Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Game Review: Conan Exiles


By Bixyl Shuftan

"Conan the Barbarian," the tale of a heroic warrior in a fictitious and ancient time and place when people were terrorized by monsters and warlords, the "Hyborian Age" described as being sometime between the destruction of Atlantis and recorded history, made for many stories since the 1930s, and would eventually make it's way to television and movies, notably the movie made in 1982 starring Arnold Scwartzenegger. Video games of the character and story universe began appearing in the 1980s. In 2008 came the first MMORPG: "Age of Conan," Developed by Funcom and published in cooperation with Eidos Interactive. The player controls an ex-slave, whom after escaping the beginning quests lead to him or her killing the master then goes on to further adventures. The game received "generally favorable reviews," but suffered from a number of bugs and other problems that resulted in a number of complaints. Funcom did eventually respond to the feedback with bug fixes and new zones.

In January, Funcom released a new Conan MMORPG: Conan Exiles. This is an open-ended survival game in which players start with nothing and use the resources they find around them to make basic clothes and tools while fighting hazards around them, which may or may not include other players depending on the server, and soon building a base, either alone or in cooperation with friends. The player controls an "Exile" sentenced to death, and after being freed by Conan tries to survive in the Exiled Lands, the goals described by the makers of the game as "Survive, Build, Dominate."

The first step is choosing a server. They are categorized into PvP in which players can attack one another or their buildings, PvP Blitz, in which players have only a limited amount of time before the servers are wiped and everything has to start all over, and PvE, where players don't have to worry about being attacked by other players but can't attack them or their structures either. Each has servers in five different categories from purist, to roleplaying, the sixth option being to list everything available. Choosing the later reveals many hundreds of servers, including some "official" ones and numerous ones hosted by others, some of which need a password to enter.

Upon choosing the server is the character creation process. Characters can be either male or female and can be Cimmerian, Hyborian, or several other races in the Conan universe. Players chose one of four Hyborian Age gods the player follows, three of which allow you to build temples of the chosen deity from the start. Besides choosing skin color and facial features, one can also choose the size of breasts for females, and "endowment" or penis size for males. This feature has gotten the game some chuckles in some low humor conversations. When the character is complete, he or she is hung on a cross with a proclamation stating the character is condemned to death for crimes including three listed that are apparently picked at random. These crimes can consist of anything from "unlawful dismemberment" to gambling to deflowering a virgin to "impersonating a priestess."

Following the cutscene where the character is rescued by Conan, the player appears in the middle of a desert with the remains of a stone road ahead. Nearby is a stone sign warning the civilized away from the Exiled Lands "where savages make war upon one another" and on a rock is a waterskin with a little water and a message from another condemned man who choses to leave his water for the next person to find it and allow himself to die. Going along the road, one can gather plant fibers, seeds, and insects from bushes, and stones and sticks on the ground (press E button). Fibers can be used to make simple clothes, and sticks and stones into a simple axe and pick. Gathering these resources, and making items, will get you a small number of experience points. By the time the player reaches the end of the road, they should see signs of small mountains and greenery in the distance, and you should have leveled up once.

Leveling up gets you points that can be used to raise your attributes, such as vitality which determines how much damage you can take before croaking, strength whch determins how much force you can deliver with melee weapons, agility which helps you avoid blows as you wear heavier armor, encumbrance with allows you to carry more, etc. Leveling up also gets you skill points which are used for crafting skills. You start out with just a few, but need more such as "Experienced Survivalist" to make campires and waterskins, stonemason to make bases, walls, door frames, ceilings, and doors for basic structures, "Mercenary" to make stone swords and wooden shields, etc. Some skills are locked unless you know all the prerequisites, such as "Apprentice Craftsman" which does nothing by itself but makes available a number of other skills. All but the first few skills have a minimum level requirement to reach.

At first, you'll be only able to take on the weakest of creatures, such as rabbits and baby shellbacks. Imps, which look like short and stocky severly mutated humans, are the toughest thing you can take on with an axe and expect to live, and if your computer is being slow you may want to level up a bit first. Melee fighting inevitably means your health goes down, which will heal slowly when you're not fighting. It also means damage to your weapons and clothes, which can be repaired if you have the materials on hand. Antelope and gazelles do not fight back, but will run when struck. Unless they're cornered or somehow get stuck, taking them down with a melee weapon can be very difficult. You'll need a bow and arrows for them. Taking on mature shellbacks, crocidiles, and NPC hostiles is not recommended unless you have leveled up several times, and without iron weapons and leather armor you can expect even successful encounters to leave you hurting bad. Unlike Conan, don't be afraid to turn tail and run (press and hold the shift button).

