World of Tanks Review: Tank You Very Much
By Iain Compton
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few months, you've probably heard of World of Tanks; a third-person tank combat game that's become a breakaway hit for the Russian developers. I've been playing the game on and off for the past few months and so the good folks at OnRPG asked me to write a review.
At first glance the game looks very solid, the graphics are realistic and the tank models appear very authentic. You can choose from three nationalities - the US, Germany or Russia - but these are not factions or sides. Rather, they are three different tech trees to explore with strengths and weaknesses at different points. Battles are 15v15 affairs with each team balanced by the server to distribute the more powerful tanks as evenly as possible. This generally results in each team having a mixture of each nationality as well as a spread of vehicles from mighty heavy tanks to nimble scout tanks, stealthy tank destroyers and fragile but powerful artillery. In game you command your tank with some very basic controls as you and your teammates do battle across one of half a dozen or so nicely designed maps. The winner is either the last team to have any tanks alive or the first team to capture the enemy flag.
The game is set during the Second World War and the period is well realised. The tanks depicted are actual, historical tanks that fought in that conflict, the equipment you can buy for them is authentic and the maps are very atmospheric - most depict central or eastern European towns and villages of the period. If you are a hard-core military history buff you might complain that some of the tanks didn't see service at the same time but if you did, we would be justified in ignoring you. This is an arcade style game not a simulator and the emphasis is on fun and accessible game play rather than strict accuracy. You can have the camera outside the tank for better visibility or you can zoom in for a gunner's eye view down the barrel of the main gun for greater accuracy.
So you drive your tank around, you shoot the gun at other tanks and after the match you are awarded credits and XP. You can spend the XP on unlocking new upgrades or vehicles while the credits go on repairs and replenishing your ammo as well as buying new and shinier stuff. The game is free to play and so the developers hope to pay their bills through micro-transactions. You purchase Gold that can be converted into credits to spend, it can be used to buy certain premium tanks directly or it can be used to upgrade your account to Premium status. Premium accounts earn 50% more cash and XP, which means you'll be driving the bigger and more powerful tanks much sooner. Some of those big and powerful tanks fire very expensive shells and cost a fortune to repair so, if you are unlucky enough to have your ride wrecked and to lose the match, it's possible to earn less money than it costs to fix the tank up again meaning that Premiums become very useful indeed at higher tiers.
Each tank has a bunch of upgrades that you can research using XP. These range from bigger guns or engines to better suspension, more powerful radio equipment and more heavily armoured turrets. Additionally you must research the next tank in the tech tree before you can purchase it so you have to work your way methodically through the various tiers. The team balance is based on tiers more than anything else so the game will try and put tanks of roughly equivalent level into a match. This means that your little Leichttraktor starting tank won't have to run up against anything more dangerous than other light tanks and perhaps some of the less powerful medium vehicles.
There are, generally speaking, three kinds of vehicle in the game and each is a separate branch of its country's tech tree. You have tanks, which are pretty straightforward: armour, turret, gun. These are the most versatile vehicles in the game and they come in light, medium and heavy flavours. Light tanks are fast and so are useful for scouting, heavy tanks are lumbering behemoths that can take huge amounts of punishment and medium tanks fit somewhere in between. Then there are tank destroyers, stealthy snipers that mount very powerful guns but have limited mobility. They don't have turrets and can only fire directly forwards, they are also generally less armoured than regular tanks but they make up for this by being harder to spot. Finally there are self-propelled guns, more commonly referred to as artillery. These are very slow and lightly armoured but are capable of lobbing shells practically anywhere on the map. They have a special top-down map mode where they can select targets that are out of their direct line of sight and zero in on them. If any enemy tanks find your artillery then they are in trouble but if you keep them alive then they will rain down death from afar.
A nice touch is that there is a place in the battle for smaller and less powerful vehicles; bigger isn't necessarily better. You can always see your teammates on the map but you can only see enemies that have been spotted by someone on your side. Spotting means that the enemy tank is within range of a friendly vehicle and that the friendly vehicle has a powerful enough radio to transmit the information to the rest of you. Until your scouts bump into the enemy then you won't know if they are rushing your flag in force or dug in and waiting for you to come to them. Artillery in particular is very dependent on brave souls burning forwards in fast but lightly armoured vehicles to report on enemy positions. If you are in a light tank then your engine and your radio are more important than your gun. Scouting is worth XP and credits after the match just as kills or damaging hits are so you are helping yourself as well as the team by doing it too.
At the moment, the game is in open beta outside of Russia and so many things are still unfinished. A clan system and territorial control campaign has been added recently that allows players to fight each other over a strategic map rather than just randomly skirmishing. More tech trees are promised with French tanks apparently almost ready for release and British and Japanese vehicles planned further down the line. Wargaming.net have set a February or March 2011 timescale for release but no firm date has been announced yet.
Overall the game succeeds. There will be enough to keep a hardcore player occupied in unlocking all the new vehicles and upgrades but there's also a lot of fun to be had in the lower tiers so the more casual players aren't going to feel left out. The controls are easy to learn, the driving physics work the way you expect them to and matches are fast-paced, rapid-fire affairs. If you have a bad match and die early on, you can leave, join a new game with a different tank and you'll still get your rewards from the earlier game. A few things niggle a little but they are details really rather than solid criticisms - why do all the tank crews have American accents for example? My Heroes of the Proletariat in the screenshot above apparently come from somewhere outside of New York City rather than the banks of the Volga. The game is easy to pick up, lends itself just as well to a quick session at lunchtime as to a long evening of gaming and the different maps throw up different tactical challenges.