World of Tanks Preview 2: World of Tank Destroyers
World of Tanks. PC Game. Wargaming.net. Free to play.
Passed Inspection: Very satisfying game play for a beta product. Free to play.
Failed Basic: Vagaries of match-making can yield lots of frustration.
This preview is based on my journey of over 400 battles within the Tank Destroyer (TD) class of the German Army. I’ve had to grind through five levels of vehicles, including the baseline Leichttraktor, the Panzerjager I, the Marder II, the Hetzer, and the StuG III. Since it may take me weeks or even months to go through the whole tank destroyer lineup I’ve decided to write some impressions based on what I’ve seen so far. More precisely, this is how I’ve survived to date in the World of Tanks.
First, my impression of the game itself is generally very favorable. I’m a natural fan of both first-person military shooters and of armor in general, so this game caught my eye immediately. It delivers on the promise to throw a bunch of people with tanks into an arena in 15-versus-15 matches and provide a lot of entertainment. The matches so far have been incredibly stable from a technology standpoint and I’ve not had a single bandwidth issue, drop off, or major glitch in over 500 total matches, including those in which I’ve played using something other than a tank destroyer. In all that time I’ve been in exactly one match where there was deliberate, organized team killing. I’ve heard rumors of people using scripts/bots, though I have no evidence of such. For the most part players are very serious about actually playing the game, even if some aren’t particularly interested in playing it well.
My biggest beef with the game so far is that my level 5 tank is often placed into the same map as level 9 tanks. This seems to happen to me a lot, and—though I’m perfectly willing to fight tougher tanks—it changes the whole dynamic of the game from one of intelligent stalking to frantic avoidance and ruins the experience. I would never deliberately choose to go head-to-head in a match against 15 enemy tanks with armor my gun can barely scratch. By contrast, in 400 matches as a tank destroyer, I’ve been at the absolute top of the team lineup exactly once. That was the only time all the other units on my team were ranked lower than mine. It would seem to make sense if they could tighten the dispersion of ranks in any match so that you are never facing a unit more than a tier or two higher or lower. I would also like the match loading screen to show the breakout of ranks so you know up front how many of each rank are present. There are so many tanks of different sizes and shapes, it it nearly impossible to identify which tanks belong to which ranks.
Another criticism is the random selection of maps. Some maps are fantastic, while others are less interesting to me. Naturally, the random generator seems to place me on maps I dislike with a higher frequency. Himmelsdorf I’m looking at you!
While it is as much an arcade game as a simulation, I find that, by and large, using sound military tactics provides the best chance of survival in the game—and faster ascension up the tech tree. Those who simply throw their tank against the enemy without forethought often die first. The cagey ones tend to hang on longer … which brings me to the core reason for writing this preview: sharing my experiences as the commander of a tank destroyer. I chose this class because it suits my style of patient gameplay, careful target selection, and standoff participation outside the heat of battles. I prefer to provide overwatch for my teammates rather than rubbing steel with the enemy. The early TDs are essentially convertibles, with some armor protection up front and little or none on the top and rear. This dictates that you stay well back from the action and pick targets from a distance.
There are a few simple lessons I’ve learned which may help anyone interested in picking up the tank destroyer trade, and giving this game a whirl.
1. Stay well back from the action, but close enough to target individual enemy units. This is a skill you’ll have to develop because it isn’t always obvious where the line is to be drawn, but this is best done by viewing your tank in the 3rd person view and moving your reticule over enemy tanks as they are sighted by friendly units in the distance. If you get a lock, wait for the reticule to tighten up, and then fire! You will come to realize that you are targeting slivers of enemy units from across the battlefield, rather than taking them on head-to-head. This is perfect because they are more likely to be firing at your comrades in their face, rather than a lowly unit in the rear echelon! See screenshots for some of my favorite haunts.
2. Choose your firing positions based on maximizing your initial field of fire while also providing a means to reposition quickly. Put yourself somewhere you can watch the battle develop on the minimap and anticipate where you might find those first targets. If done correctly, you will have first pick at the enemy recon units that come screaming over the map looking for your artillery.
3. Keep an eye on whether you are in range of enemy artillery, as this will necessitate moving after you’ve fired a shot or two. This is another skill which will develop over time. You will learn that your need for relocations is directly proportional to the number of enemy artillery units. More artillery, more relocations necessary. If an artillery shell lands near you, keep moving!
3a. Play as artillery a few times if you can. I’ve also played some matches as artillery simply as a means of seeing the world as they do. This will help you appreciate why you have to move fast once you are sighted.
4. Keep your front facing the enemy unless you have absolutely no choice. With little to no side or rear armor, the early tank destroyers brew up instantly if you turn or try to run while in sight of an enemy. If you are caught in point blank situations you will likely die. Refer to point 1 above.
5. When you are firing at extreme range, or you have multiple targets, don’t bother zooming all the way in on them, as this reduces your battlefield awareness of what is happening around you. Just line up your shot, make sure your crosshair is showing an outline of the enemy tank, let your reticule tighten up as much as possible, and fire. When you do have the luxury or necessity of picking where you fire your gun, target tracks of fast movers, sides and rears of heavies and other tank destroyers, and generally target anywhere except the turret of the enemy, which is often the strongest point on the tank.
6. Limit movement. Try to pick a good position at the start of a match and don’t wander if you can avoid it. Time spent wandering increases your chance of running into enemy tanks at close range, and you are generally slower than other units while on the move. Tank Destroyers gain the most benefit of stealth when they are parked just behind bushes. When you come out into the open, your chance of getting picked off rises dramatically.
6a. The only time I break this rule is when I’m up against super heavies in those poorly chosen matches I mentioned previously. In these cases, it usually pays to move and fight close to and behind your own heavy tanks. If you are extremely lucky perhaps you’ll score a hit on a damaged enemy. Just keep in mind that it is often one-shot one-kill when heavies target you.
7. Have faith. While some of these early tank destroyers may seem futile to operate, it is possible to manage your location wisely, get the drop on the enemy, and control the battle. One of my most exciting battles was in a Hetzer in which I destroyed 8 enemy units. Even my Panzerjager I yielded 6 kills. It can be done with patience.
For the sake of my preview, I’ve found playing the first four ranks of tank destroyers extremely satisfying, with the StuG III (rank 5) yielding less satisfaction because it often gets stuck in matches out of its league. This matchmaking issue may be fixed by developers as the game is tweaked, so we’ll see on that count.
There are still more features coming to the game before it gets released, and we’ll be keeping an eye on things as we move closer to release date here in the States. I’m most interested to see how the Clan Wars module is built into the game, as one of the most lacking aspects overall is team cooperation and the feeling that your battles matter. This applies at the individual level where you don’t feel you are fighting for anything while on any single map, but also the team level where you rarely see teams cooperating as a 15-player unit to achieve victory. The most strategy you’ll see is "everyone go left!"
Based on my gameplay experiences so far, I think there is a lot of potential yet to be unleashed in World of Tanks.