It seems you can't go anywhere on the internet lately without seeing a banner advertisement for World of Tanks, so to satisfy our curiosity we took the time to have a go to see what all the fuss was about.
Developed by Wargaming.net, the same people who bought us Massive Assault, this MMO game is free to play but has an underlying micro economy to access premium content ("freemium"). Don't be put off by the premium account aspects of the game, though, because our experience is that you are able to compete against the big money boys relatively easily.
The game's roots are firmly set in World War 2, with a lot of the earlier tiers of tanks covering the various development of tanks from throughout the war. You have the choice of playing either as German, Russian, or USA, however in game terms this only relates to the technology tree and tanks you can use, as each battle is made up of a mix of tanks from each of the nations. The initial tank you have is a free tier-one tank that is armed with a pea shooter and uses wet cardboard as its defense. Unlike other MMO's where the new boy is regarded as cannon fodder, each 15 minute game has you pitted against other tanks of around a similar tier.
Games are played over a great set of 3D maps that include destructive terrain features (nothing says power like running over a truck in your tank) and map terrain types varying from cities, plains, hill country, and low-lying coastal areas. So what is a typical battle like? Well, after selecting your tank (our favorite is the BT2 an early fast Russian Tank that was phased out prior to the war), you are set in the queue while the system sets up a game of 15-a-side, loads one of the game maps and counts down to the start.
“Hmm, “Mines” map. A small coastal map, with a hill in the centre, a town in the east, and the coast and some rocky out crops to the west. Our flag and start point is to the south. A quick look around, and I see we are not the best tank in the team, about middle of the pack and there are two SPG's (self propelled guns) on each side.
We're off!. As we are to the left of the pack we shoot north-east towards the coast. Have to hoof it as the enemy will top the rise in the middle of the map in no time and it's not good to be caught out in the open. We zoom to the coast using the folds in the ground and brush for cover. We speed along the beach and across some tidal water (grit the old teeth at this point as water slows you to a crawl and you feel awfully exposed) and up a little rise. Should be right about here that we start seeing the opposition.
Yep, we spot an M2 light US tank, facing towards the centre hoping to pop one of our guys off as they race for the hill. Wham! Smacked him with a 37mm round where the sun don't shine and the armour is weakest. Down 40% or so, he swings his turret around, but my speed outpaces him and I get a second shot in as I top the rise and down the other side. Not enough to knock him out, but the tank following finishes him off.
Cresting the rise reveals two more enemy units, including a Panzer II with an auto-cannon and we immediately take rounds to our front. Some ping off the harder frontal armour but others manage to penetrate. Worse still, we lose a track and come to a dead stop. While the driver tries to repair it, we get off a round at the panzer and manage to take him down by 25% but a combination of his next auto-round volley and a shell from one of the artillery guns knocks us out........dang!
As you can see, games can be fast and furious, while at other times if both sides adopt a defensive strategy it can be a game of hide and seek. Regardless, of the over 200 games we have played, none have gone to full time. Win or lose, you get credits. Obviously winning gets you more and this is done by knocking out all the enemies tanks or capturing their base. The credits you get are spent on repairing your tank or investing in upgrades. These upgrades consist of better suspension and engines, that in turn allow you to carry better turrets and heavier weapons, Eventually you get to the end of the tree and you can then research the next tier tank.
Each of the three faction has 10 tiers of tanks and they can be broken down into light tanks, that are used to scout out the enemy and are lightly armoured and fast. Its important that these have the best radios you can get get as scouting is useless if you get out of range of your team. The Medium Tanks are a good all-rounder and, at a pinch, or preferably in pairs, can take on the Heavy Tanks. The Tank Destroyers rely on stealth and hang around the back looking to take out enemies at longer ranges. Artillery, rather than using the direct-fire mechanics of other units, aim their guns looking top-down on the map and, while devastating, is a tricky unit to master.
The tank crew also gain experience as you progress. The more they have the better they get. While at 100% experience they can then specialise in areas such as tank repair and camouflage.
By paying cash for in game credit you can expand the amount of tank slots you have from the initial 4 slots and you can also access premium tanks, purchase maxed-out crew, as well as specialised ammunition. Our experience though is that all of these don't make up for good gameplay and tactics. Hull down positions, putting your thicker armour to face the enemy and using angles around hard objects to lessen your own exposure are all part of being a good player.
We are not sure where the servers are based but at a regular ping rate of around 200-300 on a standard DSL 2+ connection there is no noticeable lag or delay. Regularly there is 300 to 400 hundred games in progress at anytime so there is never much of a wait for your next match up. The short duration matches makes it an ideal game for those looking for quick thrills and time to surf the net in between.
This is by far the best free to play MMO out there at the moment. Its well polished, with good sound effects, well detailed tanks and terrain and regular updates and maps. Yes it's not historically correct but its a lot of fun for only the price of a download. We highly recommend it.