TL;DR; I thought I’d cut to the chase for those of you who aren’t really interested in the chit chat. I like the game.
There I was, minding my own business procrastinating at work and I saw the Massively blurb about World of Tanks going open beta. This is a title I was not exactly following. First the whole “World of..” thing made me suspect. Then I assumed that a F2P pseudo-mmo-rts-shooter would have to be rather arcadey.
I dabbled with ThinkTanks quite a while ago (and a friend basically ended up adopting a new lifestyle because of it… but more on that later) and while entertaining, found it too gamey and arcadey.
So, tanks as a computer genre made me suspect. However, I’m a history buff, a bit of an old school wargamer and on Wilhelm’s recommendation, started reading Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 recently. So being curious, the WoT beta got me.
I’m pretty impressed. Make no mistake, this is no MMO as we know it. There is a progression element which means there is some persistency, but its basically a battleground based game. But calling it merely a BG based game is giving it short shrift. Clearly for Wargaming.net this is a bit of a labor of love. The environments– various WWII battle environments– are nicely rendered. The progression elements, familiar to RTS gamers, involve researching and unlocking various technologies that provide a progression mechanic. Unlike RTS games, the progression is persistent and the progression occurs as a result of battles rather than during them.
The element that has me hooked is the strategic component. This is no zerg, die, respawn, zerg, die lather repeat shooter game. When you are killed in a battle, you stay dead. You have free camera at that point to see what your teammates are doing, but one death and you’re out. This has wonderful implications. First, people get very risk averse and have to start thinking strategically. This is a good thing. Second, many elements contribute to a successful endeavor. This is not simply a slug fest among dinosaurs where “bigger is better and bigger is best“. While certainly mano-a-mano this may be true, in a strategic environment, rock paper and scissors all have their role. Of course, the 15 on 15 maps and timer make the one death rule bearable. I was frustrated for about 15 seconds before I realized, hey this could be very cool. Lots of opportunities for “emergent gameplay.”
I’ve been recently exploring the role of artillery. Fragile, reclusive and reliant on others spotter abilities, you are able to rain death from above all across the map. Great stuff. And a great way to contribute to a team effort.
What WoT has managed to capture for me is a fun thoughtful focused game with battles that range anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes (there is a timer afterall) that never plays the same twice. As a free to play offering, I can easily see myself popping in from time to time to continue my endeavors. With a familiar group or clan and voice chat, this would be a great way to spend an evening.
The game also doesn’t suffer from some of the usual MMO pain– with currently three main factions– U.S, Soviet and German, progression through each tech tree to unlock increasingly powerful or specialized units require just that– progressing through each tree. A plus and a minus, faction defines your “current progression” but teams on a battlefield map are made up of roughly balanced members from all factions– German Tigers can play with Soviet T-34s and U.S. Shermans on the same team. What makes it interesting is the interplay between the strengths and weaknesses of each– and with a mix and match random battle paradigm, replayability is very high even with the same maps (currently about 15 or so that vary in size from relatively small urban encounters to larger open field ones).
I’m currently exploring Soviet self-propelled guns. I can see that I’d also like to ultimately unlock the venerable T-34 which will require my progression down a different branch of the tree. Likewise, if I want to pursue U.S. or German tank play, I’ll need to work those trees from top to bottom.
Obviously not a game for everyone, but for those of us who enjoyed army men, old school strategy games and RTS games, I think there is something there for us. I for one will not be afraid to throw some real money their way when the game releases. In the mean time, I’ll continue to work on my pathetic tanker skills. Good job Wargaming.net. I like.