It’s a blue sky over Malinovka as your tank platoon rolls tread over the dying grass, playing a lethal game of cat-and-mouse against the enemy forces hiding amidst the heavy brush. Engines blurt out on all sides as your comrades roll out and you follow in their muddy tracks when the coughing turret-report of an enemy tank signals they’ve sighted us before we them. Shells whistle overhead, radios chatter with severe language—a nearby friendly catches fire and explodes—your gunner bears the cannon sights down on a light track rambling over a hill…
By now you’ve probably guessed that World of Tanks is a tank warfare simulation and that it’s fairly immersive. This MMO launched in Russia in October 2010 and came to the EU and North America April of 2011. Amid the accolades that this beautiful simulation MMO has achieved, they’ve earned a World Guinness Record in the category of Most Players Online Simultaneously on One MMO Server, registered in January 2011 when the Russian server totaled 91,311 concurrent users. (I wonder if they have a statistic on how many shells were fired during that day.) Developed and published by Wargaming.net, it runs on the Bigworld gaming engine.
You know you’ve found an immersive game when you discover yourself, 2am in the morning, shouting, “Reload! Reload!” at the LCD screen as if it will make the game act faster. Your heart rate jumps as the main turret fires, shaking the entire screen. You find yourself almost biting your lip as you throw the tank into full-reverse trying to outwit a Panther II that you’ve accidentally crossed sights with. And finally, you sigh when the last of your armor peels off in molten shards and your crew bails the smoldering iron coffin.
Gameplay: Take the offensive over the roar of the treads!
At first glance, World of Tanks provides a team-based tank vs. tank combat environment. When you first launch, you’re thrown into a lobby that displays just enough information for you to get your bearings on what you’re looking at. You start with three beginner tanks, one from each nation, and all of them already have crews. You can jump directly into a standard battle with a button-press and get going. No customization or setup required.
Although, learning what crews do, how to outfit a tank, and what kind of ammo you want to load is something you might want to study later on.
The fact that you can leap directly into the action is a case study of the fluidity of World of Tanks excellent UI design. This game wants to put as few barriers between you and the smell of gasoline (or smoking metal wreckage.) In fact, short-stack standard battles 15v15 will queue and start often in less than 90 seconds.
When on the field you’ve got standard controls for your tank. The WASD keys allow you to navigate, the mouse arcs and pitches the turret (independent of the tracks), and the mouse button fires the gun. There’ll be a short reload period depending on your gun type and loader skill. The HUD and targeting reticule tell you pretty much everything you need to know including how long it will be before you gun reloads and how accurate your current shot will be. The longer you wait, the more accurate you get; moving the turret or the tank reduces accuracy. The UI is clean, simple, and quite direct.
The only real argument I currently have with the UI is that the auto-aim feature acts like a 3-year-old staring at DUPLO blocks and sometimes randomly reaches down to pick one up rather than pointing at my intended target. I tend to turn it off rather than rely on it. The fact that the game provides IFF silhouettes is more than enough for me to train my guns.
The minimap is easy to read and when an enemy tank is sighted you can see them as red dots (friendlies are green) and you can even see them in your HUD as floating green/red dots in the distance. Your targeting reticule can be customized a little bit with different crosshairs and certain types of information such as distance, penetration, accuracy, etc. As you’ll spend a lot of time staring at that reticule trying to line up your shot, you might want to spend a moment and customize what it looks like and how it behaves.
Sounds and FX: You’re in a tank, that is all.
There appear to be sixteen or more maps of which I’ve seen Russian and German cities, and green countryside, each different map produces different levels of cover, terrain, and strategy. The detail of the maps is more than high enough to give you a degree of understanding of where you can and can’t go, and what may or may not cover you while you try to line up another tank in your reticule.
When shells launch there’s a suitable muzzle flash, perhaps what seems to be smoke, and sometimes you may catch what looks it streaking past. When they impact, they blow dark craters in the ground (and other tanks) that spray dirt and twisted metal. This game lets you know you’re in combat.
The sound of the tank is viscerally enjoyable. Almost all of these babies sound like old diesel engines running at maximum torque; it emits the sort of guttural throaty tractor grumble that you expect from heavy machinery. The whine of the engine even changes according to stress on suspension as you attempt to climb hills or plough through debris (either in pursuit or escape.)
