I’ve been here before. Right here in the tank commander’s seat. Peering down the sights. Punching lead through bad guys. Bad guys punching lead through me. It’s all very familiar. I feel like I'm home.
I reviewed World of Tanks when it came to PC in 2011. I picked it back up on Xbox 360 in 2015. Now, not even a year later, I’m climbing back into the hatch. This time on PlayStation 4. And yet, despite my familiarity, World of Tanks still teaches me things about myself. About my impatience to put a good plan into play, thereby turning it into a bad plan. About my inability to back down from losing odds. About always fighting that proverbial land war in Asia. World of Tanks has a knack for exposing the worst in me--and letting me have a good time doing it.
World of Tanks is nothing new. Well, it’s five years old, but that’s half a lifetime in online gaming terms. It’s gone from a Russian hobby to a global phenomenon. It’s the game that booted EVE Online out Guinness World Records “Most players online simultaneously on one MMO server” spot. Heck, two years ago, it’s microtransactions started making more money than World of Warcraft.
It also happens to be the only video game I can watch as an eSport. That’s neither here nor there. It’s just another side of me that World of Tanks exposes.
I’m just going to come out and say it: In World of Tanks, you’re a tank. You control that tank in online matches. The number of multiplayer combatants goes up to 15 versus 15. Sometimes it’s as low as six-on-six or seven-on-seven. But that just tells you you’re up too late and need to go to bed--the player pool your on is getting too thin for full matchmaking. But you’re a tank, man. You could be a mech or a robot or some synthetic life form in video games, but there’s something about being a tank. Especially these World War II era tanks. It’s not a simulator. There are plenty of arcade-like concessions made in order to keep the game footloose. But it’s grounded in mechanical realities built by America’s Greatest Generation.
Nostalgia doesn’t draw me to tanks, but I like their analog nature. I don’t fetishize their blueprints, but I like their hard lines and bruised knuckles. I like how they’re made to do one job. And they do it well.
The PlayStation 4 version of World of Tanks pushes graphics beyond its older Xbox 360 cousin. That’s to be expected. Comparing the two, the tanks now look like they've been through more combat. You can see it in their beaten-down skins. The towns are scarred from the fighting. You can see it in their mangled storefronts and torn-down homes. And there are traces of prior enemy action on the maps, too. Flaming tank carcasses. Flares shot into the night sky. Farmhouses on fire and houses without roofs. The tragedy of war is more apparent, even though the stages have long evacuated any sign of civilians. Nonetheless, in a game about tanks shooting other tanks, the effects of war are just a little more apparent than in the previous, sterile-in-retrospect, console generation.
World of Tanks developer, Wargaming, knows a thing or two about launches. They’ve done it a few times now, on multiple consoles, spanning two generations, across three continents. So World of Tanks’s PlayStation 4 debut looks a whole lot like the pared-down launches on PC, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. But to start: American, German, and Soviet tanks rumble across 20 maps. More nations are coming. More maps are coming. But there’s a lot to chew on right from the beginning. Each nation has around 40 to 50 vehicles in a tank tree. All look different, all feel unique. Each one has a role-playing game’s worth of customizations and improvements to build up experience for.
That’s the feedback loop: Hop in a tank, fight in multiplayer, gain money and experience, save up for a bigger tank. Then you train a crew, buy consumable supplies, bolt on better equipment. You get a feel for the clutch, learn the maps, make a few things explode. Fill up your garage, show off your stats, check off some daily missions. Lather, rinse, you know the rest.
Wargaming does a few things to ease new players into the fold. You can tear up the first couple tiers of tanks in the tank tree easily. Try them all, because they all play differently, but find out if you prefer traditional light, medium, and heavy tanks, the sniper-like tank destroyers, or the death-from-above artillery. Each class of tank operates by its own rules, especially when you’ve got artilleries’ top-down 1,000 ft. view from above.
All told, the three starting nations will gradually expand to seven: USA, Germany, and USSR to start, with the UK, France, Japan, and China waiting in the wings. I’ve run up the flagpole on both German and American tanks before. So I went with Mother Russia on this playthrough. There’s no need to specialize. No reason to not play hopscotch across the nations. But for the sake of staying focused and making a bee-line along a path for advancement, I went with the Soviets.
