This isn’t a review. Why bother? It’s free to download to try for yourself! This is however what I make of the game after playing it for a week or so. Why not read it while waiting for all those gigathings to download? Boy, I’m really selling this to you, aren’t I?
I’m approaching this as somebody who does 99.9% of their gaming on consoles, and is extremely wary of the free-to-play model. I’ve played F2P games before, such as the more honestly named ‘free to start’ Steel Diver: Sub Wars on 3DS (which is actually very good), and a handful of games on PS4 – Loadout (meh), Warframe (very good, but wearily grind-centric), and Planetside 2 (brilliant when it works properly, pointless when it doesn’t). In all honesty, World of Tanks didn’t appeal to me as a concept. A new and shiny Xbox One version – free to download – made me think ‘oh, why not?’. Full disclosure: I was given a significant amount of free in-game currency by the publisher. I’ve nonetheless done my best to also view the experience from a standard, entry-level gamer perspective.
The currency of which I speak essentially comes in four flavours. Top of the pile is gold, which can only be purchased with real moolah. Gold can be used to buy lower-tier currency, or in-game items that can only be purchased with gold, such as extra garage slots to keep tanks in; or ‘premium’ tanks that come pre-loaded with upgrades and bonuses to what you earn.
Gold is not cheap.
Silver is, with any luck, the currency you’ll be using the most. It can be used to buy almost everything, and there’s a lot to pay for; tanks, ammo (yes), repairs to your tank, upgrades, consumables to be used in-game, and more. You earn this during matches, as well as XP, which is a currency in itself. There are two types of XP – standard (which can only be spent on the tank in which it was earned), and Free (which can be spent on any tank). You see, before you can buy a new tank, you must fully ‘research’ the previous one in the tree. All that basically means is that there’s an XP price you need to pay in order to earn the privilege of being able to buy a new toy. The copious amounts of currency I have allows me to leapfrog these hurdles to an extent, and it’s easy to see it being extremely frustrating having to grind many hours to earn enough to buy a tank tantalisingly out of reach.
But what about the important bit? How does the game actually play? Well, this is how my first match went: Trundle forward slowly in the general direction of the enemy base for thirty seconds, get obliterated in a heartbeat by an enemy I never even see, sit around watching the rest of my team play for ten minutes.
I learnt from my mistakes very quickly. I’m a console pleb rather than a member of the glorious PC master race, so I consider things here in an FPS analogy: it’s best to play not as an assault trooper, but as a sniper. Amusing as it sounds, hiding your tank is not only possible, it’s absolutely essential to not getting blown out of the match embarrassingly early. I don’t mean hide your tank in a bush (though I literally did that for an entire match once), but more hide at least partially behind cover – such as a rock or building – while giving yourself a decent view of the battlefield, in the hope of spotting Them before They spot you. You’re still likely to want to move from cover to cover, dashing (very slowly) when you think it’s safe.
The controls are nice and simple, so even I was able to pretty much do the ol’ pick-up-and-play. Left stick movement, right stick aiming, left trigger accurate aim (click right stick to zoom further), right trigger shoot as you’d expect – though there are other control setups if you’d prefer. Apart from a few other little things, that’s about it. Despite this, WoT controls very much as its own beast. You need to be patient in order to play and enjoy this game. Not just because tanks are slow; and besides, some of the light models are actually quite nippy. The aiming system also requires you to hold the cursor over your target for at least a few seconds for maximum accuracy and damage, another reason to try to stay hidden. Due to carefulness being the road to victory, one match can last ten minutes or more. I never found it to drag, though. Especially not when I realised that, when your tank is destroyed, you can exit to the garage without penalty (though your current tank is out of action until the match ends, which is also when your earned silver/XP is awarded). I rarely choose to take advantage of this, though.
Now with all this talk of in-game currencies and upgrades, you may well be worried that this is a ‘pay-to-win’ game. Ironically perhaps, my ridiculous amounts of digital moolah have allowed me to confirm that this is definitely not the case. Upgrades do make a difference but, in all honesty, it will almost always only be an extremely subtle difference. It usually involves tipping the behind-the-scenes dice rolling slightly in your favour, in terms of being spotted, chance for/against critical damage, etc.
