A friend of mine introduced me to World of Tanks, a free-to-play (freemium), Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game.
The basic principle is that starting from low-tier light tanks you earn experience and credits during battles that you can use to research and upgrade new components (suspension, engines, radios, turrets, and guns) for your tank, purchase new tanks, and pay for repairs / reloads after battle.
The tanks are based upon the World War II era (actually from the 30s to the 50s including prototypes and experimental designs) and there are currently 3 nationalities; the Soviets, the Germans and the Americans. There are plans to introduce more nationalities, the French line being expected next, with English and possibly Italian later on.
Each nation has it’s own research tree comprising light, medium and heavy tanks, tank destroyers and self-propelled guns (field artillery). The research trees are being added to in each patch with an average of 70 tanks (including premium) expected for each nation in the final version.
Beyond your tank and its components you can also load two types of ammo; armour-piercing (AP) and high-explosive (HE), premium users have access to 2 more expensive types APCR and HEAT, and there are a wide selection of bolt-on equipment like cammo nets and consumables like first-aid kits. Your crew also gains experience and when they reach 100% they can learn secondary skills to aid you in battle.
Premium users can, rather than grinding experience to move up the research tree, buy specific premium tanks at various tiers, but these premium tanks cannot be upgraded and are usually slightly less powerful than fully upgraded tanks in their tier.
Battles are 15-aside played across a variety of maps using a capture-the-flag format…more on how battles work below.
Now on to my experiences of the actual gameplay.
World of Tanks is quite addictive at the lower tiers. Tearing around in a light tank, popping off rounds, and getting the kill-shot on an enemy tank get the adrenalin flowing and give you the hunger to experience the bigger, more powerful tanks.
It took me about 2 weeks of playing to get my first tier 5 tank, and now with over 1,500 battles under my belt after 4 weeks I have 2 tier 6 tanks. To get to a tier 10 will probably take a few months and 10s or even 100s of thousands of battles. As all that I’m doing is playing random battles this will be quite a grind!
The battle system currently is random battle; you select your tank, click ready, briefly sit in a queue until the matchmaker can select 30 tanks of roughly equal weight, then off you go for a 15 minute battle…rinse, repeat. The matchmaker system assigns a range of possible matchup ranks to each tier / type of tank and uses this plus tank weight to decide on who ends up in each battle. I believe that the matchmaker fills slots from the top-down so this often means that your lowly tier 4 medium ends up being at the bottom of the list, facing off against tier 7 heavies. You will occasionally get the match where you are top of the heap, but these seem much fewer and far between than being stomped by bigger, badder tanks.
This wouldn’t be such a problem, small tanks working in concert can take down a big tank quickly with few losses if they co-ordinate with each other ,but the random battle system provides no way of easily co-ordinating. Voice chat is reserved for premium users, as is platooning (teams of up to 3 players that join a game together), so free users can’t easily talk to team mates or even ensure that they can play with the same people over a series of battle to get some familiarity.
I’m still having fun but not as much as when I played in the lower tiers. I have even gone back and bought lower tier tanks that I didn’t try on my way up to tier 6 (you can have 5 tanks in your garage, or pay for more garage slots).
As they are still patching at roughly monthly intervals some of my gripes may be resolved, I’ll just have to wait and see.