World of Tanks hands-on preview

For the uninitiated, World of Tanks is a free-to-play online multiplayer game which in its current form, basically revolves around collecting and upgrading tanks and using them in large scale team based battles. The game is currently on version 0.6.4.

World of Tanks starts you off with a handful of entry level light tanks from Germany, Russia and the USA. Jumping in is easy: simply pick a tank and hit the “Battle” button at the top of the screen, and you are thrust into a match. The matchmaking system works exceptionally well, and you seldom have to wait more than 10 seconds before you are placed in a game.

Once in game, you are presented with a massive 3D battlefield which is rendered surprisingly well for an indie game. Movement is handled with the familiar WASD setup combined with mouse controlled turret aiming. If you were expecting a hardcore tank simulator then you’re in for a surprise, as basic tank control is very straight forward. World of Tanks makes no apologies about being reasonably accessible in this regard. The initial learning curve is gentle, although there are myriad tactical variations for each vehicle and combat situation, which means that while it’s easy to slip into the action, learning the numerous tactical intricacies of each vehicle is a potentially massive pursuit. Light tanks are best used as spotters for artillery, while heavy tanks are best suited for use on the front lines, supported by medium tanks. Then there are tank destroyers which are best used to flank enemies with their powerful cannons, and my personal favourite, self-propelled artillery which sit well behind the front lines lobbing shells at enemies – provided your team mates provide vision (the snipers of WoT, if you will).

Battles are frequently intense, and often brutally unforgiving, particularly when you’re piloting a medium or light tank and you stumble across an enemy heavy. For this reason, it is important to work as a team, and play to your tank’s strengths.

A match is won when either an entire team is eliminated, or one team captures the other’s base.

At the end of each battle, you are taken back to your garage screen. Depending on your performance in the battle, you will be awarded a number of experience points and cash. Experience points are locked to the particular tank you fought in, and can be used to research certain parts for said tank. Once you have researched a part, you can buy and mount it using cash. Parts include new tracks, radios, engines, guns and turrets, all of which affect the performance of your tank in battle.

You can also research new tanks, and it is worth checking out upgrade paths before spending research points as they don’t come quickly or easy.

You can choose the ammunition load outs for your tanks, as well as special items such as camo netting (which makes it easier to hide your tank in dense foliage) or ventilation shafts (which improve the effectiveness of your crew).

Crew members also gain experience in battle, and become more effective over time as a result. The difference in accuracy of a tank with an experienced gunner is quite marked when compared to a new gunner, and the same applies to your commander (spotting and general efficiency), loader (loading speed) and driver (manoeuvrability).

All in all, World of Tanks is well built action MMORPG with deep RPG elements. There is plenty of incentive to level tanks, and it is often required that you “grind” experience from a particular vehicle in order to get to the next tank on the upgrade path. While this can be a little off-putting, it does force you to learn the intricacies of tanks which you might otherwise have passed on after spending a few minutes with. The result is that you often wind up loving a vehicle once you learn how to use it properly, and also, when you do eventually unlock that next tier vehicle, it feels like you earned it.

Speaking of earning things, World of Tanks is a freemium game. This means that while it is free to download and play, you are offered the opportunity to spend real world currency to buy in-game gold, which can be used to speed up the levelling process, buy special ammunition, and even buy premium tanks. It’s worth noting that premium tanks are not superior to tanks which you can unlock the old fashioned way.

While it is by no means necessary to spend money in WoT, once the bug bites there is a good chance you will be tempted to part with cash for some of the in-game items, some of which give you a slight advantage in battle (special armour piercing ammo), and others which simply make the levelling process faster and easier (premium membership).

Overall, World of Tanks is one of the most compelling, unique and rewarding games I have played this year. It boasts the world record for the most players simultaneously connected to a a single MMO server (91,311), and has an extremely active global player base.

I accidentally signed up a US account, and sadly, it is impossible to have your account moved to the European servers. Latency on the US servers sits at around 350 ms (MWEB 4MB uncapped ADSL), and it is rarely noticeable thanks to the generally slow nature of WWII army tanks as well as what I assume is some clever net code. The European servers provide lower latency (~250ms), and are therefore the recommended option for local gamers.

If you would like to check your pings from your connection, here are the current server IP addresses:

Europe: 213.252.177.55

US: 174.34.231.132

You can download the World of Tanks client (1.82 GB) here.

Discuss World of Tanks in the forums

Edit: Small change to reflect version number and not ‘beta’

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World of Tanks hands-on preview