World of Tanks – PC Game Review
World of tanks is a perfect mixture of historical vehicles, exciting team play, and sophisticated technology trees.
World of Tanks. Massively multiplayer online game. Published by Wargaming.net. Free to play. Accounts start at US $6.95 for 1250 in-game gold.
Passed Inspection: Free to play, with very few limitations. Nearly infinite variety of tanks, tank upgrades, and crew skills to explore. Destructible terrain. Solid graphics. Quick and reliable matchmaking. Active developer team with lots of planned enhancements.
Failed Basic: Quick matchmaking doesn’t always yield fair matchmaking. Some may find the gameplay a bit on the slow side for a shooter. Clan Wars not included in North American release. The grind may be nearly insurmountable in higher tiers without spending real money to upgrade account.
Today I begin another match of World of Tanks with the same anxious anticipation I’ve felt for my previous 1500 outings. Fourteen of my mates in a mix of scouts, heavy and medium tanks, artillery, and tank destroyers fan out into their respective positions. Some form into an ad hoc maneuver force aimed at directly engaging and destroying the enemy team and their 15 tanks. Others, driving tank destroyers and self-propelled guns, take up a more defensive stance. As I power my elite Sturmgeschütz III into position in Prokhorovka to await the inevitable first screen of enemy scouts I can’t help but reflect on the drawing power of this title by Wargaming.net, appropriately dubbed World of Tanks.
The Initial deployment
For many of our readers familiar with World War II, it will be easy to imagine two teams of 15 tanks from various nations slugging it out on a battlefield in 15-minute live-action battles. Once you let go of the reality problems of Americans, Russians, and Germans all firing on each other, and once you accept that each armor model is not intended to be an absolute 100% incarnation of the original, you emerge with a highly playable approximation of what combat among these steel beasts might have been like. My best description of the game is a 3rd person shooter with RPG elements. Each player controls one complete tank and can actively fire, move, text chat with mates, and watch the destruction unfold. More complex functions are handled automatically by the tank crew such as loading guns, fighting fires, working the radio, and fixing blown tracks. Thankfully, for those of us not inclined to delve into the minutia of operating a complex machine like a tank, this is not a hardcore simulation. My five-year-old son can play the game quite well.
I’ve parked in my favorite position on this map, which is on the reverse slope of the railroad track embankment. I’m focusing my gun on the village up ahead anticipating a scout will pass through. It is critical to destroy him before he can identify the location of our team’s artillery. A hapless medium M3 Lee emerges, apparently unaware of his vulnerable position or his inferior vehicle. I zero in on him and let a couple shots go and watch him brew up. I retreat back down the embankment and wait for more enemy …
The daily grind
World of Tanks is promoted as a totally free game, and as such it succeeds brilliantly. Just download it and you are good to go. Any person with a somewhat decent computer can play this game and experience almost every dimension it offers—it just takes a little more time and effort to play entirely for free versus paying customers’ time and effort. The armor units are broken into 10 tiers, and each tier you advance unlocks larger and larger tanks. With some unfortunate exceptions, you will almost always play against people only a tier or two above or below your own. This helps keep things fair, and enjoyable. In fact, I would argue that this game is just as fun at tier 2 as it is to command the behemoths at the top tiers. I thoroughly enjoy playing the PanzerJaeger I as much as I do the JagdPanther. However, the game is designed to entice you to keep playing, keep advancing, and eventually to start paying real money to reduce the pain of the grind. In theory you could reach any tank you’d like and not pay a dime of real coin.
For the purpose of this review, I include my experience playing the open Beta for several months as well as the ensuing release version of the game. Rather than play an unlocked account provided by Wargaming.net, this review is drawn on my experience playing the game as a vanilla player. Having said that, and speaking as a cheapskate, I personally would recommend paying at least the bare minimum (approximately $14.95 per month) so that you can unlock the premium account for 30 days and gain an additional 50% experience and in-game spending credits for each battle you fight. The main thing this does is make your rise up the tiers that much faster—for me this was important. If you spend even more real money beyond the minimum you can then buy all sorts of perks such as premium tanks, more powerful shells, and decadent German chocolate to make your crews perform better. Bottom line is that you can play the game for free for as long as you want and definitely long enough to determine if you feel it is worth your hard earned money.