If you get clobbered, you'll respawn back outside the Exiled Lands. So eventually you'll want to craft and place a mat. You will also get hungry and thirsty. And once either your hunger or thirst points run out, your vitality begins to drop. While eating raw meat can satisfy your hunger for a short time, it means food poisoning which will reduce your hit points a little, so this should be done as a last resort.

You can eat the bugs you've collected from bushes, and the fat grubs that can be gathered in places, but nothing satisfies like cooked meat. To cook the raw meat you find from monsters and animals, you'll need to make a campfire, or bonfire later on, and place it and some fuel in and start burning. To get water, go to a stream or pond and press "E," or the button where your waterskin is on your hotbar. Meat will eventually spoil if it is not eaten, and is not good for anything.

Logging out in the middle of nowhere is sure to get your body killed by a passing critter, or another player in a PvP server. You'll also want to make a place to store your stuff and stations to help you make things. So you'll need to build a base eventually. At first you'll only be able to make simple stone structures, but one has to start somewhere. You'll need to make an armorer's bench to make light armor and wooden targes (reinforced wooden shields), which later you can make heavier armor from. To make iron and bricks, and later on steel, you'll need to make a furnace. To make iron weapons and tools, and then steel weapons and tools, you'll need a blacksmith's bench. To make leather from hides, you'll need a tannery. To make aloe extract and potions, and later steelfire and other items, you'll need a firebowl cauldron. Iron can occasionally be found in the rocks in the south of the Exiled Lands, but its uncommon. To get a lot of iron, you'll need to head north, but the further north you go, the tougher the creatures, and NPCs, can get. So you will be needing the iron weapons and armor.

Sandstorms are another reason for shelter. If you're caught in the open, your hunger and thirst will rapidly rise until your water and food levels are gone, at which point you'll soon expire. Ducking in cover such as between rocks or next to a cliff face will help when there's no building nearby, but it's not ideal.

Combat in Conan is a bit bloodier than some other survival games such as Rust and Ark. Blood splatters, your weapon gets bloody, and the looser ends up in a puddle of his or her blood, often with limbs missing. Given the setting of the story universe, this is not a real surprise. One can chop up a human body like they would an animal or monster for it's flesh. And after combat I've often found human flesh in my inventory. As one of the dieties in the game is a god of canibals, this may have been for roleplaying.

But another aspect of Conan Exiles is likely to be more controversial than human flesh. The game allows for the capture and willbreaking of NPC humans for use as slaves, or what the game refers to as "Thralls." Using a wooden club, you knock out attackers and drag them back to your camp to put on a "Wheel of Pain" until they submit. The tougher the NPC, the longer it takes them to submit. Thralls can make things more convenient for characters, such as blacksmiths allowing for the faster construction of weapons, dancing girls giving a health boost, fighters guarding your camp, etc. One condition you can get from caves, corruption, will lower your stats unless you get healed from a dancer thrall.

So do you take on slaves, or not? Every NPC human in the game is hostile to you, so in a sense you're sparing their lives. And slavery is a part of the Conan story universe, in addition to others. Even "Star Wars" had slavery. Still, it's a touchy subject to some. When Bree Royce of "Massively Overpowered" wrote on the subject, she admitted to finding the subject "unsettling," even though she knew of people who roleplayed as slaves in Star Wars games. Her article drew over 200 responses from people whom either supported the designers' decision, opposed it, or were of mixed feelings.

Perhaps later on, Funcom will update the game so no everyone is hostile, and it's possible for NPCs to freely join you, perhaps in return for food and goods (there's no gold in the game, yet). But until then players are left with the delemia.

