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Hands-on with World of Tanks' patch 8.0

World of Tanks 8.0
World of Tanks is one of the biggest MMOs in the world, boasting over 40 million registered users and a record peak concurrency of around 500,000 players. The game is simple on its surface: Two teams of tanks head out into a variety of battleground maps, then blow the heck out of each other until a base is captured or one team is obliterated. However, deep tech trees, customizable ammo and supply loadouts and dozens of tanks across five tank types make for an experience with plenty in the way of personalization and flexibility.

Wargaming.net, the developer of World of Tanks, keeps players engaged with frequent content updates. Most of the time, these updates contain small tweaks. Other times, they reinvent the game from the ground up.

The recently released patch 8.0 falls into the latter category, so I hopped into World of Tanks to see what changes Wargaming.net hath wrought.

First, a quick primer on the primary modifications:
  • Graphics received a major overhaul, with a new rendering system and lighting effects.
  • Many maps were retouched to look better based on the new graphics calculations.
  • Audio got a big upgrade, with new sounds for driving on different terrain and all-new gun noises.
  • The physics system was completely reworked; tanks can now drive off cliffs, into lakes, and pretty much wherever else they please.
My first goal upon logging into World of Tanks post-8.0 was simple: find a huge cliff and drive right off of it. Since this wasn't previously possible, it was something that absolutely had to be done for the sake of accurate and reliable reporting. In other words: "For science!" So I hopped into my nicest tank and immediately took the plunge.

World of Tanks Physics
Driving into the ocean actually taught me a couple of interesting things about the new mechanics introduced with 8.0. For starters, the physics of the game are rooted very much in reality. Tanks feel heavy and can't just drive up and down mountains however they please. In fact, there were several times during my playtest when I found myself sliding helplessly backward or sideways down a slope too steep to navigate with only the determination of my treads.

Second, World of Tanks now has a system for calculating exactly what sort of water exposure a tank's crew can handle. In my first test, my tank immediately exploded due to the height of my fall. But when I tried driving straight into a lake (once again, for science), I received a new pop-up indicating that if I didn't get my armored butt out of there quick, my crew was going to drown. I, of course, ignored it.

World of Tanks Water Warning
From an outsider's perspective, it may be hard to imagine why these changes are such a big deal. After all, why would anyone in his right mind want to drive a tank into a lake or off a cliff? The answer here is simple: strategy. In the pre-8.0 days, the only way to get from point A to point B in a World of Tanks match was by following one of a few mostly narrow paths. This made it tougher to find a creative line for flanking enemies or sneaking up on capture points. Now that I'm free to charge off cliffs or submarine my tank, my options for attacking the enemy have widened dramatically. Wargaming.net has tweaked the maps to ensure these new path options don't give anyone an unfair advantage, but otherwise, the new physics system has blown the game wide open.

My second goal in checking out 8.0 was catching a glimpse of the new graphics system. I've always thought World of Tanks was a utilitarian game: It was designed not to be pretty but to give players tanks/guns and let them handle the rest. The new rendering system, however, has dragged World of Tanks from a land of stifled colors and generic appearances into a beautiful world packed with sunsets, reflective water, and gorgeous shadows. My tank exploded multiple times during my playtests due to my wanting to investigate some trees a bit more or catch a closer look at some rippling waves rather than look out for enemies on the horizon.

World of Tanks Graphics
It's an odd juxtaposition, to be sure. In World of Tanks, players compete in bloody, violent conflicts on some of the most beautiful large maps I've ever seen in a game. And when I think about it, I guess it makes sense -- surely there were a few nice days during actual wars. Patch 8.0's graphical upgrades make the game feel more crisp and real, and when combined with the physics overhaul, they almost turn World of Tanks into World of Tanks 2. Wargaming.net has done some wonderful work here.

Also worth a mention? The impressive new sound effects. I had previously read that Wargaming.net was looking to change up the World of Tanks sound system, but I never really saw the point until I heard that first artillery cannon fire off in one of my post-8.0 matches. The new firing sounds are perfectly executed and add an incredible weight to the combat featured in the game, one that I didn't even realize was missing until I heard the new versions in place.

There are other changes as well, some of which may not necessarily matter to the uninitiated. New tanks (eight of them), new gear, new emblems, and new achievements have all accompanied 8.0 to launch. Fans of World of Tanks, once they pop their eyeballs back into their heads and realize they're still playing the same game as before, will likely be as happy to explore these new additions as I was to go careening off a mountainside. It really is a patch for everyone.

World of Tanks Desert
Overall, World of Tanks 8.0 is a triumph that has fundamentally changed the nature of the game without flipping the entire thing upside-down. It's a complicated set of adjustments executed with a light touch, meaning World of Tanks still feels very much like World of Tanks, only better. What's perhaps more amazing than Wargaming.net nailing 8.0 is the fact that the company isn't even done making changes: 8.1 is already in development and will bring 22 all-new tanks to the game's battlefield.

Not too shabby for a game some publishers allegedly referred to as "cheap, Asian stuff."

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

This article was originally published on Massively.