher is fucked up and it takes roughly 2 days for me to download the update – so when I’m close to finishing on – they release another micro-patch and I need to start downloading it again. I have no clue WTF they’re doing – not only launcher is constantly broken since last large release but also they keep on spamming with these ridicioulus micro-patches every other day that don’t improve anything at all.

    • botty says:

      The tank maps are just a small part of a bigger plane map, which means the objective on the tank map would only be one objective in the plane map. I guess that’s what they’re going with eventually, with other IA tanks appearing on the plane map, but not on the tank map.

  3. Discopanda says:

    Can somebody explain the differences between these games which look exactly the same graphically and advertise themselves as being exactly the same? I’ve only played World of Tanks. Thank you.

    • Hunchback says:

      If you mean between WoT and WT – There’s a lot of difference, even tho i haven’t played the tanks part of WT, but i know it follows the same model as the planes part. Main difference, as the author of the article noted, is the lack of “health bar”. In WT you have no fixed health that gets chipped at, you get a very detailed damage model where planes/tanks/whatever get damaged in relation with where you get hit. The damage is not only something arbitrary that gets you killed, but it actually changes a lot the way your machine operates. As a tooltip says in WT, a plane can fly with critical damage, even as tough as having lost a wing.

      Basically WT is much more simulator and “deep”, if it can be, being a grind-fest almost the same way as WoT is. WT offers ACTUAL different roles for players (think artilery/tanks/tank destroyers in World of Tanks), which in WT has Bombers, Fighters and Attackers – All those planes have an actual goal that is either killing all planes or bombing out ground vehicles or bombing out bases or bombing ships… And it’s all mixed together in a way that you can win the game through more than 1 way.

      Also, there’s no “gold ammo”. There’s the same “premium time” (2x exp etc) or premium planes as in WoT, but no magical, penetrate-it-all ammo that costs real money.

      Hope this makes sense.

      • Eightball says:

        You have been able to buy “premium” rounds with credits (not gold) in WT for a few major patches now, FYI.

        Though they still need to rebalance shell effectiveness now that everyone can shoot expensive APCR/HEAT.

        • davidjayder says:

          It’s not gold ammo at all. In War Thunder as part of a planes upgrade you can research ammo belts which are super cheap and have different purposes and trade offs. There is no better one.

      • Discopanda says:

        Well damnit, you’re making me want to play it.

  4. SillyWizard says:

    I don’t see any pewpew mans in those screens. Are there pewpew mans?

    • 0positivo says:

      Sadly, there aren’t. Also, machineguns aren’t working either. Tho, I would have to assume they will, considering that every single crew member apart from the driver has a MACHINEGUN FIRING skill

      What’s even more interesting, the game actually HAS infantry (it’s never highlighted with any sort of marker) on some of the plane maps, although they’re monstrously hard to spot

      So yea, one can hope for infatry targets. Would give assault guns more of a role, if anything

  5. derbefrier says:

    I need to play more of this but the F2P model just puts me off. it seems so convoluted and maybe I just didn’t give it a chance but the unlock system seemed just as bad. Actually playing the game is pretty fun though.

    • Axess Denyd says:

      I don’t mind the F2P model so much. I have more time in WT jut since the end of January than anything else in my Steam account, and while progression is slow, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by not giving them money.

      I may be tempted at some poit to unlock some SP campaigns though.

  6. Lazyjim says:

    For the last time.

    They are not MMOs.

    If World of Tanks and War Thunder are MMOs, then so are Call of Duty and Battlefield.

    • Cinek says:

      +1 (actually: BF is more of an “mmo” than WT – it allows 64 people to fight against each other on a map at the same time, something WT doesn’t even aspire to achieve)

      • The Random One says:

        Obviously, in this case the first M stands not for Massive but rather Mildly.

  7. staberas says:

    Panzer Vor !

  8. pledouth says:

    Did Chris Livingston even play World of Tanks? Because most of the information on damage, crews, buying tanks and currency system seems taken straight out of it (not a bad thing though, it works in WoT, so I guess War Thunder can benefit as well). What I wanted to know is:

    a) level of technical depth and diversity of vehicles, because some of the vehicles and upgrade options in WoT seem superficial and implausible (like mounting a bigger cannon on a tank just because, even if it was not possible IRL or heavy focus on purely experimental tanks, which never existed)
    b) community (in WoT, as an occasional player, I have utterly no impact on anything, even if only 1/4 of the other players are pros)
    c) matchmaking (in WoT, sometimes tanks from the same tier are incomparably different in terms of usability and once you plow through to tier VIII Tiger 2 it stops being fun, because you get thrown against tier X and can’t do jack feces.

    • botty says:

      The upgrades work exactly like what’s already existing for the planes in War Thunder. Which means optimization of sights, reparation of tracks, and so on…
      There is only tnks with equipment that actually existed, and you can’t change the gun or whatever on it. As an example, the Panzer IV has 4 or 5 different versions, and to get a new gun you have to research and buy the next version.

    • Cinek says:

      Did you ever played WT:GF? Because most of the stuff on damage, crews, way you assign tanks is completely different to the one in WoT. Currency system is the only thing that’s identical between these two titles.

      As for your questions:

      a) WT is much more focused on real tanks, and unlike WoT it doesn’t have any imaginary tanks pulled out of devs arses. Upgrade options are much simpler than in WoT – in WoT sometimes you might want stock gun over the upgraded one, in WTGF there’s absolutely no reason not to install any of the upgrades. All of them offer only advantages. But in WTGF you cannot replace gun on a tank – if you want different gun you want a different variant of this tank. As I said: It’s much more like in a real life.

      b) I have no clue what you mean by that. Community is quite similar to the one in WoT only people don’t use chat that often and there’s almost no racists bashing people only because they’re from Brasil / Poland / France / etc. As for whatever you can affect a battle as an average player or not – I would say it’s little bit easier in WT than it was in WoT, mostly because in WT camping can give you legitimately good results and running to brawl in medium tanks where knowing “tricks” is more useful isn’t as easy nor beneficial as it was in WoT. Sure, great players are able to carry games for win, only in WT team effort is much more important than it was in WoT.

      c) Matchmaker is far from perfect and you’ll still find situations where you hardly can do anything at all to certain tanks (at least from up front) but you won’t see such an enormous power gaps as you did in WoT. In WoT tier 8 is probably the most painful one cause power gap between T8 and T10 is enormous – they can one-shot-you, but you cannot harm them, even if you will manage to penetrate, damage just isn’t there. In WT:GF if you will penetrate – tank most likely is going to be destroyed or at least crippled, no matter how many tiers above you it is (and as far as I’m aware right now the worst scenario is that you meet tanks 1 tier above you, but still majority of the team will be in your own tier).