The game is early release, and I have encountered some glitches and bugs. The most obvious, the game takes a while to load. At least it tells me "may take several minutes," and it does. Longer than Rust or Ark. Not only is this terribly inconvenient, it also means your character is vulnerable for that much longer as some monster or predator may come across it. Unlike Ark or Rust, there's no record of which servers you've been to. This means if you forgot where you were, you'll have to start all over again elsewhere. My experience with the official servers was a disappointment. These places had a lot of builds. One can't build a campfire to cook your meat within a certain distance from another player's build not of one's group. And there were so many in the official PvE servers I looked at, I couldn't find a place to build one. And as the campfires of others were locked so my character, this meant I was existing on bugs and grubs and always hungry until eventually dying of hunger or from being attacked by higher level beasts as I made my way north to search for a spot. When I checked out an official PvP server, it wasn't much better. I found a couple spots I could set up a campfire in locations impractical for building a base near. Unofficial servers were better, at least the ones I checked out. I didn't see many others, and had no problem setting up a campfire or base.

Like in Ark and Rust, the game is easier on a private server. Nydia's friend Mystic Xurina got one, and we've been playing on it a little. So there may be more to say about the game as time goes on.

If you're a fan of the Conan stories, or similar tales, this may be the survival game for you. But with it's longer loading times and the enslavement of NPCs as the only alternative to killing them, I can't recommend this game over others such as Rust and Ark. But the game is still in early release. Perhaps both issues will be improved as time goes on.

Sources:  Massively

image sources: Mystic Xurina, conanexiles.com, gameskinny.com, massively.com

Bixyl Shuftan

Friday, February 3, 2017

Latest Misadventures in Ark Survival Evolved


By Bixyl Shuftan

It's been over a year since I've written about Ark: Survival Evolved, the noted survival game in which players start off with their undies and their wits on a mysterious island populated with dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, and try to avoid dying from hunger, heat and cold, and the numerous predators whom see players as a snack. I first wrote about the game in July 2015, and did so again in August and September of that year. For those brand new to the game, you can read those articles, or watch this video review by "Nooblets" (link).

One of the game's most important news items over the past year was not an update, but a lawsuit. A former member of the development team had been accused of violating a clause of his contract, and filed suit for $600 million USD. The defendant threatened to have a legal notice to take down the game, which caused concerns the game might not be available for sale, or updated for those who had it, for a while. Eventually, the case was settled out of court for $40 million.

Recently, my friends of the "Furry Gamers" group decided to take another look at it, Nydia starting up her server again. She and her friends had previously made a number of bases across the south and east of the island, some along the coast, some a bit inland. Her main base was in the southwest, in the middle of what the map calls the "Southern Jungle." A year ago, it had been a relatively safe location, the only real problems when the occasional carnotaurus, or "Carno," one of the island's medium sized predators showed up. But the island has changed since then, some of which meant complications for us.

To begin with, the island has a couple new biomes. Swampland now covers some territory in the inland south, and a small part of the midwest coast. As you can probably guess, these are not places for beginners, and midranked ones should proceed with caution. The giant dragonflies and ants will swarm after you, the snakes will try to paralyze and eat you, and in the water are the megaphirana and the bloodsucking leeches. One curious but useful crtter are the giant frogs or beelzebufo. They eat the giant insects which can pester players, and can serve as high-jumping mounts. In the northwest and north central areas are icy areas covered with snow. Fur clothing is needed to survive the cold here for long, which will likely mean lingering on the outskirts to hunt for creatures that drop pelts, such as mammoths and woolly rhinos. This is also the home of dire wolves, canis maxdirus. As they hunt in packs, they can be dangerous predators. But they can also be valuable mounts.

There are new creatures outside these areas too. One is the Therizinosaurus, which my friends have dubbed the "killer turkeys." These medium sized dinos are plant eaters, but highly aggressive ones that will attack anyone getting too close. To make matters worse, these creatures sport long claws that would make Freddy Krueger proud, capable of piercing armor and inflicting serious wounds that can quickly take down a player. A group of two to three can be dangerous or fatal even for a player on a tamed carno mount.

Another problem dinosaur is the Troodon. Somewhat smaller than raptors, they are in some ways more dangerous. They have a venomous bite, and combined with their speed will quickly take down a beginning player, and fighting them while I was around Level 20-25, I would end up lasting just long enough to clobber one before passing out, vulnerable to anything else in the area. And as they sometimes go about in packs, this often means other Troodon, who made quick work of any one unconscious. They are nocturnal, making any night run more dangerous, as you may not notice their glowing eyes, until it's too late. That you can occasionally find eyeglasses on a corpse is a little unnerving.