I gotta tell ya: I didn’t like it. Not at first. The Russian-built tanks felt too different from my other two runs with the Americans and Germans. Not that there was anything wrong with how low-tier Soviet tanks operate. But it took some getting used to. I had to slow down. Quit racing to the frontlines. Let the other light tanks do their job and scout. In Russian tanks, I got myself into a lot of trouble. I could punch harder, but I couldn’t line up the shots as quickly. I couldn’t pivot as quickly. I couldn’t do anything in the freewheeling style I’d gotten used to with the other nations’ low-tier tanks.
But that’s part of the science. No, they aren’t all identical. Getting into tanks from one nation doesn’t mean you’ll be a pro at the other’s. I mean, even if you’re going up a single line of tanks from tier 1 to tier 10, none will feel identical to any other. There are ways to talk about “balance issues” that have nothing to do with reality. It’s all colloquial evidence. Like how I can take home Mastery ribbons with low-end German and American tanks but can’t survive many battles in low-end Russian tanks. That is, until I learned that the Russian tanks I was hopping into--the ones leading up the tank tree to the fabled Soviet IS-7 heavy tank--needed me to be more thoughtful, less forward, and a better long-distance fighter than I’d trained for on PC and Xbox 360.
So I did those things. I slowed down on the Malinovka map, noticing that the topography had become more dramatic at the top of the eastern crest. I slowed down on the Province map, though it felt largely the same, just more menacing if it randomly started to rain. At night. And I even slowed down on the Mines map, trying to incorporate strategies I’d seen the professionals put into play during the Wargaming League Grand Finals. No, I’m not collecting a paycheck for my World of Tanks efforts yet, but their strategies helped. And you never know.
Like I said, the launch has been butter. Except for one solitary thing that appears to be glitching for me. It’s the voice-over narration from the tank commander. He often calls out changing battlefield conditions or the condition of my tank. Stuff like that. But for some reason, he often prematurely calls out, “We’re the only ones left!”
That phrase, to me, means that all my teammates are dead, and I’m going into a sudden death round at that point. But that’s never been the case. Inevitably, when the commander yells, “We’re the only ones left!” I’ll look at the top of the screen and note that, nope, that’s wrong, I still have plenty of allies on the field. But Wargaming has proven it’s in it for the long haul, and that’s a thing that’ll be fixed in no time.
Otherwise: Butter. The maps are richer and more detailed than ever. The weather effects go from day to night, from sunny to snowing. All of my progress is flawlessly recorded. All of my unlocks work as advertised. Even if I’m not as fond of the Russian tank lineup. But that’s beside the point. Just because I’m accustomed to a different playstyle has nothing to do with the caliber of engineering and craftsmanship that’s gone into tweaking, balancing, and re-tweaking the entirety of World of Tanks.
It’s hard to put the controller down. Match after match. Fight after fight. It’s one positive feedback loop after another. Though the game can be punishing, too. Some matches just won’t go my way. And that’s good. There wouldn’t be a reward if there weren’t risks. And have you ever played a game without consequences of any sort? They can be terrible.
But there are ribbons and medals and unlocks for everything. Don’t you worry. There’s positive reinforcement for blowing up lots of tanks. There’s positive reinforcement for blowing up only one tank. Heck, did you at least hit something once? We’ve got positive reinforcement for that. There’s no way for Wargaming to delete the zealous ribbon-awarding system, though you can turn off their effects so they’re not cluttering up your HUD. I sound like I’m complaining, but I leave the ribbon counter up.
All in all, World of Tanks on PlayStation 4 is a success. The hiccups are too minor to dwell on. It’s a solidly built game. It’s a unique premise in the console gaming space. It’s a blast to blast fools all day. No other game right now gets my chest thudding as hard. No other game right now makes me set my chin so defiantly against both minor and major losses. And no other game sucks me into that ol’ positive-feedback loop like this one does.
Yep, I've been here before. And in all the best ways, World of Tanks still feels like family.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Randy gravitates toward anything open world, open ended, or open to interpretation. He prefers strategy over shooting, introspection over action, and stealth and survival over looting and grinding. He's been a gamer since 1982, and writing critically about video games for over 15 years. A few of his favorites are Skyrim, Elite Dangerous, and Red Dead Redemption. He lives with his wife and daughter in Oregon.View Profile