Father Christmas arrives a week early for keen War Thunderers, with Patch 1.37 today bringing a veritable sack-load of new goodies: new planes, new maps, new flight models, DirectX 11 support, and perhaps most noticeably a major change in the research system. Previously you had a rank for each country, each plane had a rank, and achieving a new rank in an air force unlocked all the planes of that rank. This system had several good points, but a few disadvantages; progression could be a bit uneven as a new rank might not unlock planes of your preferred type (the US tree had a particularly bad Fighter Gap pre-v1.33 between the rank 13 P-51 Mustang and rank 18 F-80 Shooting Star, only partially filled by a couple of F8F Bearcat variants at ranks 15 and 16), or even any planes at all. In 1.37 you pick one aircraft at a time to research per country, a little more like World of Tanks, but with some key differences.
Aircraft are now grouped into five Eras instead of twenty Ranks, broadly chronologically but with a few tweaks to reflect their performance. These eras are also used for matchmaking, but with slightly fuzzy edges and player performance factored in, so a mid-late Era II plane with a good pilot might well be grouped with an early Era III plane with a poorer pilot. Here’s the first four Eras of the new British tree:
You can see the Beaufighter Mk VIc in Era II is “in research”; every match played with Britain will contribute towards unlocking the Beaufighter, even flying biplanes will contribute towards jet research (though not very much…)
To unlock a new Era, you have to research a number of planes of the previous era. At the very left of the screen you can see “2/4″ under the “II”: I’ve researched two Era II planes (the Hurricane Mk II and Spitfire Mk I), and need to research two more to move on to Era III, so I couldn’t immediately research the Era III Beaufighter Mk X after the Mk VIc. Premium planes count towards this number, though, so if I finish researching the Beaufighter VIc and buy a Boomerang Mk I or D.520, that will allow me to move on.
To unlock a specific plane, you’ll need to have researched the previous plane in its line (connected via an arrow). In this example I haven’t started on the Wellington bombers yet, to research the Mk Ic/L, I’ll have to first research the Mk Ic. Some planes are “stacked”, like the Spitfire Mk II (clicking on it will reveal two variants, the Mk IIa and Mk IIb). You need to research them separately, but you don’t need to unlock them all to progress to the next aircraft in the line (the Spitfire Mk V in this case).
Individual module research on each aircraft has also been tweaked slightly so that you research a particular module, rather than modules automatically unlocking according to a predefined sequence previously. You can select the module to research in the usual Upgrade screen, if you complete that research in a battle, you’ll get a pop-up afterwards letting you know, and allowing you to select the next module to research:
The general consensus seems to be that the new system may be slightly quicker for advancing all the way through one specific line of planes, but quite a bit slower for researching everything; a lot depends on the rate at which Research Points (“RP”, the replacement for XP in the new system) are awarded, which could well be tweaked a few times as the system beds in. There’s a Developer Diary that goes into a bit more detail, it looks like victory for a team will be a major factor in the number of RP received, which could be a positive factor in encouraging good teamwork, or equally terribly frustrating if you perform magnificently but lose a match due to a team full of buffoons. So much the same as ever, really!