World of Tanks – MMO Game Preview
World of Tanks. PC Game. Wargaming.net. Free to play.
Armchair General gave a preview of the Beta of the free MMO World of Tanks back in July of last year. Since then, changes and tweaks have been made in the game and given its popularity (over a half-million players in the Beta), we thought we should update our readers on what’s happening the game now.
World of Tanks is the brainchild of Wargaming.net. It is a Massive Multiplayer Online game (MMO) based (at this point) exclusively around tank combat set approximately during the Second World War. There are some early prototype vehicles, as well as experimental models that never saw actual service. Some of the vehicles stretch into the 1950’s, but the general atmosphere of the game will give gamers a definite World War Two vibe.
There are plans to add both air combat and infantry to the game, but those are longer-term goals. At the moment the game has been released commercially in Russia, but it remains in closed beta for the rest of the world. The open beta is planned once a European-based server has been created, and the game is slated for commercial release sometime in the first quarter of 2011.
World of Tanks has something else going for it – it’s free to play. Free games are a growing trend these days, and they are not gimmicks. Most of them are every bit as well developed as any $50 game on the shelf. The catch is that the developers dangle some tempting fruit in front of gamers: the ability to accelerate their experience and production by spending money.
The press account I have been given has taken the worry about upgrades out of the equation. With literally a billion gold points (and I have no idea how much money that would equate to in real life) I could rush through the tech tree in a few minutes and create any vehicle in the game. Presently, three nations are playable: the United States, Germany, and the Soviet Union, though more are planned. The developers have made great effort to try to simulate the characteristics of each tank produced by each nation.
Gamers should make World of Tanks a must-play
However, Wargaming.net has attempted to balance realism with fun. The result is not so much a tank simulation as it is is a solid mix of an action game for tank fans. Each tank behaves uniquely. At the top end of the scale, the US T30 heavy tank is fast, has a good gun, and great optics which allow the player to quickly zero in on a target. Its armor, however, is light, and it’s quite vulnerable compared to, say, the German Maus. The Maus, on the other hand, is s-l-o-w. It moves ponderously. Its turret swivels but oh-so-slowly. The gun is very powerful but takes an eternity to reload. I know I’m driving a Maus when I see Tiger tanks zipping past me like Porsches on the Autobahn.
Tanks have individual components which can be damaged, and these range from the engine to the ammo (which can catch fire) to the tracks. Tanks in the game can be immobilized, but treads are quickly repaired – somewhere around 20 seconds. This concession to reality means that players can get back in the hunt fairly quickly, but not overly fast – an immobilized tank caught in the open is a sitting duck, and if several enemy tanks take it under fire, it’s a goner.
Currently the only gameplay available in the closed beta are random battles. These take place on large maps. Many of the maps are historically accurate, and players will recognize them instantly. It’s actually really neat to game in these high-quality 3D maps with battles like Kursk actually coming to life. The players on each side are randomly chosen, with the result that German tanks fight happily alongside of American and Soviet tanks. This can make for some interesting battles, and it’s not uncommon to see two German tanks slugging it out.
In addition to tanks there is some self-propelled artillery in the game. Artillery adds an interesting aspect. None of the artillery are well-armored, and if taken under fire, they typically are destroyed with one shot, two at the most. Becoming proficient with artillery takes some time. Instead of direct fire, the player presses the Shift key and goes into artillery mode. The map then moves to an overhead view, and I was left with the unmistakable impression that this looked like the kind of image I would see from a satellite. In this mode the player can see the map on a real-time basis. If another player on his team has line-of-sight on an enemy tank, the player will be able to see it. If there is no line-of-sight, the player can still see any buildings crushed or trees overrun by tanks, which are good indicators of a target.
