Most massively multiplayer video games let you play as an elf, or a soldier, or a wizard. World of Tanks one let’s you play as a tank. Yes!
World of Tanks is a freemium MMO wargame from Russian treadheads Wargming.net. The game is a 3Gb download (Windows only), and it’s completely possible to play totally for free, tightwad players aren’t nerfed. Gameplay is team-based deathmatches, mostly a 15-a-side capture-the-flag scenario.
So what’s it like? Fun and hard. Combat is very tactical, you’ll have to make use of cover, concealment and scouting to survive, and teams that mutually support each other tend to wipe the floor with those that play as individuals. Even very tough tanks can be taken down by coordinated teamplay, and running around madly looking for trouble is generally a quick way to wind up with your panzer a flaming wreck.
You’re allowed several tanks in your garage. This is essential as if your ride is knocked out (which it will be, a lot) then it’s not available for use until that game ends, which can be up to 15 mins. Tanks of all types, tank destroyers and assault guns, and self-propelled artillery are all available, and the arty is actually quite fun to play as it gives you an aerial view of the battlefield. German, Russian, British, Russian and US vehicles are available, and teams will be a mix of nations.
The tanks themselves are initially early or pre-WW2 models, and as you progress up the tiers they tend to work their way through the war years, with puny early war Panzer I’s giving way to the mighty Panther. All the famous vehicles are there: Shermans, T34-85s, Tigers, StuGs and even some Cold War heroes like the M48, T54 and T62 at the top tiers. In addition there are quite a few prototypes that never saw actual combat in the World of Tanks lineup.
Injecting some cash into your account can buy you extra spots in your garage, better ammo, bling for your tank, or even whole new tanks. Some of these aren’t available through the normal tech tree, but all premium tanks suffer the fairly significant drawback of being unable to take upgrades. I haven’t bothered to pay for anything myself, but what’s worth doing is to slog your way through the tutorial battles, as you’ll be given a premium tank and a good crew for your trouble. This gives a nice insight into what combat is like with a better vehicle than you’ll have initially. You can use that premium tank to train crews for other vehicles.
Experience is scored in battles for damaging enemies and for spotting them, which rewards reconnaissance as well as violence. XP can be spent on upgrades, eventually unlocking new vehicles. However, I’ve found it’s not compulsory to pick up better vehicles as soon as they’re available. Some of the lower tier vehicles are excellent fun to play, and shunning the upgrade gives you the opportunity to concentrate all XP into improving the crew’s skills, which is just as important as having a good tank.
Observation and scouting play more of a role in World of Tanks than most games, as you can only see enemy that yourself or an ally in radio range have spotted, and they can vanish completely if they give you the slip. A well-concealed tank destroyer can easily lie in wait and ambush unwary foes, and a safely distant artillery piece can engage targets under observation by scouts without those scouts having to give away their position. Using cover and terrain well will give a tactical advantage that will win firefights.
The number one mistake I see in the game is the tendency for people to charge at the start of the match, generally the folks who do this end up dead within a couple of minutes, with the more cautious and clever fighters claiming their scalps. Retreating is a valid tactic, pushing on against a disadvantage rarely pays off, as the teams are generally closely balanced. Since neither side has an overall advantage the only option is to try and create local mismatches. Tactical errors will be ruthlessly exploited but battles are normally a simple matter of attrition, as a successful flag capture tends to only happen once enough of the enemy have been knocked out to allow several tanks to advance onto the objective together. Cheeky loners slipping through the lines don’t tend to live long unless their team mates reward their impetuosity with immediate reinforcements.
Overall the gameplay is varied, and rewards a range of tactics. Some tanks are extremely quick and make good scouts, while some have powerful guns but are slow or weakly armoured. Some are genuine monsters that strike fear wherever they go, but these also attract a lot of unwelcome attention, and no one is invulnerable. The maps are good, with terrain varying from street fights, desert, mountains, coastal and maps with a good mix of terrain. Just driving around can be fun, and there’s plenty to look at.
If you can spare a couple of hours, swallow the 3Gb download and go take a panzer for a drive.