Between the "killer turkeys" and the "sleepers," life at what had been our main base became more hazardous. A new fish, the sabertooth salmon, was easily avoided by us, but did clobber a critter or two of ours that ventured into the water next to the base. Finally when a few of the former managed to break down a wooden wall and kill several of our dinos before finally being taken down, the decision was made to move. So we began moving our critters to the nearby "Footpaw," settling in the plateau in the middle overlooking the rest known as the "Weathertop." We began building a wall to help keep out unwanted critters, though began noticing a few were spawning inside. The decision was made to persist, taming more critters to replace what was lost and to help patrol the place, a lot of dilos designated as "meat shields" as they were more easily replaced. This "Liberty Ship" strategy, so named as it reminded me of the United States having to replace it's cargo ships blown up by German U-Boats in the early days of WW2 with quickly made Liberty Ships until it could come up with better ways of fighting the enemy, was more than a little frustrating as our plans and building was slowed down. But eventually we had our base and fence.

But not everything new was out to get us. Jasmine found some dung beetles in a cave and tamed a group. This meant a source of fertilizer and oil as long as we kept feeding them droppings from our dinos, the oil saving us trips to the sea and its dangers. There was also a new kind of building available: the greenhouse. Building one provides a place for crops to grow faster.

However the greenhouse parts need crystal. In earlier times, this would have meant a flight over to bypass the dangerous critters on the ground. But there's a new threat in the air now. There's a large bird called Argentavis that while usually a carrion eater is aggressive and will attack nearby players. On the plus side, when tamed it has more stamina than pteranodons, and can be used to grip other players (useful for getting someone unconscious out of danger), or critters that aren't too heavy. A leveled-up Argentavis can be very useful for transportation, or getting smaller creatures you want to tame as they can be dropped into an enclosure until you're ready to tranq and feed them.

Exploring around, our journeys took us to "Herbivore Island" in the southeast. Accessible by raft or air, it's a place where players need not worry about carnivores, though the creatures there will still defend themselves if attacked. To our surprise and delight, we found some metal nodes there. This saved us risky trips to the mountaintops, though we still had to go there for obsidian and crystal, and we set up a refining base where we could make and haul back metal. We discovered that besides placing storage boxes on our wooden rafts, we could also place ramps, foundations, and walls. We turned two in to mobile bases, one which had storage space, a furnace, smithy, and a few mortal and pestles, the other which had large holding areas for luring larger creatures on which we were interested in taming. This included one T-Rex which we started taming on it's journey back, and once finished it was just a short walk from the shore to the case.

We've also tried our hand at raising baby dinos a little. Hatching one took a while and was something of a balancing act as the temperature had to be just right, requiring a heat source nearby to be turned on and off. But eventually, the critter hatched (check about 4:10 into the video). Nydia had to imprint on it, and then feed it a few berries. Later on, a special egg hatching area would be build with both campfires and air conditioners.

One recent change to the game was that hair is no longer static, but will grow over time. And after the update, the men in the server found themselves looking like mountain men with bushy beards, and once the hats were off with mops of hair. The women had long hair, but thankfully their legs were spared. Getting rid of the beards required learning the engram for scissors, and with those equipped, press and hold the right button, and a hairsyling screen comes up, in which men and lower the length of their head hair and beards, or cut everything altogether. Women only have the option to cut head hair. As the hair will still grow over time, don't throw away your scissors as you're likely to need them every day or two. They're also useful for cutting the fleece of a new animal on the island: sheep. So once "ewe" get past the "ba-a-a-a-a-a-ad" jokes, the wool can be used as a substitute for pelts, which can make the making of cold weather clothing a lot easier.

One new thing I've heard of but haven't tried yet is fishing. From what I saw in this "nooblets" video (link), one needs either tree sap or leech blood as bait, the latter which more fish will go after. Besides fish meat, one can apparently get a few other items, but high level players whom aren't risk adverse should be able to get most of them faster by other means except black pearls.