The most obvious worry is, perhaps, that Johnny Cashbags can just log in for the first time, buy himself a pile of awesome tanks, and crush the proletariat opposition without even having to try. Especially when you discover that there are ‘premium’ tanks that can only be bought with gold, and come pre-loaded with upgrades. Here’s the thing, though. If you use gold to buy such a tank (as I did; the Löwe, a high-tier beast), you’re saving yourself a lot of time in terms of grinding for free digital cash – but you’re not allowed to bully players who choose not to empty their bank accounts. In my specific example, my new toy has very tough armour and a fearsome gun – but this means that while using it, I’m placed into matches where other players also have tough armour and fearsome guns. I still have to actually display some skill in the game, damn it. And in fact, the tank with which I have the most impressive stats – and in which I earned my one and only MVP ribbon so far – is one of the starter ones, the Vickers Medium I. A lot of players don’t like this tank apparently, because it’s a bit slow; but buy British, I say.
That’s not to say that you can play without having to worry about currency – far from it. As mentioned earlier, silver is used to pay for almost everything you could think of in the game, and you need to keep an eye on how much you have in the bank compared to how much each one of your purchases costs. There are a variety of factors that affect how much you earn in a match – whether or not you have a Premium subscription (which awards you extra silver and XP), your performance, whether you have damage and/or consumables and/or ammo set to ‘auto resupply’. It’s entirely possible to finish a match spending more silver than you earn. Play sensibly and keep an eye on your virtual finances though, and you should be fine.
If you want my advice (and if you’ve made it this far without falling asleep, maybe you do) then when it comes to buying yourself a new tank, choose very carefully. The two main types to avoid rushing in on are tank destroyers and artillery. Tank destroyers sound good, and they do tend to have great guns; but their turrets have extremely limited rotation, meaning you have to be very careful you don’t get flanked. Artillery tanks offer an almost completely different playstyle, which is great for some players and irritating for others. It controls like a normal tank, but aiming your gun means panning around the map in a bird’s eye view. This means that you almost always rely on teammates to spot enemies for you, and getting the aiming reticule to shrink to a sensible size can take an age; but this is balanced by the huge damage that your gun can do. Get spotted by the enemy without the opportunity to trundle behind cover within a few seconds, however, and you’re basically doomed.
World of Tanks is the antithesis of twitch shooters, and I’ve grown to love it. This surprised me a bit, because I love a good twitch shooter. You can (and often will) go minutes at a time without seeing an enemy tank, and even more minutes at a time without scoring a hit on one. Even when you do, that rarely means a kill unless you or a teammate has already weakened the target. This isn’t a game where you sit on the top of the leaderboard by getting kill streaks. In fact, look at the in-game boards, and you’ll notice that the top player rarely has more than two or three kills to their name (teams have up to fifteen players each) – and it’s not unusual for a player with no kills to rank higher than a player with one, or even two. Spotting multiple tanks for others and dealing part damage to a handful of enemies may well secure you more XP than stealing three kills in a row.
World of Tanks is easily the best free-to-play game I’ve tried so far and, to be honest, has injected a little life back into my appreciation of the idea. Price tags given in gold tend to be alarmingly high, as gold itself is priced such that depending on your choices, you could probably get a new Xbox One for the same real-world price as a garage full of premium tanks. Everything except these tanks and the Premium subscription can be purchased with silver though. Just expect to grind a lot if you’re determined to get the best that the game’s store has to offer. Also, very important: While PS4 F2P games let you play without Plus, you can’t play WoT without Gold; even if you’ve spent real money on it.
There’s an awful lot of depth to the game for those who choose to dive in, such as the concept of tank crews (who can be levelled up and all individually taught perks) and the painfully-detailed effect the combinations of different angles and ammo types have to the effectiveness of tank armour. Me? I just wade in far enough to enjoy myself, and I know I’m going to continue doing so.