Saturday 28 September 2013

War Thunder Update 1.35 - Events

War Thunder released an update this week, version 1.35. It’s got the usual patch gubbins: new maps and planes, tweaks to cockpits and armaments, that sort of thing (full details in the change log). Something I’m particularly enjoying so far are Events. Aircraft in War Thunder are arranged into ranks roughly by their capabilities rather than strict dates to try and avoid mismatches (it’s not perfect, but the matchmaker does a decent job most of the time), and though Historical Battles limit the nationalities involves you can still end up with rather ahistorical fights like 1942-era British and American aircraft taking on the Russians in Korea, land based aircraft on naval maps and vice-versa, and significant numbers of Premium aircraft based on prototypes or one-off instances of captured aircraft. It’s fine in game-terms, but events offer something slightly more interesting historically.

You can still hit the “To Battle” button as normal, but there’s a new button on the screen, Events:
shot 2013.09.28 20.13.57

Click this for a list of available events. Currently there are three available at any one time, and they change each day, though I imagine both those parameters can be tweaked. The really, really important thing to notice here is that events can be Arcade, Historical or Full Real, currently there’s one of each per day. They can also have slightly tweaked rulesets, for example an Arcade Battle but with no respawns. The difficulty level isn’t quite as obvious as it could be, so there are reports of people joining in a Full Real Battle without realising it, resulting in a lot of crashing on take-off (via Reddit). Note the difficulty at the top of the event screen!
shot 2013.09.28 20.46.52

Events are (broadly) historical scenarios, with a limited selection of aircraft available based more on actual combatants than in-game ranks, as shown in the list on the event screen. Planes are colour coded: red if you don’t have sufficient rank in that air force, dark yellow if you’re high enough rank but haven’t bought it yet, bright yellow if you own it. For Historical and Full Real battles you just pick the one you want to use as normal, for Arcade you only need one qualifying aircraft to take part, but you’ll be more effective if your whole hanger is eligible. Arcade teams are also still mixed nationalities.

I’m finding the events a fun way of mixing things up between different levels, countries and difficulty modes, well worth a look.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

War Thunder Indian Summer event

As the British weather turns distinctly autumnal there’s an Indian Summer event going on in War Thunder, the objective being to shoot down massive piles of enemy planes. Not quite sure what the thematic link is, but hey, they’re giving out premium aircraft rewards. Don’t look a gift Typhoon in the radiator chin scoop, as the old saying goes.

The event is on until September 23rd, and there are six levels of reward available for each nation in each realism mode. The first five levels award silver lions (10,000 per level), the sixth level awards 100,000 lions plus a premium aircraft. The planes up for grabs are:

USSR: P-39N-0, Rank 8

Requires 1100 Arcade air kills, 360 Historical Battle air kills or 300 Full Real Battle air kills (while flying Soviet aircraft). The Soviet version of the P-39N is two ranks higher than both the US P-39N and the other Soviet premium Airacobra (P-39K); it’s probably slightly over-ranked, especially compared to the Yak-9, but it was only available in the store during one weekend event previously, hence the high kill requirements. If you like big guns (and you cannot lie) then you could stick it in an arcade line-up with the Yak-9T, Yak-9K, P-39K and P-63A for a whole lot of 37/45mm action, otherwise it’s a bit superfluous.

USA: A-26C-45 Invader, Rank 16

Requires 1100 Arcade air kills, 360 Historical Battle air kills or 300 Full Real Battle air kills (while flying US aircraft). Speaking of over-ranked, the A-26 does have a larger payload than the Rank 5 A-20 and (theoretically) better performance (there seems some debate over whether it’s modelled correctly), but that’s not really enough to justify the dizzying heights of Rank 16. It’s rare, though, previously only available via promotions on Facebook, in magazines etc., so has the joint-highest kill requirements. Unless you’re a dedicated plane collector and must have absolutely everything, I wouldn’t go crazy trying to earn one.

Germany: Fw 190D-13, Rank 14

Requires 900 Arcade air kills, 300 Historical Battle air kills or 250 Full Real Battle air kills (while flying German/Italian aircraft). Available in a decent value gift pack, once upon a time swarms of Doras plagued Historical Battles, swooping down from great height upon Allied aircraft and causing much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Over various patches the Focke-Wulf’s flight model was tweaked with some extra weight, and other aircraft received performance boosts such as the 150 octane fuel upgrade for the Spitfire Mk IX, and lo, was there much Allied rejoicing. Axis opinion is split between the Fw 190D-13 now being an utterly worthless pile of junk, and being a decent but tricky to master boom-and-zoom fighter, I suspect it’s more the latter but don’t have one myself.