Now I see our maneuver force starting to be whittled down by a combination of strong defenders and accurate artillery. A few more units came my way and I was able to destroy them with the help of a partnering Stug III. I can look at the game mini-map and see the tides have turned now, and things are about to get ugly for my team. For a moment I am distracted by the beauty of the landscape as the trees wave in the breeze, smoke rises peacefully from the Lee in front of me, and a pair of butterflies find their way in front of my gun sights. The graphics are very attractive and realistic.
The heat of battle
There is surprising depth to World of Tanks, more in fact than I could give proper justice in such a short review. Each tier has multiple tanks and tank types, which means that even with 30 units in a battle you will see a wide variety of makes, models, and nationalities. Additionally, each tank has several upgrades which become available as you gain experience using the model. The showroom-fresh Tiger tank is a far cry from the battle-hardened elite Tiger with the vaunted long 88 gun. In essence, each model of tank is a game within a game as you fight in battles, gain the experience, and then add new and improved technology to each chassis. Getting your tank crews trained magnifies the depth of each vehicle type. Crews must first become masters of a particular tank, and then they can enhance secondary skills such as using camouflage, becoming expert mechanics, or improving their firefighting skills. Taken together, I suspect there are millions of paths a single player could take to wind through the tech trees.
As one example, there are 35 models of tanks on the default German tech tree. Each tank has 5-10 upgrades. After a month of extensive game play since release (500 battles) with Tank Destroyers and Artillery in the German line, I’ve made it to Tier 6. To explore every tank on every tree would take months.
The meat of the game is conducted on the field of battle, as you might expect. Two sides face each other on a one kilometer square slice of battlefield. This is where you find out if your investment in that new motor will pay dividends as you speed into the enemy camp to kill that M7 Priest. Was it worth it to pay top dollar to ventilate your crew compartment? Can your medium tank shoot just a little bit better now to hit that IS-3 heavy on the other hill before he crushes you? Each battle also presents immediate challenges such as stopping enemy attacks on your base, smashing an enemy force in open battle, destroying the SU-152 that just destroyed six of your mates, or using your artillery in counter-battery mode to take out the artillery on the enemy team. The team that works together the best usually ends up winning, but be warned that cooperation is a fickle beast with so many random players.
As I alluded to at the top, this game has staying power. I’m excited each night to sit down with World of Tanks and fight in another battle. I usually stay up too late with the "just one more battle" syndrome familiar to many gamers. I’ve joined a clan. I’m playing in tournaments. I’ve skinned my tanks. I’ve read strategy guides and perused World of Tanks forums. The mixture of real history and tanks combined with the action and challenges of team combat is a potent mix for military history enthusiasts such as myself.
Now I’m in trouble. My fellow Stug III was taken out by enemy artillery and I’ve retreated off the embankment altogether to avoid the advancing enemy units. I snapped at a couple but wasn’t able to take them out. There are a few friendlies left on the team, but we are too spread out to be an effective defense. One tank never left our start position—I suspect the player is away from his keyboard. His wife probably called him at an inopportune time to improve his diaper change crew skill…
Capture the flag, again
As much as I enjoy playing this game, it does have some links missing in its tracks. No game is perfect.
One of the biggest complaints I hear every day, and almost every game, is regarding the peculiarities of the matchmaking system. Each tier should, in theory, play tiers that are relatively equal, though sometimes you might find yourself the low man on the totem against tanks that are 4, 5, or even 6 tiers higher than you. You might find yourself facing a team that is almost all tank destroyers, while you are overloaded with medium tanks. You might draw a team that has six artillery pieces, making it difficult to run in the open. Each of these instances will result in some unhappy players. However, this should smooth out as more players join up and the pool of potential tier members increases. In the meantime, I endure these trials without much fuss since it happens to everyone. There are also in-game medals you can earn for killing tanks in tiers above you …
Some other issues players have mentioned include: the lack of game types (currently just Capture the Flag); various bugs in projectile trajectories; particularly over-powered or under-powered tanks; some maps have defects which slow down the gameplay; Clan Wars (the strategic element of the game) is not active as of yet; artillery units are too powerful or too weak depending on who you ask; spotting mechanics are wonky at times; lack of sophisticated in-game team collaboration tools; and so on. The good news is the developers are very active with this game and as I write this a major patch is imminent. Not unusual in the game industry these days. Player feedback is recognized as an important building block of the continuing evolution of the game, which is the main reason I’m willing to accept a few blemishes on the chassis while appreciating the game as a whole.
