World of Tanks Preview (PC)

Tanks are the ultimate expression of modern warfare. Forget the pea-shooters and sidearms of Call of Duty, the real action lies with the steel beasts of the battlefield and World of Tanks, despite its generic sounding title, is loaded with high explosive combat and precision detail.

Intended as a free-to-play MMO, the first from developers, World of Tanks is a straight up tank vs. tank multiplayer experience. Put into plain words this could strike you as a boring concept - there’s no overall story or context to place battles within or any grand strategy like the Company of Heroes series. In fact, World of Tanks is pretty much a first person shooter, just with the added magic of being a tank instead of a squashy meat bag.

Don’t get too comfortable behind cover as buildings are gloriously destructible

This means many of the skills needed to play team-based FPS games works here. There are no spells, buffs or special attacks to worry about and although I used the term ‘MMO’, World of Tanks lacks any of the usual guff surrounding such titles. Matches are quick and easy to get into and the action takes place in a third-person viewpoint that can zoom in to a first-person turret perspective for precision aiming.

At the moment the beta only has a simple base-capturing mode, though the developers plan to roll out more diverse modes along the lines of holding control points etc. This should help players to become more team-focused as my early impressions of the game were coloured with fast-paced, frenetic and unsatisfying matches. Though the more I played the better and more strategic these battles became.

It was a tough, uncompromising and unfriendly place to wage war and since you start out with the most basic of basic tanks, one-hit kills are all too commonplace. But as soon as the ashes settled on my first few encounters and I started to grasp the fundamentals, World of Tanks started to show the potential for a wider range of different tactical opportunities.

These tactical nuances are built around the five different types of tanks you can specialise in. Light, medium and heavy tanks are self-explanatory but the game includes lightly-armoured Tank Destroyers and artillery-based SPGs.

All types of tanks have their own strengths and weaknesses and using/exploiting these is the key to success. Light tanks are best used in a scouting role so they quickly spot enemy tanks and direct the SPGs to rain down hell on their position. Medium and Heavy tanks form most of the team’s task force with the Tank Killers best operating as ambushers, concealed in the undergrowth to protect their fragile armour from attack.

Matches are balanced by allowing only a few types of tank in each encounter. That way you won’t be facing 15 Tiger II’s or a dozen artillery SPGs and in this early version I rarely came across a situation where one team’s tanks completely out-classed their opponent.

Within my first five hours I’d experienced tense battles with teams dancing around each other like boxers in a ring, knowing that the first one to land a decisive blow would win the match - or by making a foolish move, compromise the rest of their team. Some matches were directed by experienced players, using the mini-map effectively and calling out grid references to launch artillery barrages from the SPCs or to highlight enemy positions. These matches were the best and it shows that World of Tanks has the potential for epic and thrilling encounters if the players can co-operate.

Boom! Tankshot!

Equally, I found battles devolving into lone wolf madness and there’s nothing worse than having half your team charging forward with no thought to tactics and getting blown all to hell.

For all this deathmatch-style gameplay and all the infuriating ways players take on such a challenge, World of Tanks is steeped in realistic and authentic lore. The level of detail down to what radio you can upgrade to, different shell types, tracks, turrets and engine sizes is impressive. Even if the concept isn’t quite as deep as the World War 2 nerd in me wanted it to be, it’s just enough to make the experience feel grounded in reality. You can spend a long time deliberating over which upgrade to buy for your tin can of choice or what tank to research next.

That’s if you want to progress to the top of the tech tree in the first place. While the initial tanks are weak and squishy I found great success in taking a middling medium tank, upgrading it to Elite status (that’s with all of the research completed and upgrades bought) and sticking with it.

There’s no shortage of experience to earn or money to acquire either. You can be in a match within 30 seconds of booting up the client and as battles rarely last longer than ten minutes the need for grinding is close to obsolete. Especially since experience is earned for a variety of tasks and not just for winning or reducing that M4 Sherman to molten metal. By spotting enemy tanks, remaining undamaged or simply damaging an opponent, you’ll net enough points to go towards that next upgrade.

The time period for the tanks runs from the 1930s to the 1950s and includes a vast array of simulated vehicles. This selection involves USA, Russian and German tanks with plans to add British, French, Italian and Japanese vehicles at release or in the future. At the moment there’s quite enough to unlock and upgrade already and I found my inner tank head well and truly serviced by the content in the closed beta.

