What's all the fuss about...World of Tanks?

Constantly hearing about a particular game, wondering what exactly the big deal is? In our regular series, we delve into the hottest community games and ask the important questions: Why do they generate such a devoted following? Is all this fuss warranted? And if so…are they worth your time?

This week, we look at World of Tanks, which began as a free-to-play multiplayer tank sim on PC, then made the transition to consoles. It’s maintained a strong level of popularity over the years. Time to dive in and see what’s going on!

What is it, exactly?

World of Tanks is a multiplayer tank battle game designed to appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in mechanized warfare. Originally released at the start of last decade on PC, developers Wargaming eventually ported it onto the Xbox 360, and then the Xbox One. It finally debuted on PS4 in 2016.

The first thing to note: this game certainly lives up to its title. There are literally hundreds of the titular tracked vehicles to command, each with its own unique set of stats. After perusing your garage and jumping into one of the tanks from your collection, you’ll take to the battlefield with the aim of destroying the enemy team or capturing their base, on a variety of different maps.

How does it play?

World of Tanks couldn’t be a more perfect definition of  ‘strange beast’ if it were covered with purple fur. At first glance, the huge compendium of historically accurate, painstakingly designed tank models, along with the attempt to model some pretty in-depth systems, suggest a taut, realistic simulation. Individual armor penetration values for weapons and ammo, fully modeled crews with individually accrued XP and skills, and a comprehensive range of upgrades to each tank’s major components (turret, engine, and guns, etc.) are all included. There’s even varying probability of detection based on different levels of camouflage. Dig into the meat of the game, though, and you have what is unmistakably a basic 15 vs. 15 team deathmatch shooter, with extremely simple point-and-shoot mechanics.

You begin each match on one side of a map, accompanied by your teammates. How you tackle the ensuing battle largely depends on the class of tank you’ve selected. There are light, medium, and heavy types, along with the more specialized tank destroyers, and self-propelled guns. Each class has a role on the battlefield, and the best way to win is to coordinate with your team to perform a particular function. Light tanks, for example, are great at spotting enemies (an important mechanic, as spotted enemies are visible to your entire team), and quick enough to be able to get away from a fight if things get a little too rough (with the light class’s weak firepower and thin armor, high-tailing it is often the most sensible option). Conversely, self-propelled guns are more valuable sat way back from the battle, peppering the area with their high-powered rounds.

The third-person view suggested a learn towards more arcadey combat, and this proved correct once I got to driving around, which couldn’t be simpler. Same goes for firing at the enemy, with ranged shots accomplished by switching to the first-person turret view, which includes a zoom option. Encouraged how quickly I got the hang of the controls, I piled my medium tank in with the rest of the melee and very quickly paid the price. It took a few instances of my tank swiftly being reduced to a burning wreck to realize that, though the controls are easy to pick up, I still had a lot to learn about strategy.

Is the fuss justified?

Eventually, I began to get the hang of staying alive and even started getting some kills of my own. I got plenty of practice, largely in part due to WoT’s admirable emphasis on getting you playing the game. Everything is geared towards throwing you into combat as quickly and as often as possible. The load screens are notably brisk, and there’s even an option to skip out of a match once you die without losing any of your accrued XP or bonuses. This is a feature I’d like to see much more of in games like these, where death can happen in an all-too-quick moment and is permanent until the end of the round. The downside of this, however, is that I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being hurried along, like a restaurant rushing your service so they can give you the bill and use your table for the next set of diners. Or a brief museum tour that exists solely to get you into its gift shop. The more games you play, the more often you’re reminded that this is a ‘freemium’ title. You’re never in any doubt that WoT wants your money at every opportunity, and it can be off-putting.

It may seem ridiculous to complain that I’ve been able to play too much of the game that I’m playing, and I wouldn’t disagree. I think the reason for my dissatisfaction is that the MMO grind is just too noticeable here. Progression starts out quickly but soon slows to a crawl as you get a few matches in, and the feeling of getting nowhere isn’t helped by the fact that upgrades you research and buy for your tanks are mostly tiny, incremental improvements to your stats. Every upgrade always improves on the last, too, so absolutely no brainpower is needed. It’s progression for progression’s sake, in the worst tradition of the genre.

Use of real-world currency, of course, speeds along your rate of progression, but even then, I think I’d struggle to put the required hours in to get anywhere. In WoT, tank vs. tank combat is all there is, and, as intuitive as it is to control, I never fell in love with it, finding it all too easy to grow tired of the lack of variety.

Worth a look?

If you really like tanks so much you’d like to be one, and just do tank things forever, then this just might be the last game you’ll ever need. There’s certainly an intriguing quirkiness to the game’s balance between simulation and arcade leanings. Make no mistake, though: like many free-to-play MMOs, World of Tanks is all about the grind.

And without the benefit of the sort of window dressing you get with other MMO experiences that serve to add variety to the experience, like a story, crafting and side-quests, You’re left with a cold, rigid upgrade path, and hours and hours of repetitive combat. Whether you get anything out of the whole experience depends largely on how much you enjoy that combat. For me, the classes of tank add little variety: the differences between them are nothing like the difference between, say, a mage and a fighter in an RPG. The good thing is if World of Tanks sounds like it could be just your thing, the price of admission’s free. Just don’t be surprised if the longer you go without spending cash, the more frustrated you become by the chronically slow level of progress.