UK: Typhoon Mk Ib, Rank 10

Requires 540 Arcade air kills, 200 Historical Battle air kills or 180 Full Real Battle air kills (while flying UK/Australian/French aircraft). A good choice for British pilots, the Typhoon Ib has decent performance and great firepower from the 4x20mm cannon. It’s not as nimble as a Spitfire, better suited to boom-and-zoom tactics than dogfighting, and is ideal for Historical Battles, or can slot into a nice Arcade lineup with the Spitfire Mks IX and XVI and Mosquito. The Typhoon is part of the Steam Ace Advanced Pack (also includes a Pe-2, 10000 Gold Eagles and two months of premium account time), an excellent value bundle (especially if on sale), so if you’re thinking of shelling out some real money then that’s a good option, but if you can’t or won’t buy a Steam pack then this event is a fine opportunity to pick up a free Typhoon.

Japan: A6M5 Ko, Rank 12

Requires 540 Arcade air kills, 200 Historical Battle air kills or 180 Full Real Battle air kills (while flying Japanese aircraft). Highly manoeuvrable but fragile, a bit slow compared to most opponents of similar rank; I don’t play Japan very much myself, but if you do then the comparative paucity of the Japanese tree probably makes any addition useful. The A6M5 Ko is also in the War Thunder Steam Pack or Pacific Advanced Pack from the web store, presumably why it requires comparatively few kills.

If you really want to earn one of those planes, you’ll need to get flying. You should’ve probably got flying a few days ago when the event started, but barring the invention of a time machine that’s not very useful advice, and if you have a time machine I’m sure there are better things to be doing than playing War Thunder. Unless you’re an ace of such incredible skill that you never die and shoot down innumerable opponents every sortie, the easiest way to rack up kills is “seal clubbing”, flying low level aircraft against less experienced players. The game has some safeguards to protect completely new players, once you’ve passed a certain pilot rank I don’t think you can be matched up against rank 0/1 opponents even if you only equip rank 0 reserves yourself, so assembling a rank 3 lineup is the way to go with as many fighters as you can pack in. Playing at lower levels also means lower repair costs, if you’re constantly playing higher level aircraft somewhat recklessly then the monetary reward from the event might not even cover the repair bills. I do feel a bit guilty about going back to lower levels, but all is fair in love and war, as the LaGG-3 pilot said after tearing apart a poor biplane with 20mm cannon shells. I try not to be a total bastard, there usually seem to be at least a couple of seal clubbers on each team and I’ll go for the higher scoring opponents if I can, but the event does exacerbate the every-man-for-himself nature of Arcade battles. If you’re a brand new player, perhaps consider not buying a Rank 2 aircraft until September 24th.

If you only really enjoy one particular realism mode then you might as well stick to that, but if getting the premium aircraft is the main goal then you may want to record the duration and results of a few matches and use a bit of maths; if, on average, you can get 10 kills per 10 minute Arcade battle then you’ll need to be playing for 18.3 hours over the next couple of weeks for a P-39 or A-26. If in a Historical Battle you average 2 kills and the matches last around 15 minutes then that same plane will take about 45 hours to earn in that mode, bit of a tall order.

Don’t drive yourself mad with grinding, though, the planes are a fine bonus if you’re playing anyway, but you’re not missing out if you haven’t got the time to rack up the requisite kills; enjoy War Thunder responsibly!

Thursday 5 September 2013

Wot I'm Playing: Roundup

Glancing back at the last roundup, remarkably little has changed over the last few months. Planetside 2 and War Thunder are still time-murderers-in-chief, waxing and waning according to whim and assorted updates. Perhaps the main issue with Planetside 2, as with so many open world PvP games, is finding “Goldilocks fights”: a decent balance of forces, not so small that you might as well be in a 1-vs-1 deathmatch, but not so big that you spend more time getting run over by your own team’s vehicles than shooting at the enemy. When it’s good, it’s very very good, but when it’s bad it’s a deeply tedious procession of inevitable deaths in the face of overwhelming force. Population imbalance doesn’t help, a three-way (Mr Dalliard) conflict is probably a slight improvement on two factions, but it’s no magic wand; rather than ganging up on the most populous empire, it’s easier for the second largest to ignore a massive zerg and pick away at the smallest empire instead for short-term gains. Still, hopping between continents it’s usually possible to find some reasonable action, but I’m mostly popping in for brisk half-hour firefights rather than settling in for a whole evening of conquest.

