First Impressions: World of Tanks

World of Tanks is one of those games in which you have to wonder how large the target audience is. An MMO revolving around tank combat seems like it would only appeal to hardcore WWII enthusiasts or military hardware geeks. Aesthetically, the tank theme might not appeal to everyone. However, WoT is remarkably easy to get into and enjoy, even if you have no idea what PzKpfw stands for.

At this juncture, I would hesitate to call World of Tanks a true MMO. Wargaming.net is focusing on the gameplay elements for the closed beta, so Westerners have yet to experience the clan war political system that will be in the final release of the game.

I'll be honest, though -- I don't really mind. The game is that fun to play all on its own.
%Gallery-96260% The first thing I notice about a game is its interface, and World of Tanks' interface is very clean. It's easy to navigate the menus and handle everything you need to do. I also like the high levels of redundancy. You can hire new tank crew members in the Barracks screen, or you can do it in the Garage menu. You can level up tanks in the Tech Tree menu, but you can also do it in the Garage. I found everything to be convenient with just a little bit of menu exploration.

My early battles in my Soviet MS-1 starter tank were surprisingly not too difficult. The game's help menu walks you through the controls and UI very adequately. The controls are easy to understand, and the tanks handle similar to 'Mechs in the Mechwarrior series of games. A and D turn your tank; W drives your tank forward; and S is brake and reverse. R and F control your tank's cruise speed, letting you release the W button to focus more on aiming your turret, which is handled with the mouse.

Aiming the turret isn't a critical skill, though. If you mouse over an enemy tank and right click, your gunner will automatically try to keep your gun on target. This is especially handy for fast-moving tanks, as your gunner will lead the target and increase the chances of a successful hit. If you're not a twitch-master FPS player, this auto-aim is really all you need in most encounters. There is still a benefit in aiming manually, especially against slow-moving or stationary tanks -- manual aim increases your gunner's precision a little bit. For you sharpshooters, you can tap the shift key on most tanks to go into a "sniper mode" for better accuracy.

Hitting the target is another thing altogether, though. A tank is limited both by the mechanical accuracy of its gun and the skill of its gunner. Turning the tank causes a huge increase in shot deviation, causing your shots to fall well abreast of the enemy. All forms of movement, including driving and rotating the turret, also reduce your accuracy. Slowing your tank down makes it easier for the enemy to hit you, so there are definite trade-offs between avoiding being shot and striking the enemy.

Battles in World of Tanks are mostly won on teamwork and maneuvering. Spotting enemy tanks is very important. A good scout can identify enemy tanks and remain mobile while allies further away can stop, line up a good shot, and score solid kills. This is especially true in the case of artillery tanks. Artillery can lob tank shells far across the map to kill enemies foolish enough to stop moving if a spotter is present. Likewise, a fast-moving tank is a total pain for artillery tanks to hit, since there's a long delay between when the shot is fired and when it lands.

Tank commanders must balance engaging the enemy with capturing or defending objectives, as well. Each team has a base area marked on the minimap. If enemy tanks enter the base area (delineated by a white line around the team's flag), they will begin to capture it. If a team fully captures the enemy's base, that team wins the game. The other winning objective is to destroy all enemy tanks; tanks do not respawn, so eliminating a few members of the enemy team can have a strong ripple effect on the rest of the game.

Advancement is fairly quick for the early tank tiers. In just a couple hours I was able to unlock and try out several different types of light tanks, self-propelled guns, and tank destroyers. In the end, I settled on my trusty little Soviet T-26, intending to work down the Soviet heavy tank line.

Each of the tank types play a different role. The light, medium, and heavy tanks are intended as skirmishing tanks. With the ability to rotate their turrets 360°, they can maneuver to flank or surround the enemy and fire even while moving away from the intended target. Light and medium tanks also move quickly, making them great for scouting and base-capturing. Heavy tanks are strictly for skirmishing or defending, but a heavy tank can withstand tons of punishment and shell out even more.

Artillery tanks and tank destroyers don't work like the turreted tanks. They only have a small traverse for their guns, but in return, they wield far more powerful guns than a comparatively sized tank. Artillery tanks attempt to predict enemy movements as they work with spotter information to destroy enemy tanks from long-range. Tank destroyers, on the other hand, work as mobile ambushers -- moving ahead to a chokepoint or other likely spot to travel and striking the enemy as he or she comes into view. Neither of these tanks do particularly well in a stand-up fight, but since their guns are so powerful, they can often end a battle decisively with a single shot if an enemy finds himself on the business ends of those guns.

It takes a fair bit of work to advance beyond the second tier of tanks, but this is somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Commanders with tanks in the first and second tier default to fighting in Recruit Battles, which is a fairly even playing field. At tier 3, you can't play in Recruit Battles anymore, which means you may end up facing any type of tank, including the fearsome Tiger, Panther, T34-85 and other powerful tanks. A lot of players in the general chat have clamored to make a new "middle tier" battle, and I agree. It's really difficult when you find a lot of enemy tanks with 60mm of armor or greater while your tank gun can only penetrate 53mm.

On that note, I'd also like to bring up the microtransaction store. As we've mentioned before, World of Tanks is going to use a microtransaction model while the game itself is F2P. There are many different microtransaction options available, including:
  • You can buy a premium account (50% more credits and experience) for a day, a week, or a full month. The actual net credit gain is a lot better than 50%, since ammo and repair costs don't scale up.
  • Also available is premium ammo, which deals roughly the same damage as normal armor-piercing ammo, but the penetration is much better. Premium ammo can generally hurt much tougher tanks than normal ammo, but still doesn't have the higher damage of high explosive ammo.
  • For a small fee, you can exchange experience gained from using one kind of tank to experience for any of your tanks.
  • You can also exchange gold (real money) for credits to buy new tanks or modules.
  • Gold can also be used to level up your tank crew more quickly. It's worth noting that tank crews are pretty easy to level, and credits can also be used to level up your tank crew (though not as much as gold can).
  • A few tanks can be purchased with gold. They are pretty awesome compared to the T3 tanks, but nowhere near as good as the higher level tanks in any given category.
Most of this stuff is meant for convenience, but the premium ammo changes the game quite a bit. Premium ammo lets you penetrate armor you shouldn't, which is really nice when you're a low-tier tank fighting high-tier tanks. It doesn't increase your damage, but it can be really useful to disable tough tanks for allies to kill.

The verdict

World of Tanks is an extremely fun game. I'm an action gamer at heart, so my bias is fairly obvious, but I find WoT to be very relaxing. The action is a lot slower than that in your typical FPS, and a lot of the game is just movement and positioning. This isn't StarCraft where I have to be constantly doing things as fast as my brain can think of things to do, nor is it Counter-Strike where split-second reactions are the difference between life and death. World of Tanks has a much more easygoing pace. It feels like I can just sit back, relax, and enjoy shooting a few tank shells without having all the stress of other competitive action games.

I think that's what makes the game so addictive. It's satisfying to dash around the map and shoot at tanks, but it has none of the extreme intensity that makes other PvP-focused games so prone to nerd rage. World of Tanks is relaxing. It's like listening to jazz or classical music instead of heavy metal.

I think that WoT is definitely worth a try once open beta has been released. If you find a competitive PvP game entertaining, but don't want to stress yourself too hard over winning or losing, you should definitely give it a try.
This article was originally published on Massively.