And there are other new critters that I haven't mentioned yet, such as giant beavers which do well at gathering wood, as well as being the only creatures besides players that build something: beaver dams, compys, little dinos that are slightly dangerous in packs, but can be tamed to be a kind of shoulder pet, Procoptodon, a kind of giant kangaroo, Paracers, which look like a giant cross between a horse and rhino, dire bears, woolly rhinos, and moose. There's also new items that I have yet see, such as lances for jousting, and high tech armor, which needs players to beat one of the "boss" creatures just to get one of the needed components. The boots would be very useful as they allow players to avoid taking damage when accidentally falling. The helmets provide unlimited oxygen when underwater and night vision, a GPS, and a targeting system that locates other players nearby. The chestpeice has a jetpack, and so on.

I should also note there's a new map available, "The Center," which would be an interesting change for players whom feel they've been on The Island to the point most every place is familiar. Instead of the dinosaurs being easiest on the beaches and getting more difficult as you go to the interior, it's more east to west on this map. The map started out as a mod, but has become an official part of the game. Another noteable mod that's gotten some attention is the Pokemon-inspired mod called "Pokemon Evolved." But as Pokemon is the property of Nintendo, which has demanded some fanworks be taken down before, it's unknown if the mod will be up indefinitely.

There is also a new version of Ark, "Scorched Earth" which takes place in an arid area where water is difficult to come by, sandstorms can damage outdoor equipment and some structures, electrical storms can shut down electrical equipment and disable firearms. This hostile place has many of the same creatures, such as the raptors and T-Rexes. But there are some new ones such as rock elementals, deathworms, thorny dragons, and others. But not everything is big and out to kill you. The place is also home to jerboas, which are really cute companions and useful as weather detectors. Then there are the whips, flamethrowers, boomerangs, and chainsaws. Sadly the game isn't free for those who already have Ark, but an expansion pack that has to be bought in addition to the game. There are also plans for an "Ark Park" virtual reality similator; an obvious take on "Jurassic Park." Hopefully their lawyers got the okay from Michael Crichton.

Earlier I've commented Nydia and a number of the Furry Gamers will have nothing to do with PvP-enabled servers. While there may be some where most of the players are friendly, going there as it's easier to find a place to build, there are some goons whose primary pleasure in life is making others miserable. "Nooblets" made a video commentary about a recent update that made it easier for high level PvP tribes to jump server to server, so they could potentially settle on a new world, wiping out all the smaller tribes and making themselves the only ones on the place, then once it's clear everyone else has fled going to another PvP server and starting over again, repeating the cycle of wiping everyone else out. This in his opinion would eventually be "The Death of Ark," at least for PvP servers.


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/HyLhdBCcixY" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Well, that's it for now with the latest misadventures of me and the Furry Gamers in Ark. We'll leave you with this video Nydia did of her ark server. As she would say, "good gaming to you."


Sources: eTeknix, Gamerant,

Bixyl Shuftan

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Game Review: War Thunder


Bixyl Shuftan

Most gamers are familiar with the popular "World of Tanks" game in which players are in two teams with each operating a World War 2 tank and shooting at one another. Less well-known is War Thunder, by Gaijin Entertainment. The game is similar in that it also involves WW2 style combat, but the game is a bit more detailed. Unlike "World of Tanks," players can fly aircraft in addition to driving tanks and other combat vehicles, and there are plans for naval vessels. So the action can take place on land, sea, or air. Like "World of Tanks," the game is free to play, but there is a "Premium" level, but here it allows players to play certain vehicles basic players can't yet.

When the game first came out in 2011-2012, it was an air battle game. Players start out with pre-war fighter biplanes, three among the following nations: United States, Germany, Britain, Soviet Union, and Japan. Unlike "World of Tanks" in which players can only bring one vehicle in the battlefield during the entire battle, players can bring in another if the first is destroyed. After the destruction of all airplanes, the player can only observe or leave. Through capturing areas, destroying opponents, and destroying ground targets, players earn research points and silver lions. Research points are used toward researching both improvements on your vehicles and researching another aircraft on the tech trees of each nation. Eventually, you can get more advanced fighters, fighter-bombers and bombers, and eventually Korean-War era jets. Silver Lions are used to purchase the parts and eventually more aircraft. When you get more aircraft, you have the choice of either getting another vehicle slot or assigning it to one of your existing ones. Assigning it to one of your existing slots cost Silver Lions. Getting another vehicle slot requires Gold Lions, which are difficult to get without buying them with real world currency. Each additional vehicle slot per country is more expensive than the last. Once every 24 hours when the player logs back in, they get a random bonus for either research points or silver eagles that has to be applied within two days. If they log in every day, every five days comes a group of bonuses, or perhaps a chance to try out a premium vehicle for an hour. You can take a plane out for a test flight before buying it to see how it handles.

