Tanks have been used in video games for just about as long as the medium has existed. It's easy to see why; it's wonderful blasting your digital foes into craters with a gun the size of a telephone pole. What is amazing is that it's taken this long for the world to be introduced to a title like World of Tanks. It may be a free-to-play title, but will it be worth our time?
Wargaming.net started development on World of Tanks over three years ago and has had 140 employees hard at work. They recently started a closed beta in Russia that’s been running very well for over three months. After what seems like endless PR teasing and media blasts, they created an English interface and let me hop in the driver’s seat. I was completely unprepared for what I was about to experience.
Let’s start with the tanks because that’s quite literally the name of the game. There are light, medium, and heavy-class tanks in addition to self-propelled guns and anti-tank vehicles. All in-game tanks are based on units that were used from 1930-1960. I’m certainly not an expert when it comes to their real-world counterparts, but all vehicles are exquisitely modeled and realistically detailed. They all have true-to-life properties that govern speed, weight, armor and ammunition. This gives every single tank its own “feel” and place on the battlefield.
Part of the initial learning curve arises from discovering the limitations of each. The Soviet SU-152 (self-propelled heavy artillery) is a slow moving beast that hits hard. On the other hand, the German VK 1602 Leopard (light tank) has speed but causes less damage. Thankfully, each tank has dozens of ways that it can be upgraded including hull, engine, armor, turret, gun, chassis, ammo types and more. Taking the time to make wise selections will give you an advantage over just a standard tank.
Russians players have started calling World of Tanks “Counterstrike with Tanks.” That should give you some idea of the realism and tactical awareness that is involved. However, such realism can be frustrating if you aren’t prepared for it. A heavy tank can slow to a crawl going up a seemingly insignificant incline. You might get destroyed while still trying to turn your main gun at an agonizing pace. Artillery can sometimes be taken out with one hit. These are all inherent balancing methods that mimic the real world. They also prove the point that teamwork is necessary along with a good mix of all unit types on a given team.
The beta I played only allowed for 30-vs-30 matches on random maps. The battle would last until an entire team is destroyed or the enemy base is captured. On average battles only last about 5-15 minutes long. This mode does not allow you to re-spawn so it’s imperative to not be hasty or reckless. If you are destroyed early in a match, though, just exit the battle and return to your garage.As the name implies, the garage is where you keep all of the vehicles that you have purchased. You can buy, sell, upgrade, repair and reload ammunition for each one. Such actions are accomplished by spending in-game coins or experience earned in every battle played. Each player can own a number of vehicles at once but trying to maintain all of them can get expensive very quickly.
The benefit of having multiple tanks can be illustrated with this example. Let’s say I own three tanks: a light tank, a self-propelled gun, and a heavy tank. I take the first tank into a match and am destroyed almost at the very beginning. I can exit the match (while the battle is still being played out by the rest of the team) and enter my garage. The light tank will show unavailable because it’s still in the first battle, but I can immediately take one of my other tanks into a new match. This system creates very little down-time and enables me to be involved in nearly constant action.
I previously mentioned the impressively detailed tanks, but let’s take a moment to discuss the other visuals. For the most part, World of Tanks creates realistic environments. Many of the maps feature destructible fences, trees, electric poles and even buildings. Rolling into a rural home (accidentally or not) will cause part of it to collapse. Stationary trains provide good cover in other areas.
A number of the maps are downright ugly, though. It’s most notable in urban settings where building models are rudimentary and use low resolution textures. It’s only a few maps but that makes them even more noticeable. If Wargaming.net can give it a little more TLC (it is a beta after all) then players will be in for a real visual treat.
My time with World of Tanks was, in a word, addictive. There are a lot of good ideas that are being utilized to create a unique experience. World of Tanks is definitely a title to keep tabs on and could easily be sold in retail when it’s released this fall. The fact that it’s going to be free-to-play only makes it that much more appealing.