So as this is a free-to-play game the premium content is where the game will break down right? On paper it might seem so as you can pay for the ability to earn 50% more experience over a period of time or to buy premium (read: more powerful) shells. But with experience being so easy to obtain, the shells costing so much and matches lasting such a short time, I’m not concerned that this paid-for content will upset the balance too much.

The usual ability to purchase in-game currency with your own hard-earned cash is present and offers a fast-track path to getting the biggest and baddest tanks. Though this is frustrating in theory, there’s a lot more to World of Tanks than just pointing your mouse and clicking. Even with all an-powerful German Maus you can still come a cropper if you’ve not mastered the intricacies of tank combat.

The peaceful countryside can soon resemble a smoking tank graveyard

What has me reading my Jane’s Tank and Combat Recognition Guide in fevered excitement is the promised persistent campaign maps that will be available for clans to battle over. This is the kind of team-based MMO that works best when you’re with players that, y’know, work as a team. So the ability to wage a consistent war over a variety of scenarios may bring the vital element that makes World of Tanks a truly compelling online experience.

That promise makes World of Tanks stand out in a scrapyard of dull and generic free-to-play MMOs. Due for release in Q1 2011 on PC, it’s a refreshing and thrilling opportunity to live out your Kelly’s Heroes fantasies and banish those boring elves back to their glittery forests. Now if you’ll excuse me I have a VK3001(H) to upgrade with a Grobturm turret and a 8.8cm KwK 36 L/56 Gun. No wait! Come back!

Most anticipated feature: Persistent campaign maps for clan battles.

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By bosnian_dragon (SI Core) on Nov 24, 2010
Nice!!! I can't wait to try this! :) I've been waiting for something like this to be made, and now it's becoming true! Excellent review btw, it adds even more excitement :D
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 24, 2010
This sounds fantastic!
Especcially since I am (at the risk of sounding arrogant) usually amongst the higher skilled players i think i can deal with the payed-for content and actually enyoj a free game!

I also love the fact that they've gone through trouble to make it authentic, which scores big points in my book.

And the persistent campaign actually gives me motivation to join a clan too.

Probably will see more "casual" clans that play more for fun and some othe clans that are way too serious about it. So i hope some sort of ranking system will be put into place there.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 24, 2010
Wow, i just got a beta key. You guys might want to try this, looked a bit shady but it works like a charm. Just get the key here and sign up on the World of Tanks homepage.
By bosnian_dragon (SI Core) on Nov 25, 2010
Thank you for the link Roderick!
By lacki2000 (SI Member) on Nov 25, 2010
Yep, this title is promising. I'm waiting for higher level of stategic command in campagn mode. Maybe after some time they will reach level of perfect ww2 mmo game which includes MuLeBaCoS with infantry, arty, naval and air with supply and logistic system. Its my wish for next Xmas gift :]
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 26, 2010
Thanks Roderick. I had played but without the beta key and the Valentine. Started a new account and will give it another whirl (hope it's better optimised than "Order of War").
Also, nice to see that your preview is listed on their news page, Adam.
By Adamfast (I just got here) on Nov 25, 2010
Thanks for the kind words about the preview! Really enjoyed my time with game and it's one of those rare titles that seems to balance casual gratification (quick 10 minute matches) with the promise of longer persistant campaigns.

Really hope they introduce a ranking or tiered system that caters for all levels of players. And yeah, having some higher level of strategic command (if all players co-operate) would really be a bonus.

Definitely going to spend time with this when it gets released.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 26, 2010
GAve it a whirl this morning, taking my Valentine into battle with a Jagdpather beside me against 7 enemy tanks. The Jagdpanther destroyed all the enemy, but I swear I killed the last one:(
They obviously balance teams by firepower not numbers which is curious, but understandable. Just makes being the wingman pretty much a waste of time. I'll wait for the final release.
By Cambian (I just got here) on Nov 26, 2010
The game looks great. I cant wait until the open beta comes out;)
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 26, 2010
The teams are balanced by tier actually. But that doesn't always go smoothly so you can end up as the only tier 3 in a tier 5-8 game or vice versa.

And my advice? Sell the Valentine and use the creds to speed up to something good. It's pretty bad compared to the higher tiers. And you need to spend gold to get any advantage out of the experience earned since it's outside of the tech tree.
By K3Spice (SI Core) on Dec 13, 2010
Looks like it could be good.
By bosnian_dragon (SI Core) on Dec 15, 2010
It would be nice if they added more support vehicles, like supply convoys or some special units like HQ which would give certain bonuses. I haven't tried the game yet, but I didn't see anything but tanks and buildings in the screenshots. I don't know, maybe I'm wrong.