War Thunder mostly avoids those balance problems; its matchmaker can be subject to the vagaries of fluctuating populations, but the recent Steam release seems to have helped in that respect. It has some Goldilocks issues of its own around the economy, with patches tweaking rewards, upgrades, repair costs and aircraft prices to try and provide a strong incentive to invest real money without being punitive to those who don’t; I think the most recent patch, 1.33, has struck a better balance than its predecessors, but I’m currently luxuriating in a Premium account after snapping up a couple of discounted add-on packs from Steam. A while back I’d become frustrated with Arcade battles that had changed from fun furballs in the lower ranks into demolition derbies as heavier cannon armaments became prevalent and one-burst kills were the norm, so mostly moved to the more tactically cautiously Historical Battles. Recently, though, fancying some more instant gratification, I dropped into a few more Arcade battles, and with the benefit of a slightly more circumspect approach (looking for a lone enemy or two to pick off, rather than diving right into the middle of eight bogeys) am doing a lot better there too. With War Thunder being a launch title for the PlayStation 4 and offering cross-platform play it’ll be interesting to see how that pans out, whether it’s a herald of greater co-operation possibilities on the next generation of consoles, or as much of a damn squib as the Vista/360 version of Shadowrun.

I did try out the closed beta of Wargaming’s dogfighting offering, World of Warplanes, and though it’s serviceable enough for a bit of a drop-in arcade action, I wasn’t particularly impressed in comparison to War Thunder. I’ve kept it patched up as it moved into open beta, and taken the odd flight now and again, but it doesn’t seem to have fundamentally changed in that time. I’ll probably pop in when it officially launches later in the month, whizzing through the low tiers is a bit of a giggle, but I can’t see myself sinking too much time in.

Outside the online-PvP arena, I finished off Bioshock Infinite, perfectly enjoyable but didn’t leave a particularly lasting impression, and went back rather earlier in the spiritual series with System Shock 2 from a Steam sale. In general it holds up remarkably well, except when the graphics stray outside fairly regular polygons (I thought I was being attacked by a hideous mutant in basic training at one point, but it was just a technician with a head made out of about five triangles), but I fear I don’t have the patience for a full replay, so it’ll doubtless sit alongside UFO Enemy Unknown, Terror From The Deep etc. in the few-hours-progress-save-game stasis pods.

I also grabbed the Humble Origin Bundle, mostly for Burnout Paradise, though the rest of the bundle might also come in handy if the games industry implodes so spectacularly that no new game is released for the next 27 years. I can’t remember the last time I played a dedicated driving game, the original Driver possibly, and Burnout is rather fun, apart from the half-arsed interface; where other multiplatform games at least manage “bit clunky, but usable” (Borderlands 2), or “doesn’t really need text that size, fixed by a mod” (Skyrim), it’s almost painful trying to navigate the menus in Burnout.

Most recently I picked up Saints Row IV; I sank a fair amount of time into III, almost to the point of 100% completion, and IV is more of the same, really, as might’ve been expected from its origin as an “expanshalone”. The third game had some fantastically mad set pieces, but the story as a whole didn’t particularly gel, the Saints somehow being both global media brand and street gang; not a major problem, as story in a Saints Row game is about as important as it in a Gentleman’s Specialist Interest Videograph (can provide an interesting context for the action, but not the main reason you’re there). The fourth game ratchets up the implausibility still further in the first five minutes, but with the cunning twist of genre from Action Blockbuster to Sci-Fi suddenly even the most ludicrous events make sense (of a sort), thoroughly enjoyable so far.

Kickstarter has borne both metaphorical and literal fruit (and I’m not even joking), the literal in leather form, the metaphorical being the first playable game from the assortment I’ve backed: Sir, You Are Being Hunted. I’m not sure the game is quite my cup of tea, despite the fact that it features flasks of tea, but that doesn’t really matter; I thoroughly approve of games featuring top-hatted robots in balloons and am happy to support them just on principle. Similarly, I grabbed Gun Monkeys: Kevin Eldon and monkeys with guns? Awesome, even if an online deathmatch platformer isn’t precisely what I’m after at the moment. I view myself as a sort of 19th century philanthropist, benevolently doling out sums of five or even ten English pounds to projects that generally seem like a Good Thing. Course a fiver wouldn’t have gone very far even in 1879, but hey, I like wandering around the house in a top hat. In a similar vein I’ve just backed Sunless Sea (who wouldn’t, with an influence list including the Crimson Permanent Assurance; it’s fun to charter and accountant, and sail the wide accountant-sea…), and off the back of that started to have a bit of a look at Fallen London, the browser game formerly known as Echo Bazaar. I’d noticed it popping up in friends Twitter feeds a few years back, and the snippets did look intriguing but also just a smidge spammy so I hadn’t delved in myself. It doesn’t require a Twitter sign-up now, and gameplay-wise seems a fairly conventional browser game, but the lore and atmosphere are excellent; probably not something I’ll get too caught up in, but a fun diversion with ten spare minutes and a smartphone.