Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk
The look on my wife’s face said it all. “World of what?”
She’s had to put up with a lot over the years: me filling the living room with plastic instruments, my misguided foray into skateboarding after playing Tony Hawks 3, and even the dark period where WoW sunk its claws deep into me. Explaining to her that I was about to embark on another MMO I think may have filled her with dread, her mind casting back to the days of becoming a hermit as I sought the treasures of Azeroth.
Thankfully for our marriage, World of Tanks is something quite different. Although still containing RPG elements, the bulk of the game is represented by large scale tank battles that see 32 armoured beasts face off against the background of some equally huge maps – effectively DICE’s Battlefield with the on-foot element stripped out leaving behind just vehicular combat. Seeing your platoon of tracked warriors roll out as the battle begins is quite a sight, as engines rev, exhausts belch smoke and the whole force move out as one.
It’s very simple to jump straight in to proceedings, too. Despite an overwhelming help screen that lists almost as many controls as there are keys on your keyboard, handling your tanks is as easy as any standard PC FPS. In fact, in terms of controls, you may as well imagine Gordon Freeman has had tracks fitted to his feet. In no time at all I found my first tentative steps quickly translated into the nippy traversal of a ruined city and the easy negotiation of mountain pass, sending shells flying towards the enemy.
Though it may feel familiar, the environment this shooter operates in is a brutal one. Against the wrong opposition, your tank can be holed in a single shot, leaving you to wait out the rest of the battle with nothing to do but spectate. Gung-ho tank commanders will quickly find themselves spending more time on the side-lines than in the heat of battle and the realisation that caution exponentially increases your life expectancy is a valuable lesson to learn. In contrast, however, the feeling of exhilaration on destroying an opposing vehicle is suitably high. Whether it’s by catching them unawares, or amidst a hail of cross-fire, there’s a mix of relief and satisfaction that it wasn’t you that was left a smoking wreck.
Indeed, sitting watching your smouldering remain is a feeling that most will have to get used to early on, as the tanks you’re initially granted access to are pacey but small and seem to be as well protected as your average family car. In the grander scheme of things they play their part, and your initial role is that of a scout for the bigger guns on your team, identifying the enemies whereabouts which are then automatically broadcast to the rest of your side. It’s all too easy to want to get involved though, and as long as the right sized target it chosen then all is good. Taking pot shots at a similarly sized tank or a weakly defended artillery piece is worth the expenditure of a shell, but taking on a heavy with your pea shooter will do you no more good than poking a bear with a stick.
With each battle, kill, and scouting, both you and your tank’s crew earn experience. For the crew, this allows them to grow as individuals, their strengths in the theatre of combat reflecting upon the effectiveness of your tank. For you, it opens up the RPG-esque Tech Tree of World of Tanks. There are no spells to be learnt here, however, instead each branch sees the research of the various components that form your ride. More powerful guns, larger engines, faster turrets, hardier suspensions and alike can all be invested in to make your tank the best it can be. Beyond that, continued research will also open up a wider variety of tanks, each suited for a separate task. There are the artillery pieces that can rain down death from afar; the heavy tanks that can take a vast amount of punishment before succumbing; light tanks, suitable for nipping round the battlefield at speed; and the tank destroyers which appear to be no more than the largest guns conceived by man strapped to a pair of treads and an engine.
Whilst the heavy, light, and tank destroyers are a balance struck between armour, speed and destructive power, it is the long range guns that add a different twist to proceedings. Usually found camped in copses to avoid detection, these artillery pieces can switch away from the turret mounted third-person camera and switch to an option overhead view of the battlefield. Most effective when supporting a push by the heavier tanks, they can shell the enemy picked out by the spearhead of scouts. The change in tactics and slower pace is almost that of a sniper where patience is of the utmost importance as you may only get one or two shots, but when the trigger is pulled your aim must be true.
If I’m being completely honest, I was surprised at how much I took from World of Tanks. Having had past experience with some incredibly dry tank simulators, it strikes a balanced approach between the historical accuracy it wishes to push to the fore, the ease of play, and the depth it conveys by the vast Tech Tree that exists for each of nations represented. The battles I have experienced have ranged from cautious city fights, where machines pop out of cover for only a second to unload their armoury upon you before disappearing back into the maze of buildings, to desert warfare that sees long range shelling hoping to hit home with a lucky shot.
My only quibble is with time. Firstly, being knocked out early in a battle is punished by being denied use of your tank again until the fight has been resolved. Fair enough, but it means that you generally need to keep two or three tanks in working order and topped up with ammo to avoid having long stretches of downtime between games. And secondly, be prepared to put a vast amount of work in to access the higher grades of tank. Some seem incredibly expensive upon first glance, and although you can buy XP bonuses and in-game currency with real world money, those looking to advance without a credit card will see them paying with time instead.