World of Tanks is a perfect mixture of historical vehicles, exciting team play, and sophisticated technology trees. Fundamentally the game is no more complicated than jumping in a tank, moving forward, and shooting whatever you see. However, the depth of the game becomes apparent once you start truly cooperating with other team members on the map while simultaneously working in your garage to find the perfect upgrades for your vehicles and crew. Since this can all be done without spending a dime, we can’t help but endorse this game wholeheartedly.
The endgame is here. Our last couple of units have folded back into a defensive box, but there is no hope. The combination of strong enemy heavy tanks and the constant pounding of artillery means my beloved Stug is toast in short order. The match ends in defeat. I collect my experience – reduced because of the loss – and I head back to my garage to repair my tank, resupply my shells, and see how close I am to the next tier so I can move up to a JagdPanzer IV. Turns out I have a LONG way to go. I straighten my uniform, rally my crew, and roll back out to the next battle. The lure of the next tier, the next kill, the next medal, the next achievement, etc. all conspire to keep me grinding happily along in this World of Tanks.
Armchair General Score: 93%
About the Author:
Brian "Siberian_HEAT" King has been with Armchair General magazine since inception in 2003. An avid player of wargames on the PC, some of his favorite series of games have been The Operational Art of War (Talonsoft/Matrix Games), Combat Mission (Battlefront), and Battlefield (EA). Brian manages the websites of Armchair General as well as the 10 magazines of the Weider History Group. When time allows from normal duties he can be found writing reviews. When offline he can be found riding mountain bikes, playing with his kids, or reading books about the Zombie Apocalypse.
Most screens provided by Wargaming.net to compensate for my average graphics (Radeon HD 4850). The first few do show my progress in the tech tree and my two current favorite tank destroyers.
- If you try to fight alone you are more likely to become a wreck than a Rambo. Stay with teammates.
- Light recon units generally should not engage in combat. Instead try to spot enemy units and then let artillery kill them.
- Heavy tanks constitute your armored fists. They do the heavy lifting of engaging in close combat.
- Medium tanks are your maneuver force. They can get around the map quickly, but aren’t as good in close combat.
- Artillery units generally stay in the rear and look for targets using their special overhead view. They die quickly if found by enemy tanks.
- If you play a tank destroyer, consider defending your base rather than being the tip of the spear. Tank Destoryers are easily flanked so they should engage targets as far away as possible.
- The mini-map is a critical piece of your tactical planning. Use it to see where your friends are going, and more importantly where your enemies are located.
- If the enemy has artillery, try to put a building, steep hill, or even a wrecked tank between yourself and them. This helps protect you from incoming shells.
- Never show the enemy your rear. This is the weakest part of your tank.
- Never retreat uphill. You go slower and die faster.
- Your first victory in each tank every day is called a daily double. You get double credits and experience for that one game. Play all your tanks at least once per day to cash in on this bonus.
- You only have a few slots in your garage. If you don’t want to spend any money to buy more slots you will have to sell tanks to make room for more advanced models. Be sure to move your crews and remove all consumables before selling. These can then be transferred to your new tank.
- Unless you are trying to quickly progress through a tank you don’t enjoy playing, your best bet is to research all upgrades on your tank to give it elite status. Not only does this result in faster crew training if you keep playing that tank, but many of those upgrades will be immediately available on the next tier up because you’ve already unlocked them.
- If you are reluctant to spend money training your crew when you buy new tanks, you can wait and train individual crew members. If you spend money on just one, train the commander. A commander at 100% training for that tank passes some of his skill to all other members of the crew. This is an important advantage.
- There is no such thing as "stealing a kill." Everyone should shoot until the unit is dead no matter what. A unit with 1% health is just as likely to go on and kill 5 of your teammates. It happens.