Thunder Tier One preview: an exciting, top-down, tactical twist on military shooters

Once a testbed for PUBG updates, Thunder Tier One has a lot going for it as its own experience

Four soldiers can be seen walking towards their objective.

On paper, Krafton’s top-down shooter Thunder Tier One appears to have very little in common with its popular third-person battle royale, PUBG. However, in both origin and gameplay, there are some surprising similarities.

Thunder Tier One began life as a side project for PUBG’s former animation and gameplay lead, Pawel Smolewski, and a few of his Krafton colleagues. For a brief period, it even acted as a test bed for PUBG updates. With this history, it was no surprise to find a lot of PUBG DNA woven throughout this game when The Loadout got the chance to go hands on with a beta version of Thunder Tier One.

Built as a top-down PvP experience, with a co-op campaign alongside it, Thunder Tier One is a real mishmash of genres and bits and bobs from other games. As well as the clear PUBG influence in its methodical gameplay, it also has shades of Rainbow Six and Escape From Tarkov. 

The biggest thing that stuck out to me when playing through the campaign missions is that Thunder Tier One really feels like you are the commander of a task force being sent into a remote area to complete missions.

While you only control yourself, your team of A.I. bots will naturally fight alongside you or will accept commands to perform various actions, such as targeting all the enemies in an area. Doing all of this felt smooth and responsive and seeing them naturally move to cover, take on enemies that I wasn’t focusing on, and use their skills to save me from tight situations was great to see.

The bots work a lot like something from Ghost Recon Wildlands and will auto-target enemies, perform synchronised kills, and more. These bots can be swapped out for other friends in the ten-mission campaign, allowing you to tactically complete objectives as a squad.

A group of soldiers attack an enemy.

The only issue I had gameplay-wise was the wonky grenade throwing, which did a poor job of highlighting the height of certain openings or windows. I get that this is hard to convey in a top down game, but given I was stuck in the tutorial for 30 minutes endlessly throwing grenades at a building because I couldn’t figure out the right position to throw it through the window should tell you that the problem is a significant one.

The game can also be a little daunting at times, with a lot of information presented on screen. And, when you are in a multi-story building, it can be quite easy to lose your way while trying to take on a collection of enemies swarming towards you from every opening.

On the PvP side, Thunder Tier One is probably the most intense shooter I have played. Now, I haven’t had any experience with Escape From Tarkov, but every decision I made felt consequential and the sweat-dripping, nail-biting moments that led up to combat were tense, as I stuck to corners, explored each room slowly and methodically, and occasionally found myself trapped.

The split-second decisions you have to make to get out of those situations seem deeply entrenched in Thunder Tier One’s past life as a PUBG testbed. There’s a definite battle royale feeling in these moments where every movement and decision counts.

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Exfil was the main PvP mode available in this beta and was set up very much like a Counter-Strike or Valorant match, but Domination served as a nice PvE addition and involved taking over control points for an A.I. faction.

However, when you combine these two modes with the co-op campaign, Thunder Tier One is offering quite a lot of different styles of play and each of them add something to the overall package.

You can also see the PUBG DNA all over Thunder Tier One. While its gameplay and perspective are different, aspects like inventory management, quick kills, and looting feel lifted right out of the battle royale. However, they work just as well here.

I only felt like I had dipped my toes into the experience Thunder Tier One is offering. I have a feeling that those who spend hours with this game will be able to formulate incredible plans to take on the ten missions in the game, clearing it in the blink of an eye. This definitely has speedrunning potential.

Two teams of soldiers can be seen engaged in a firefight.

But, for those who aren’t keen on blasting through the experience, I do wonder how Krafton can keep the gameplay interesting and engaging in both PVP and the campaign. I didn’t see much evidence that the experience would evolve the deeper you progress, but that could have just not been implemented yet in this preview build.

Walking away from my time with Thunder Tier One I am intrigued to see what the full experience has in store. But, more importantly, with Thunder Tier One taking aspects of PUBG and translating them to a new genre, and The Callisto Protocol expanding the PUBG universe beyond battle-royale and into survival horror, we could be in for some stellar experiences from Krafton in the coming years.