There are three types of multiplayer battles. The basic one or "Arcade" is the easiest with players able to respawn, using a different plane in your slots. "Realistic" is more difficult as the plane will be a little more difficult to control, such as being easier to stall, and you cannot respawn once shot down. In "Arcade," when your plane runs out of ammunition or bombs, you just need to wait an amount of time before you reload. In "Realistic," you have to go back to your airfield and land to reload. There is also the "Simulator," which I haven't gotten into much. On any level, making tight turns can sometimes cause your vision to black out due to the G-forces on your pilot's brain. Both "Arcade" and "Realistic" have a small"radar" window in the upper right that keeps track of where your teammates and opponents are, as well as the bombing targets. On the upper left is your speed, altitude, engine temperature, and how many bombs how have left. the lower left shows how many small ground targets are left, and when your plane starts to take damage, a small picture of your plane will appear, showing what's been hit and how badly.

 What battle a player is matched into depends on the level of the planes he has in his slots, so one doesn't end up hopelessly outclassed or in a plane that outclasses everyone else. If your plane has one or more gunners in addition to the pilot, the computer will automatically control his firing, unless the player chooses to take control of the gunner himself. Planes do not have hit points the same way tanks in "World of Tanks" or ships in "World of Warships" do. Instead, the engine, wings, body, stabilizers, etc. take damage separately. If a major part is destroyed, the plane is going down.

Each battle has a different kind of mission. Airspace domination battles are simple as it means the planes of one side keep the air space marked clear of the other side's planes. Airfield domination battles are trickier as they involve capturing one to three airfields, doing so by landing one's plane on them and holding it for a minute. Unfortunately for the pilot, the landing and capturing makes them vulnerable to a strafing run by opposing fighters. In bombing missions, you have to take out three enemy factories, and then the enemy airfield. Some missions will have AA guns and convoys of ground vehicles. fighters can, with difficulty, take out the latter and the unarmored ones of the former. Bombers can take both out if the bombs hit close enough. Carrying larger bombs means fewer drops, but each will have an easier time taking out AA guns and vehicles, and cause more damage to factories and airfields. In some missions, there are also enemy ships to contend with. They can be dispatched with bombs, or a torpedo if you have a torpedo bomber. On the top of the screen, a bar with one side red and one blue keeps track of which side is winning, both sides getting shorter depending on the progress in the game. If the line is mostly red, your side is losing.

After the battle, your score and your place on your team's side is displayed, followed by any parts and vehicles you've finished researching. You can choose new priorities of research and purchase researched parts. You also get a number of crew skill points on your aircraft, depending on how well they did (planes that didn't take part get no bonus). These points can be applied to piloting skill, gunnery skill, skill of any other gunners, pilot's G-tolerances, etc.

Different planes have different tactics. The Mistubishi "Zero" fighters are highly manuverable and are best in a circling dogfight. The American "Thunderbolt" in contrast is less so, but can handle steep dives and can climb well. And don't forget to keep an eye out for what's around you. Pilots concentrating on trying to shoot down the plane in front of them can easily not be aware of the guy sneaking up from behind, until it's too late. Bombs can also be given a time delay, which can help a bomber escape a blast when making a low-altitude run, or give an enemy fighter close on their tail a nasty surprise during a chase at treetop level.

In 2014, War Thunder introduced tank combat, starting with Russian and German tanks, and later on adding American and British tanks with Japanese ones currently available only to premium players. The vehicles look more detailed than their "World of Tanks" counter parts, and those with more than one cannon such as the American Lee And Russian T-35 can fire multiples of them. When your gunsight is in front of a friendly, it will turn blue. When targeted on an enemy tank in a spot it has a decent chance of penetrating, it will turn green. When the chances are iffy, it is yellow. And when it's red, the shot has a poor chance of doing damage. The results of hits show in a pop-up display in the upper right.To help players get around, a minimap of the area is in the lower right. The lower left will show if your engine or gun is damaged, and the number of uninjured crewmen. When you score a hit on someone, a brief display appears in the upper right, showing where you hit and if it damaged anything.

