Friday, 22 April 2011

Review: World of Tanks

World of Tanks

Developer: Wargaming.net

Back in October I brought you an article, Tank You, World of Tanks :), which introduced you all to a new free-to-play MMO which was in Closed Beta Testing at the time. The game was released on April 12th and of course, I have given it a thoroughly good thrashing to bring you a review.

World of Tanks throws together 30 tanks, split over into two teams, in head to head combat on various different landscapres ranging from urban environments to the countryside and villages. The scenario is simple, you either obliterate the enemy force or you capture their base in a take and hold fashion.

There are three factions: USSR, Germany and USA with the French tanks already proposed and British tanks rumoured to make an appearance in the future. Each faction has an individual tech tree with their own unique and immediately recognisable tanks, which are from the 1930-1950's era and include several 'prototype design' tanks which never saw active combat which as the infamous German Maus tank. The factions each have their own historical appeal and certain commonalities in their tank line, such as German guns generally have superior accuracy in comparison to the other two nations.

The battles are varied nicely. Five different tank types (Light, Medium, Heavy, Tank Destroyer and SPG), which have their own role in combat and individual playstyles, and enough maps with plenty of variety, beautiful scenery and functional aspects including camouflage and cover spots  with which to flank, hold and overlap. Wargaming.net are introducing new maps at regular intervals with two more scheduled to arrive with the next patch.

Gameplay is set in first/third person view of your individual tank in an arena-style battle in the style of Counterstrike, where once you're dead, it's over (and you leave that match to use another tank or wait for that match to end to use the same tank. The style of game is certainly not a run-and-gun one, requiring teamwork to overcome the enemy (sorry Rambo). Most teams will be undone by poor teamwork in this game and seeing complete steamroller matches where one team wins 15 kills to 3 happen frequently enough to make you notice and appreciate how good teamwork works.

Tactics are required as each tank has a different gun which has different penetration, accuracy and damage values, different mobility with varying degrees of traverse, acceleration and top speed and different armour values with varying degrees of slope and certain weakspots.Don't be scared by this by any means! Matches last a maximum of 15 minutes and most last no more than about 7 so once they get going, they're pacey affairs which will have you feeling very tense whilst your Loader reloads and your Gunner settles the gun barrel on your target. You will learn the basics in no time flat and becoming a 'good' player requires a mix of practice and patience.

You earn experience for each battle which trains your tank crew's competencies (gunner becomes more accurate, loader reloads faster etc.) and provides you with points to research new guns, suspension parts, turrets, tanks etc. This is the RPG part of the game. You earn experience, progress up the tree and buy bigger and 'better' tanks, fight against more heavily armoured foes with bigger guns. Intially progress is fast and your crew members could not hit the boardside of a barn door from ten paces but eventually the progress of tanks slows down and your crew work well, becoming very accurate and able to reload faster.

Graphics and sound... The graphics are acceptable. Maps look great but textures often feel like a let down. The tanks are extremely well presented and sound fantastic. Whilst I am not a tank expert, I believe Wargaming.net brought in experts to model the visual and audio aspects of the tanks accurately. Despite the lack of any machine gun fire, the atmosphere is quite good and can be very tense when you are all alone, camping at a bush waiting for the enemy.

Microtransactions... Real money can be used to purchase an in-game currency called Gold. Gold can be used in a variety of ways including buying a Premium Account, purchasing enhanced ammunition or buying exclusive tanks. This system does NOT mean that you have to pay to win or pay to stand a chance. Premium ammunition is something that most people reserve for Clan Battles or Tournaments, Premium tanks are weaker than a fully upgraded tank in the equivalent tier and a Premium account only gives access to making 3 man platoons and +50% credits and +50% experience, meaning you can upgrade your tanks faster. I dislike the 'pay to make a platoon to play with friends' method that Wargaming.net have used but I strongly commend them for making a game whereby the paying players do not necessarily have a tangible advantage over those who choose not to.

World of Tanks is not without it's problems. The matchmaker balance is still not great at times and downright scary at other times. Despite being heavily criticised as far back as closed beta, Wargaming.net's efforts to alleviate these issues have still failed to come up with the best results. The spotting system, a complex system which means that tanks have a certain camouflage value and view range abilities, is still working 'poorly'. You can randomly find a tank has sneaked up on you and can see you at about 50 metres away but you cannot see them. Of course, by the time you react... you're either dead or already at a big disadvantage. Performance-wise the engine is quite good but it is only single-threaded. The next patch is expected to improve the spotting system even further and make the game multi-threaded which should improve performance all-round.

Conclusion

Wargaming.net have explored an interesting niche of tank combat, incorporating many aspects of real tank battles into a game which is accessible by anyone who has ever used a keyboard and mouse whilst retaining gameplay which requires thought and tactics, as opposed to running in all guns blazing and bunny-hopping.

Whilst there are a few problems (and a lot of 'Arty is OP', Russian Tanks are OP' moaners), the game is fairly well balanced and well supported by Wargaming.net and is certainly addictive.

If you want a new game to try, World of Tanks is certainly worth the bandwidth and if you want to get yourself off to a good start, head over to my World of Tanks page and read my guides.

ElcomeSoft Score:  8.5/10