Great Start for a F2P MMO
You might have seen it on banners around the internet... yet another free game that you've never heard of before, and they want you to play it. Most people would've have dismissed it by then, and not without good reason; with very few exceptions, most free-to-play games aren't worth your time and, ultimately, any of your money. However, this time, I considered things a little differently. You could say the name "World of Tanks" is what stopped me in my tracks ( LOL PUN). I read a little and decided, what the hell, I'm going to try this out. Within about an hour, including download time, I was completely hooked on what I consider a little gem of a game.
World of Tanks is sometimes billed as an MMO, but this is not really the case. This is a series of stand alone tank battles, with automatically generated teams of players and randomly chosen maps. You start with a weak tank and as the battles progress, you earn experience and money in order to upgrade not only the current vehicle but also to purchase new ones. Imagine, if you will, that League of Legends met Battlefield 1942. There are literally hundreds of different armored vehicles to choose from, organized into three nations (USSR, Germany, and USA) and different classes (Light/Medium/Heavy tanks, Tank Destroyers, and Self-Propelled Guns). These vehicles are then divided into roughly ten "tiers" of power - this is how matches are balanced - and any given tier of tank will only be matched against things a couple levels above or below it.
Once you queue for a battle, which generally only takes seconds, you and a number of other tanks face an enemy team for control of a map. Each team has a base which can be captured, after some time, in order to win; however, destroying the entire opposing team also results in immediate victory. Battles can be very intense, as World of Tanks (WoT) is actually surprisingly realistic in a lot of ways. All the tanks are based on historical models, focused around WW2, with fully modeled armor, armament, and engine power to match. The damage model is also very advanced; tracks can get blown off, turrets can jam, and crew can be injured or killed (temporarily). One shot kills are not uncommon, but at the same time, a heavy tank can withstand an entire team's attacks if properly played. Maneuverability, armor thickness, and knowing where to aim become key skills. Hiding, having patience, and sniping at long distances (a full kilometer in some cases) are viable strategies for some vehicles, while rushing forward and going blitzkrieg can yield impressive results against an enemy's weaker rear areas and artillery players.
During a match, once a player is eliminated, they're out of the game for good. Even if you die immediately you can quit, switch to another tank in your garage, and start another game immediately. Best of all, you'll still get experience and money for participating in the battle you quit. This means you can quickly 'bounce' between many tanks, and several different battles, earning cash/experience from all of them even when they're destroyed. Once their battle is over, you can repair it for a nominal cost and use it again immediately. This is something that really keeps the game alive, as you can really focus on developing a couple vehicles and dying on one means you can immediately jump into another and fight again. The sheer amount of depth in terms of armor, weapons, shells, distance, and other factors make the battles quite interesting once you can get the hang of them, but this comes at an initial cost. In the beginning, you'll start with an extremely primitive tank, and although you'll be matched mostly against other brand new tanks, the game will feel very slow and your options will be limited. Luckily it's very quick to progress past this starting tank and get something with some real teeth on it.
Unfortunately, this is where the "freemium" play model needs to get mentioned. The first few tanks are pretty fast to get in any given line, but once you hit tier 3, development slows down. Like pretty much all games in this genre, you can spend real money to purchase gold currency; this can give you experience boosts, money boosts, and even equipment during battle that will give you a slight edge. Although there are basic fire extinguishers, repair kits, and ammunition, there are also premium (gold) versions that are somewhat superior to their free counterparts. This gives paying players a slight advantage over free ones - but in my experience, and having already played several hundred battles, it's not enough to have any real impact on the game or keep it from being fun at all. A smart player will always do better than a stupid one, even if they're paying.
Developing tanks is the other main part of the game besides battles. As you kill enemies, participate in games, or even just cause damage or spot opposing vehicles, you'll earn experience. This can upgrade vehicles with new engines, tracks, turrets, cannons, and even radios. Once you've developed a tank sufficiently, you can unlock the next tier of vehicle in the same category (or in some cases, branch out to new categories of vehicle entirely). In addition to customizing your vehicle's weapon, your vehicle has a crew as well. They earn experience by fighting and have a rating, from 50% to 100%, determining their effectiveness in their given position. A better gunner will aim faster and be more accurate; a better driver will make your vehicle quicker and nimbler; a better commander improves the effectiveness of everyone else in the tank. On top of this as well, you can choose ammunition types and consumable upgrades for battles to give you a bit of an extra edge. All of this will seem intimidating for a new player, and unfortunately there's no tutorial to teach any of it. Trial and error will be your friends here as you learn some of the basic do's and dont's of fighting with your vehicle in battle. There are online guides but in reality they aren't a substitute for a good in game tutorial to get players on their feet.
For a free-to-play game, World of Tanks has surprisingly good visuals and sound. All of the tanks have well-detailed models, textures, and move with a weight fitting an armored vehicle. Terrain is pretty good too, considering the game's price tag, and there are plenty of destructible buildings and trees to provide cover against enemy assaults in battle. Even better than the visuals are the sounds; the heavy idling of diesel engines, the grinding of tracks, and cannon fire all have fantastic sounds and even after hundreds of battles I look forward to hearing the noise of heavy machinery heading to war. The game's music, on the flip side, is pretty annoying after the first couple times you hear it and if you play this game I highly recommend getting your own soundtrack together to play.
World of Tanks is an unforgiving game in many ways; quick deaths, a steep learning curve, and slow progression (without paying) could stop a lot of new players from really giving the game a chance. Still... once you think tactically, consider your surroundings, and really plan your actions WoT becomes a completely different game. Much like really being in an armored vehicle, you'll need to leverage your strengths and constantly use the terrain around you in order to win. WoT is a surprisingly deep, unique kind of military action game that will draw strategic thinkers and tank enthusiasts alike. I personally am in love with this game, and yes, I did buy some premium content for it to speed my tank along. However, I played in the beta for some time without any premium assistance and I judge it fairly from that standpoint. In the end, for the basic price, I'd certainly recommend anyone give it a try.