Launched in 2010 by Wargamer.net WoT became a huge hit. Despite being a relatively simple game it grew to include servers around the world and has managed to spawn several spin-offs (World of Warplanes ain’t doing too badly for itself, and World of Warships is in alpha) to its name. Now having been completely redeveloped it’s made its way to the 360.
The first thing you might notice is how small the download size is, a paltry 70mb, however, starting the game will launch an ingame updater, which downloads all 2.7gb in one go (showing its PC origins). Considering this is made specifically for the 360 it seems a little unusual, but could be it allows them to tweak things more easily.
Once that is done you’ll be dumped into a hanger with a tank in it, and several tabs at the top, with some tank icons down the bottom. It’s not initially clear what to do, but it’s fairly simple. Up top are your menu tabs, which are controlled by the bumpers. Down the bottom is your tank collection, which to start with is three very basic tanks, and a training level (which also includes some guide videos). The training level is short but does the job; I do feel it could be longer though, as it only really covers the most basic of elements (moving and shooting mechanics), and at the very least should grant you more freedom to roll around to play around.
You start off with two light tanks (scouts) and a medium (your all round bog standard multi-role fighting vehicle) – to unlock other types you’ll have to work for them – and work you will, as this game is grindy. Upgrades (packages as the game calls them) are unlocked by XP, which is needed to research them, and Silver, which is used to purchase them. Oddly, a few are free, which is nice if unexplained. To unlock the next tank you have to research a certain number of packages in that tank’s line, though buying them is optional. Each package is a slightly different version of your tank with a focus on one particular aspect, so you can choose a fast one, or focus on armour (though the final upgrade generally will max all stats). The problem this brings is that until you reach the package you want your vanilla tank is frankly not very good, and it left me wondering why I bothered upgrading at times (answer: because there’s no choice if you want to advance).
Now, to actually start a game is very simple; highlighting your tank of choice and pressing A will throw you right into the match queue. It’s normally nice and quick, but it’s all too easy to accidentally start a game when you don’t get a chance to back out. There is no choice of game type or map; you will be put into what the next game in your queue is whether you like it or not. In some ways I can see why this is good as it prevents the same maps from being played by everyone leaving others neglected, but it is technically possible to get the same map 2 or 3 times running.
Gameplay controls are pretty standard and fairly easy to get to grips with. The left thumbstick moves your tank while the right looks around, so standard stuff there. To shoot, all you have to do is pull RT, and if you want to fine aim pulling LT puts you into first person view, overhead for artillery, (it would be nice if you could lock that view easily – it is possible but involves the weird action of opening your map, releasing the trigger and then exiting the map), which can be further increased by the right thumbstick.. RB is used as an auto-aim mechanic, locking your turret in place – useful for circling round people, but not for accuracy. LT brings up one of the neat features of the game, a command radial which allows you to issue basic orders and request to your team, it is quite easy to spam but erases the need to use a mic for many situations.
Now, combat is based around the idea of shell penetration, as unlike most shooters where a bullet will always hurt, in this you play as multi-ton hulks of metal, so it’s not so simple. The basic idea of combat is to aim for the weakest spots of the enemy, while positioning yourself in the best place to avoid taking damage. Further to weakspots is angle, facing straight on will get you hurt, and a slight difference in degrees can make the difference between a bounce and penetration. There is also a damage model of sorts for tanks, such as your gun or tracks, say; if your tracks get shot off you can’t move until they get repaired, which is fine until you realise repairing can be interrupted, meaning you can be immobilised indefinitely – though there are items available to buy to speed it up. With all that said sometimes it all just comes down to power, and this brings me onto one of the biggest problems of the game; balancing.
Some of the battles you encounter will be simply impossible to win. It is entirely possible to be put in matches with tanks 2-3 levels above yours, and the chances of hurting some of them are next to nothing, the flipside being they can smash right through your armour as if it were paper. Now obviously you’re meant to work with team-mates to overwhelm them, but this often isn’t possible, because you may be the last one left or (quite frequently) your teammates won’t seem bothered about saving you. As I mentioned earlier some tanks start off with very basic weapons, and so it can be very annoying when you finally ground enough to earn that tier VII only to find that you’re suddenly in a map with tier IXs and back at square one. Quite often if you’re too low levelled you will be unable to contribute anything, save for a suicidal ramming charge or the odd spot.
The aforementioned spotting is essential to victories; as unlikely as it seems tanks disappear from view entirely if they remain out of sight too long. You will need to get close or have a scout spot them before you’re able to aim (though blind shots still do damage, so blasting away where you last saw them is a legitimate tactic) – artillery are all but useless unless you bother hunting targets for them. The game is supposed to tell you when you have been detected too, but it seems a bit unreliable, which can cause frustration. It is quite a nice mechanic that certainly gives the game more of a tactical edge, though a mode where everyone can see everyone would be quite fun, if only for the carnage that would ensue.