With the hills and drops, it's possible for a vehicle to end up upside down. The player can call for assistance for a teammate to try to pull him upright. Hits on a tank can injure crewmen or damage equipment, the former meaning the tank can't shoot or drive until another crewman takes their place, and the latter meaning the tank has to either stop for repairs right away, or move slower and shoot slower and less accurately until the player stops and enacts repairs. Once the number of uninjured crewmen falls to one or zero, the tank is out of action. The tank can also be blown up by a hit to the ammo supply or fuel tank. After three tanks are used up, the player can no longer respawn, even if there's a fourth tank in the country's spaces.

There are also self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, which spit out high rate of fire, but have little chance of stopping all but the most thin of armor of enemy vehicles, such as other anti-aircraft or some tank destroyers. Many tanks also have machine guns. While AA guns and machine guns can't destroy a thickly-armored tank, they do count as making a hit, so if another player destroys the tank later, they get credit as having made an assisted kill. But one other difference from "World of Tanks" is that crew members are clearly visible in  AA vehicles and certain tank destroyers. This means a machine gun attack, or a high explosive round, into an exposed area can really hurt.

At several points in tank battles, players will get the chance to switch to an airplane for a few minutes, either a fighter-bomber which can damage or destroy tanks, or a fighter which can take out opposing planes. Anti-aircraft guns and machine guns that can aim into the air can fire at them when they get close enough. It takes several AA and machinegun hits to destroy a plane, though if it crashes the player who damaged it gets credit for the kill. Taking out a plane with a tank round would be a difficult feat of marksmanship, but most likely end up taking it down. Tank missions, at least in arcade mode, are just one variety, to occupy one or more designated points.

Like the planes, different ground vehicles call for different tactics. Light tanks are built for speed, but not going toe to toe with heavier armor. Heavy tanks are built to take and give punishment, but as the saying goes "there's always someone stronger" and a lucky shot to the turret ring will still hurt, if not take your tank out. Medium tanks can handle both roles. Tank destroyers are best when on the defensive, and when outflanked are vulnerable to blows from the side. Anti-aircraft vehicles are great for taking down enemy planes, and can  damage or knock out enemy vehicles with thinner armor or open areas if they get a lucky shot from behind, but are not built to take much punishment. Both tank destroyers and AA vehicles are at a disadvantage from tanks in city combat. And if a shell hits armor at an angle instead of head on, it's less likely to penetrate.

For certain accomplishments, such as getting a streak of three or more opponents before getting clobbered, blowing up the guy who got you earlier, or capturing an area, you get extra silver eagles and possibly more research points. For destroying a certain number of opponents during the course of your virtual campaign, you will be awarded insignia and artwork, which can be affixed to your vehicle as labels. You can do a little mix and matching with the artwork. It is possible to put a decal meant for an Axis aircraft on an Allied tank.

Naval combat is currently under development, and for now available only to Premium players. But these are not the battleships and cruisers of "World of Warships." All that's available now are small ocean craft, such as American PT boats and German E-Boats.

Although War Thunder is a multiplayer game, and you can fight alongside friends, I've personally found it more difficult to team up with my Second Life friends there. So when we feel like a round of tanks together, we usually hit World of Tanks. This to me is War Thunder's greatest flaw. But once a group of players gets in and can communicate by voice to coordinate their actions, that makes a clear difference in gameplay

It's also notable that War Thunder pulls something every April Fools. Last year, it was a pirate ship battle. Probably their most memorable prank was the "My Little Pony" air battles on April1, 2013, with flying colorful ponies with jets and rockets strapped to them, firing rainbow lasers.

Aside from a lucky picture from when I took a test drive of a T-35, I never could get screenshots of the game. So most of the pictures here are from films on warthunder.com.

Still, if you feel like a good round of air combat, or want a round of tank combat that's a different style than "World of Tanks," War Thunder is certainly worth a try.

Bixyl Shuftan