Saturday, 28 May 2011

World of Tanks

Since my last post I've encountered the delights of tear-arsing around Ibiza in Test Drive Unlimited 2, I've finally prestiged in CoD Blops and I've tentatively dipped a toe into the 14 day free trial of Star Wars: Galaxies. But it is World of Tanks that has really captured my imagination, and hoovered up hours of my gaming time. I bought L.A. Noire, but it sat unopened on my shelf for three days because I was having so much fun pottering about in my little tank.

World of Tanks (WoT) is described as an MMO, but it isn't like any MMO you will have come across before. It's 100% PVP for a start, and instead of an endless roam-able world the gameplay is limited to short instanced battles of 15 a-side. In fact it seems to have more in common with the Battlefield's and Call of Duty's of this world than the Everquest's and World of Warcraft's. The main difference I can see between WoT and Modern Warfare 2, for example, is that everyone is on the same server so you never have to worry about finding a populated server with a good ping playing the game-type you want etc, etc... You just select the tank you want to use from your garage, make sure there's ammo in it and click join battle. Hey presto, 29 other folks who have also just clicked Join Battle will be thrown in with you and off you go!

When you think of a tank, you think of a huge armour plated behemoth with a massive gun on the front, so when you jump into WoT you expect to be this invulnerable machine of mass destruction and while you sort of are, you really aren't at all. I shall explain. The tanks, even the little tier 1 vehicles that are little more than an upturned tin bath with an air-rifle stuck on top, feel big and powerful. The sound effects of roaring engines, creaking and clanking tracks and thundering guns, coupled with the lovingly recreated models of WWII era tanks really do make you feel like you are driving this hulking metal monster of death. The fact that everyone else is also driving one however, kind of brings everything back down to the realms of your normal FPS, it's very rare, at least until the heavy tanks are introduced at around tier 5, that you end up sat slugging it out for ages with an enemy tank, bouncing shells off each other. Two or three good hits are usually all it takes to finish off a tank of a similar level to you, and the fact that you are often in matches with tanks two or three levels higher than you can often make you feel very squishy indeed! Killed within the first minute of the battle? No matter, you can choose to wait until the battle ends, spectating the action from the viewpoints of your surviving team mates, or you can hit Escape, select leave battle and go back to your garage. The tank you just lost will stay in that instanced battle until it finishes, meaning you still get any XP or credits awarded during the fight, but leaving you free to pick one of your other tanks and jump straight back into the action.

And best of all, this fantastic diesel-powered destruction is absolutely free! WoT is calling itself an MMO, and as is the current trend with that genre it has adopted the free-to-play cash-shop model. This means that all you have to do to play is go along to and download the client. The whole game is free and can be played fairly unimpeded without ever spending any money at all. The game uses two kinds of in-game currency, the first are called credits and are accumulated in game by participating in matches, the better you do, the more you earn. These credits can be spent on upgrading parts for you tank, and eventually buying new tanks, tank destroyers or artillery. The second type of currency is Gold and this can only be bought from the online store for real money. Gold can then be used to buy premium tanks, none of which are particularly better than the regular tanks, but it removes the need for you to grind out loads of credits if you fancy trying your hand at a higher tier. It can also be used to buy premium ammo, which I'm not so sure is a good thing, as it is definitely more powerful than regular ammo, and I'm not happy about anyone being able to 'buy' an advantage on the battlefield. However, ammo soon runs out, and it would prove very expensive to keep re-supplying with premium ammo! There are a few other uses for Gold that I feel are far more useful:
Extending your garage - allowing you to have more than four vehicles to your name at once.
Converting XP to 'Free XP' - You gain XP in battles which can be used to research upgrades for your tank, once everything is researched the tank keeps gaining XP, but can't do anything with it. You can use Gold to convert this tank-specific XP into 'free XP', allowing it to be spent on any vehicle, very handy later on when research starts needing loads of XP even for the most basic of upgrades.
Purchasing Premium Gametime - Increases the amount of credits and XP you earn in battle by 50%. It may not seem like much, but this boost really makes a difference, especially when saving up credits for your next tank!

A few downsides for balance, and the main one is, ironically, balance. Tier 1 is fine with everyone roaring around in tier 1 light tanks and the occasional tier 2 medium tank, but when you get to tiers 3 and 4 you often find yourself in with tier 5 and 6 heavy tanks, and as a general rule, a tier 3 light tank can't damage a tier 5 heavy tank no matter how many times it shoots it, and a tier 5 heavy tank will one-shot a tier 3 light tank almost every time. This does get annoying, but you find ways around it, becoming more of a scout, picking out heavies for your artillery to take out, whilst simultaneously hunting down the enemy artillery yourself. My other bug-bear is that it can feel a bit grindy, especially when you are trying to get the credits together to buy a tank from the next tier up. At the moment I'm enjoying the game, and it's still fresh and new enough for me to not really care, but I think as I near tier 10 it could become more of an issue. Also the fact you can only play with friends in groups of three, or full platoons of 15 seems a bit restrictive, but I haven't gotten involved in that side of things too much yet to be able to say properly how it works, maybe being in a clan enables the game to put several groups of 3man teams from the same clan into a match together, I don't know.

On the whole then, I'm having a blast in World of Tanks, and at the recession busting price of FREE there's no reason why you shouldn't give it a go as well. Just remember to buy some gold if you enjoy it, games like this still need to turn a profit, and the cash-shop model seems to fit this title like a glove.

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