A Different Kind of Tanking
Tanks are great aren't they? Being a man and everything, I love a good tank I do. What with their massive guns, their destructive capacity, and the fact that they are essentially mechanised testicles that rut and swing throughout battlefields, they make us mature "men" cough and splutter and say things like "whoa" when we come across them.
World of Tanks allows us to live the dream. With the click of the mouse, and a shuffle of the keyboard, it is possible to own not just one metal death machine, but six! The collective dreams of boys worldwide has been realised within one piece of software. You reverse back and forth throughout battles, scattering firepower wherever you see fit, and blowing the steely guts out of other tanks. The only way this game would be more suited to masculinity would be if topless women strutted about the on the sidelines shouting "Cars! Fighting! Pie!"
I'm sure you have guessed the set-up, picking from an initial selection of 3 tanks, you enter random battlefields in order to maim, destroy, and murder your enemies. To help you in this valiant quest, you can equip different ammunition and parts using credits you have earned from previous battles. Also you can learn different technologies by dispensing experience points you have gained, thus creating a fully persistent and RPG like feel to the ensemble.
As the game features this element of upgrading and developing your skills, initially the combat can feel ponderous and very difficult. Starting with a light vehicle, World of Tanks is more about surviving and learning to proceed with others than it is about throwing shrapnel in to your foe's face. Due to the nature of tank warfare, gone are the usual strafes and crouch-jumps of other games, but instead the pace is slower, and the best tactic is the roll forward, roll back technique. You will learn to push together with your allies in a line, considering every horizon of landscape, and singling out a particularly exposed enemy.
It is in this unique approach to destruction that WoT finds its greatest strengths and also weaknesses. The strategic and patient nature of the title makes for a very distinctive experience, and doubtlessly this will attractive a certain calibre of player, but the flipside to this is that the game lacks dynamism. The games more "traditional" competitors such as Counter-Strike, or even flight games, have an element of mastering the controls. Regardless of your equipment, swift reflexes and sound button presses will see you dance out of danger; in WoT things seem very different: coming face to face with an enemy usually depends on who has the bigger arsenal and best armour. The manoeuvres of moving back and forth work at long range and within a group context, but there is little in the way of single-player heroics, and while this stays true to a simulator style title, WoT doesn't, broadly speaking, lean in that direction.
Of course the developers are only creating within the parameters of their chosen vehicle, and in WoT you will never expect to bunny-hop your way to victory, and this is fine, if a little boring at times. The ponderous nature of proceedings means that the learning curve demands that you adapt to the pace of the game - rushes will see you shelled by invisible long ranged enemies within 3 seconds, and failing to work with others will end similarly. As the game tries to marry both its online-shooting aspects with RPG style progression, this makes the game even harder to adapt to. Thinking of it as a regular MMO Player Versus Player experience, WoT throws you in at the deep end, starting with the equivalent of a naked level 1 character, and pits you against similar skilled players, but also more advanced ones. The result in this is a very tough initial experience, and almost a baptism of fire.
Starting WoT is more of an endurance test than an exercise in mindless "plug in and play" entertainment, and in some ways the depth to it holds your attention for longer. Starting with a light tank, you gain experience and credit, either from surviving battles, catching sneaky kills, or even dying. Once you have enough currency to spend in whatever field, you can start to upgrade and spec your vehicles to whatever you want - and this is where the ensemble really opens up. Purchasing better classes of tanks expands your own capacity to destroy, and most players will not truly enjoy the game until they reach the "medium tank" or even "heavy tank".
Of course to each category of vehicle there is some strategy: light tanks are generally more nimble, medium tanks being the more "jack of all trades" and heavy being the most destructive. You can also spec your tanks with the aforementioned currency system, so in effect you can mould your own classes from having a speedy tank that hurtles into surprised victims, or a real work horse that spews gun powder like a volcano.
In all, WoT does try different things, and for the most part it does deliver a unique experience. The idea of customization adds weight to proceedings, and also makes a player feel more involved - but I can't help but feel that it's just a little bit boring and harsh on the newbie. Perhaps it is the twitch-reflex player imbedded within me, or the ponderous, chess like game of tank warfare – whatever the case WoT surprised, entertained, and engrossed me, but it never really convinced me.
Aside from the lacklustre "level" systems of recent online-FPS titles, I have yet to see a game pull off an RPG-style progression system within what is essentially an arena game. Not only does WoT exhibit a confident inventory, and tech system, but it also makes it add to the experience. After playing a random battle, win or lose, you will gain a certain amount of credit or experience. With the aforementioned you can purchase new equipment for your tank, some of which needs to be researched before they can be used. To run alongside this is also a squad management option in which you can send your tank operators to the “barracks” to learn additional training to allow you better tanks or inventory.
The amount of depth to the game is quite astonishing, and comfortably straddles the line between accessibility and complexity. You can play WoT as dumb as you like, shooting at the big shiny monster, and purchasing the most expensive items, or conversely you can rummage through Wiki pages and sculpt yourself a class and identity. This element of being able to quickly pick up the game, and at the same time really put thought it into it, makes for a very interesting experience, and really set it apart from the normal run and gun shooters that we see.
Of course with the amount of menus and text to devour, there is an element of difficulty that comes along with it. While you can play it as involved as you wish, things are not explained as well as they might be in other games. Retooling your tank will sometimes see you rummaging through screen after screen of equipment, scratching your head at which one to pick, and while there are lots of online guides, the title could benefit from an in-game tutorial, and “newbie starting path”.
Where WoT ultimately impresses the most is in the fact that it manages to combine both the RPG and FPS genre together so seamlessly. There is an element of playing your way to the top of scoreboard, but this is not a journey of Eve Online proportions, and high tech trees can be reached within a few days. This game proves that we can have intriguing, complex, and interesting concepts within games, and the standard “first class merit honour level 38” does not need to apply to everything. In terms of innovation, WoT has singlehandedly cracked the FPS persistent online issue.