Spotting and targeting are two different things, however. Each time the player moves his mouse the aiming reticle is disturbed. This simulates the traverse of the gun – usually the entire vehicle – realigning on a new target. Realignment takes time; it can take several seconds for aim to be stabilized, so hitting a moving target is nearly impossible. Nearly – it can be done, but it involves both luck and skill. Conversely, any tank that sits still for long tempts fate. However, all is not lost. Indirect fire isn’t omnipotent. Building or geographic features can block fire, and a spotted tank hiding on the wrong side (or right side for them) of an obstacle will be frustratingly protected. The player is faced with the choice of waiting for the tank to emerge from shelter (keep in mind that the spotting tank may be destroyed while you wait) or zipping across the map to find easier pickings – again disturbing the aiming reticule and requiring several seconds to zero in on a new target…which might move, or lose the spotting vehicle. It can be rather frustrating to see a major battle heating up in a valley, but be unable to bring fire support to allies because the gun can’t get a good firing solution. Novice gamers will sometimes quip nasty remarks about the quality of their artillery in the game, but the fact is artillery is only as good as its spotters. Also common are lighter tanks trying to break through to the rear. If a flank – or worse frontline – is unguarded, it’s short work to take out a side’s artillery. Teamwork is the key, and players who work well together will shred a bunch of loners.
Typically battles are fought in elaborate games of Panther and Maus. The two sides rush to choke points on the map, then take shelter around rocks or buildings. Each tank will then nose out, pop a shot, and retreat behind cover. Gameplay is reminiscent of a first-person shooter, but there is more to World of Tanks than crazy run-and-gun tactics. Smart players will find good positions on the map, shoot and scoot, and generally try to emulate sound tank tactics.
Heavy tanks, with their long reload times (and many lacking turrets) act more like snipers, edging out, unleashing a devastating shot, then easing back into cover. Medium tanks, however, can band together like a school of sharks and zip across the map. Their armor allows them to absorb a few shots, their fast reload times mean that they can bang out shots quickly, and if enough of them swarm a heavier tank, it will quickly be overwhelmed. Light tanks are best used for spotting. Their job is to ID enemy positions for the artillery and get out of the way of the bigger boys. The trick is to get with a group of guys who are thinking as a team. World of Tanks has obviously been designed as a cooperative, team-based game. I can easily see clans of highly competent gamers emerging who will wreak havoc on the unsuspecting or less skilled.
Currently communications in the game are limited to written messages, though plans are in the works to implement high quality voice chat. At present the server is filled with players from all over the world, and it’s almost as common to see players chatting in Russian or Portuguese as it is in English. I expect that as more servers come online US-based servers will become less populated with foreign languages as gamers will likely want servers with the lowest pings and will gravitate to ones closer geographically.
A Clan Wars module is scheduled for release soon, and this should provide an interesting development in gameplay. Players can form clans of up to 100 gamers. These clans will fight to dominate a global map set during the 1940’s. Clans will have a common treasury, so there will be an incentive to join a clan, who can then choose to power level players up the tech tree. Financial management will be a key skill to develop, as funds won’t be unlimited. The best clans will not only be filled with competent, team-based players, but also with financial managers who can keep an eye on the clan’s spending. The financial aspect of the game promises to be intriguing. Clans will be able to form alliances with other clans. Also, clans will need to fight for new territories – a newly formed clan must fight its way onto the map. Force disposition will not be visible to enemy clans, but Clan Wars will offer some features to scout/spy territory to determine how well fortified it is. Obviously, an attacking clan will want to try and take lightly guarded territories, all of which sounds like it’s going to make for some dynamic and enjoyable gameplay. Expect to see the Clan Wars module implemented soon.
World of Tanks is already a lot of fun to play, but the upcoming improvements hint at even better things to come. With the open beta, launch of a European server, and release of the Clan Wars module right around the corner, gamers should make World of Tanks a must-play. It’s free and fun. Lone wolf players won’t fare nearly as well as guys who work together, learn the maps, and master strategies to win.
About the Author
Jim Zabek is a part time games editor and full time zombie hunter. When not writing, editing, or playing games he can be found stalking zombies, keeping them off the streets so the rest of you can commute to work without being eaten for breakfast. By zombies.