One particularly wonderful detail of the game happens to be the voice of your tank commander (basically the “computer voice” in game) narrating current events. Although, you’ll quickly learn to wince when you hear him speaking too often—that’s usually a sign that you’re being shelled into oblivion. Your commander will let you know when your ammo is failing to penetrate the enemy armor and when you’ve scored a critical hit; he’ll also pipe up when your ammo rack explodes, your treads get hit, or your gun is disabled by enemy fire.
Tanks: You’re welcome!
One of this game’s claims to fame happens to be the detailed and historically accurate tank models and they certainly look like it. I’m not a World War II buff or a historian, but a great deal of the tanks in this game make me think of tanks—and none too few remind me of old footage from that era on the History Channel. You may eventually find yourself being able to identify tank types by silhouette and model.
You may start with three newbie tanks, but there’s over 90 tanks to choose from in the entire game that run through a set of classic models: light tanks, medium tanks, heavy tanks, tank destroyers, and SPGs. Light and medium tanks make up the eyes and striking force of your platoon often being the first to encounter the enemy (and get killed.) Heavy tanks provide armored support for friendly units with their slow-moving but inexorable ability to advance through heavy fire. Tank destroyers more or less sneak around the map, trying to come up behind heavy and medium tanks trying to catch them off guard and vaporizing them (they’re more or less the battering rams on the battlefield.) Finally, SPGs are artillery units who can hit enemy tanks hiding behind cover with arced fire—basically another type of sniper who inflict massive damage when they hit.
I found myself in the initial game playing a lot of battles in order to research new equipment and unlock more tanks which exist in research tiers. The more experience you burn into research the higher up the tiers of the three nations you can build. The nations are the United States, the USSR, and Germany. Each nation appears to have comparably similar tanks, but perhaps different tech trees for reaching different types.
The name of the game is fighting in battles to earn gold and experience so that you can research better tanks, buy them, and train crews.
Freemium: There’s a real advantage to going premium here…
As a free-to-play game, World of Tanks makes its money through a credit system which costs dollars-and-cents. The in-game coin are gold and there’s a certain number of items that can only be bought with gold; purchasing gold-only items conveys a real in-game advantage. However, from what I’ve seen, even that advantage can be readily overcome by superior talent and tactics.
Gold can be bought in batches of 1,250 for $6.95 up to 25,000 for $99.95 (volume discounts apparently.) Alongside gold, there’s premium time which doubles XP and credit gain; but also allows you to form platoons, change some aesthetics, and other things that don’t affect game mechanics. Premium time costs gold from 250g for a day ($0.99-$1.39) to 2500g a month ($9.99-$13.90). Looking at those estimates, it’s less than a subscription to the most popular pay-to-play games.
If you want to quickly get into a new tank there’s a few gold-only that are actually pretty nice. For example, I’m quite enamored with the Light Tank Valentine (just because of the name.) It costs 1,000g, which means it’ll cost you approximately $3.99-$5.56 worth of gold. Of course, this happens to be a vehicle and is a one-time purchase for any given account. Other consumables like high-octane gasoline (higher speed) and automatic fire extinguishers cost only 50g a pop—that comes out to 20¢-28¢ a battle.
Between consumables, special tanks, and premium access World of Tanks has a very encouraging model for purchasing some gold. For the casual player, dropping as little as $20 on this game could last them quite some time.
Conclusion: Thumbs up for Wargaming.net and World of Tanks
This game has caught the attention of many communities across the Internet from Penny Arcade to the Goons of SomethingAwful. It’s ultimately an experience that is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, one which should be shared with friends. If you happen to belong to a gaming community, you’ll probably have little trouble finding a platoon to roll with. In game, during a skirmish you may not have time to make friends or talk to people; but outside of conflict you might build some relationships.
This game only gets better with team coordination.
Also, for example, it helps if there is someone listening when you’re screaming at your loader to reload faster.
World of Tanks has garnered huge popularity and for good reason. The graphics are superb and coupled with the sounds of battle it rivets together an intuitive, fun game. It’s a solid product that does a concrete job of delivering an authentic experience with few glitches.