Now, the game is fairly well put together, especially for a freebie; the graphics look pretty good for the most part, though close inspection of textures reveals them to be very rough there’s no actual reason why you’d be staring at them in game. Map design is pretty good, they’re quite large and are different enough from each other to keep interest up. The tanks themselves handle pretty well, with a fair sense of weight to them. There’s even environmental destruction of sorts, obviously not on a Frostbite scale but walls, small house and other objects explode into puffs of debris when you roll through them; it’s a bit silly if quite fun. Large buildings vary more – some can be smashed through, others can have their roofs shot off, while others inexplicably (thatched cottages anyone?) can’t be damaged at all. As you’d expect trees can be felled by rolling into them (useful for spotting enemies from afar) though bizarrely a tank shell will do nothing, which is a little disappointing. On the subject of the tank shells, I do believe that’s an area where the game could improve, for a game about huge rolling gun emplacements there is a distinct lack of punch to the explosions – a small flash and maybe a crater or dent is all you’ll get. It’s more impressive when the tanks are blown to oblivion, but this is followed by a rather underwhelming plume of smoke – seeing whole hills covered in the smoke of your fallen team/enemies (depends how well your game went) would certainly have been a spectacle. But putting minor disappointments asides it’s all works fine, which is all you can ask for from a freebie really.
And now, let’s get on to the elephant on the battlefield; microtransactions. Well I can say with some satisfaction that it is not ‘pay 2 win’ as such, but rather pay to quicken up the grind. Real life money is used to, slightly ironically, buy in game money called Gold; whereas Silver is used for advancing your tanks Gold is used a little differently. With it you can buy premium (which grants you an extra 50% silver and XP per battle – doesn’t sound like much but it all adds up), unique items (which add slight improvements to the standard version), permanent customisation items and a few unique tanks (while these tanks are good, they normally only excel in one area, so are not totally unbeatable). It also allows you to convert it to Silver, and to swap unused XP between tanks. For the average casual player most of this isn’t really needed, but if you want to advance through the game quickly then you’ll need to give Wargamer some money.
The game is still being updated at the time of writing this, and it is quiet evident, that despite being in development for a while it manages to feel quite content light. There were only a few maps at launch (though 4 more have since been released) and the tank trees are incomplete (British tree had less then half the tanks of the others), though they are slowly being filled out and more nations are to be added. There are medals to be unlocked for playing, but they have no reward or use, and as there aren’t leaderboards they become completely useless, save for the weekly bonus event). One major thing that is missing for me is the lack of private matches; it would be good to have free roam around a map, or to be able to challenge a small group of friends to battle. There are also a few other slight things that don’t detract from the experience, but do slightly niggle me, such as the game having an emphasis on country of origin, yet the voiceover for all vehicles is the same generic American accent, or the loading times for simple things like stats, or the way the game won’t let you invite someone through the guide, but rather you have to press the back button..
So, in summary you might get the impression I don’t like this game. There is a lot I think could be improved for it, and there are certainly times when I get annoyed and frustrated with it, but despite all that I can’t stop playing it. I want to get the next package, and the feeling you get from a successful battle after 4 abject defeats in a row is one of elation; few things are more satisfying then surviving and winning a stand off. The game also becomes much more satisfying when playing when friends, seeing if you can outlast them, or working together to trap an enemy.
Simply put, the game is fun and free. It has its problems but most of them can be overlooked, or if desired paid past. It won’t change gaming or go down in history as a achievement (don’t quote me on that if it does), but then it doesn’t try to, it does exactly what it says on the tin, you get placed in a world, and it has tanks in.
[UPDATE] Since writing this version 1.1 and a few other additions have been introduced to the game, the British tank tree has been bolstered, and Russian tanks are now in the game (though currently all premium). First person view now can only be locked by use of a toggle on/off button in the options menu. A big addition is that of crews, which allow you to grant perks to your tank through earning of crew xp by playing with that specific tank.
[FURTHER UPDATE] After writing the last bit a further update was released for the game (1.2). This update is quite significant, it doesn’t change any gameplay but it has added a lot to spice up the variety: two new maps have been added (though, they do not seem to have equal place in matchmaking yet), a new line of tanks introduced, improved water graphics, various bug fixes and a redesigned results menu. The two most important introductions for me though are weather and physics; all the maps now have at least one other variant available, such as rain or night battles (Sand River is especially improved for me, as burning wrecks litter the battlefield, lighting up the surrounding areas). Such simple changes as adding rain or snow effects really makes some of the maps feel different, and works very well. gameplay is not yet affected but it would make sense to assume that they are working on it. The other thing that has changed is that tanks now have moving parts on them, antennas wobble as you move, wire bounces and loose objects clatter around. It’s a very subtle change but it adds a lot, tanks feel more real and less sterile. Sadly one other thing it seems to have done is reduce silver payouts, making grinds last a lot longer and of course encouraging you too buy it. Wargaming deny this but to me there is an obvious change, and there have been complaints on the official forums too.