The title of the game conjours up images of those macho magazine subscriptions that come with a hardback folder as a free gift with issue one. As such expect a dry, technical tank based simulation with loads and loads of information for military enthusiasts and a technically accurate control system that requires reading a five hundred page manual, right? Well tank-fully (a pun had to come at some point, let’s get it out the way and move on) that isn’t the case at all and what we are presented with instead is a stripped down, multi-player action game with some slight RPG elements. In short, it’s an excuse for a bit of a tear up.
Starting with a basic tank model players start with a handful of points to add a few upgrades and then join up to a multi-player encounter with anything of upwards of 60 tanks in one battlefield. Divided into teams, there’s no dull requirement to be positioned tactically around the map and occupy the high ground… Instead the best course of action is to trundle towards the enemy and try and dodge incoming bombardments. Different tanks have different strengths and weaknesses, with some favouring manoeuvrability over armament, some being more effective at close range than at long and vice versa. Skirmishes become unpredictable and can end quickly, quicker for some than others based on their set-up. Fast, simple and fun… not exactly words we would normally associate with a tank game.
The controls are equally simple relying on a combination of the old faithful WASD for movement and the mouse to look around, anyone who has played any sort of PC based racing game will be right at home. Once two tanks cross paths and the shooting begins, it is normally over very quickly, certainly in the early stages before upgrades. A direct hit from the right kind of cannon will destroy a lesser tank outright and even those capable of surviving a blast do so at a cost of greatly reduced combat effectiveness. While the sound effects might well provide the atmosphere, there is also a radio communication that tells players how well their attacks are doing, with excitable outbursts such as "Penetration!" If the opponents armour is damaged. Not that such assistance is needed most of the time as when a tank is hit there are plenty of fireworks.
In standard MMO fashion performance equates to experience points and these are traded in at the Tank Garage… Think Gran Turismo for psychopaths. First there’s a choice of what tank to use, starting with the light tanks and ranging right up to the intimidatingly named Self Propelled Gun. Tank equipment is broken down into what are known as "modules" and comprise of engines, guns and other necessary bits and pieces such as radios. There’s a large degree of customisability and certain models can’t take advantage of certain modules, with some others being more versatile. There is also the crew to consider. If one type of tank is used consistently the crew will develop as well, providing performance bonuses (sort of like buffs) over time.
The graphics are good looking without being overtly flash. All the environments are destructible, something that is inadvertently discovered when ploughing through a small wood to try and find some hidden foes. The ground belches up clods of earth as mortars shells narrowly miss and there is a fair bit of tension while waiting for long distance shots to connect as they whistle overhead. Buildings can even be blown apart to create a line of fire for the oncoming enemy. Even with the slower tanks the game runs smoothly and plays out a lot more quickly than a game about tanks has any right to.
So far, so good but that isn’t to say that there aren’t some teething problems in some aspects of the game. Like all multiplayer games that pit players of all levels directly against someone, there’s always someone bigger and better and in the World of Tanks that doesn’t even necessarily relate to skill. Some of the later level tanks simply cannot be stopped by the beginner models and players with these weaker vessels have to instead obey those five rules, dodging, ducking, dipping, diving and dodging some more as they hope that these mechanical monsters pass them by and they can then bag a kill on something further down the scale. In our experience it wasn’t uncommon to see one of the better tanks dominate the proceedings and claim multiple victims before even coming close to being disabled, something that will no doubt prove frustrating to newcomers.
From the early stages it isn’t clear what subscription model it will take either. The likelihood is that it will be free to play with the old favourite of microtransactions – real cash for in game benefits, while the more tight-fisted / hard-up players have to grind away and recommend friends to get similar bonuses – rearing its head. Not a bad thing in itself but given the fact that there are so many better vehicles that can destroy the weaker ones with a single hit, allowing a bunch of rich kids to flood the game with some sort of super blitzkrieg will likely imbalance a lot of the multiplayer experience. As it stands there aren’t any checks and balances in place and why would there be? What would be the fun in having a super tank if there was no fodder for it to run over?
Still, a few grumbles aside the early stages are looking solid and it is something of a niche market to be sure – how many other tank combat MMOs are there? The key to delivering a great game is going to be to focus on the action. There’s a definite "one more go" vibe going on with World of Tanks, especially if a game is cut short due to a rogue tank destroyer ending the game early doors. It’s also quite quick to start levelling up and there are a lot of tanks to choose from… No joke. Tanks from all over the world are represented here and there’s going to be even more in the final game so there should be plenty of reasons to keep playing.
The finished product looks like it could walk the tightrope of being a fast paced, action based MMO without any of the clunky metagame staples that contribute towards the "grind" of other titles and could be uniquely poised to take a unique place in an expanding market. The initial premise is good, fun in theory as well as execution and it has a reason to play again. A few tweaks and the introduction of a balancing system would go a long way to creating something that could prove immensely popular.
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