Wargaming's armoured mayhem title is now eight years old and this March has brought the game's most significant update in recent years - the release of World of Tanks 1.0. Is this the heavy metal experience you've been looking for?
World of Tanks has entered a new era both in terms of graphics and sound design with the release of version 1.0 this month. It looks better than it ever has, and the sound experience is great too. Those white hot projectiles really do look super-heated as they head towards you, or go screaming across the map, and the attention to detail in the playing environment is impressive.
Wargaming has long struggled with the huge disparity players of its marquee title have in hardware - remember, this is a game with a huge Russian playerbase - and consequently it often literally lagged behind other games. The latest updates seems to have solved almost all of these issues.
The best gauge of whether expectations are being met or exceeded is to introduce a new player to a game you know well, and listen to them. In the truest spirit of empirical research, this is exactly what AltChar did - with WoT veteran Mr Congo spending some ten hours taking relative newbie Telxvi under his rather dented steel wing.
First, the fact that Telxvi endured this many hours does indicate that the game retains some appeal, so that's in its favour. However, as an experienced and statistically good player, the way my hyper-aggressive apprentice thought the game would be played and the way to play it successfully are somewhat different. As I observed on more than one occasion as his tank was reduced to a smouldering wreck, "the other team have guns too mate".
For a new player, the World of Tanks tutorial mode is much better than it used to be. You are taken through a series of scenarios and taught the basic concepts of the game in a logical manner than ensures at least some of what you do, see and hear sticks in the gaming mind.
And then you go in your first battle. And it is mayhem. In fact, this is the mayhem promised in the lovingly-produced World of Tanks trailers. The W key and the fire button are the primary elements in play. To turn the newbie conceit of this piece on its head - this early part of the game is still pretty shocking for a veteran player. It's all done at max speed and with almost zero thought and doesn't really reflect the way play develops as you progress in WoT.
High tier play is more cat and mouse, with the occasional opportunistic rush, but with much more camping, view range play, fire/retreat and shoot and scoot elements. And the odd super-heavy driving through the middle of the map.
Low tier stuff is also peppered with the occasional seal clubber. These are more experienced players who've chosen the most OP vehicles and know exactly how to play them. They will have great statistics on paper, but usually get slaughtered if they venture out of their low tier comfort zone. They are the kind of people who pulled wings off flies when they were children.
Progression in WoT is still handled through tank tiers from I to X, or 1 to 10 in normspeak.
Essentially, tiers I through to IV are full-on madness, dominated by fast, furious and largely clueless fighting across a limited-by-area sample of the games' full selection of maps. The tanks in these tiers are drawn from the period between the world wars, when actually what a tank should look like was still under debate, and some of the vehicles you can play reflect that.
Mid-tier is primarily the vehicles and designs of World War Two, progressing into predominantly post-war vehicles in the higher tiers, up to ones drawn from the early 1960s.
For the new player, getting to tier V and VI is where the game really begins. The mechanics of the game properly start to make sense here and vehicles begins to show much more discernable characteristics. World of Tanks matchmaking is now based on a -/+ two tier structure. The basic default matchmaker - where possible - is 3/5/7. That's three top tier tanks on each team, 5 mid tier and 7 bottom tier.
So, as a tier VI, you will be meeting tier VIII vehicles, but equally, you could be fighting tier IV vehicles. Some fights will also be all tier VI, depending on what players the matchmaker finds.
Whatever Wargaming says in public, the essential reason for this is simple - it makes sure even bad or barely competent players have their moment in the sun and keeps them playing.
When XXXDeathSlaYer45XXX loads in to a game in his tier VIII heavy tank, he's going to meet a bunch of players in tier VI tanks. And even our dear XXXDeathSlaYer45XXX should succeed in killing some of them - as, for the most part, it doesn't matter where he hits them, as long as he hits. And he gets to feel good. Until he meets someone who knows what they are doing.
Obviously at tier X, you are top dog. But you'll meet some awful good players there, as well as some just awful ones.
Our advice to get to tier VI and stay there for a good while, get some different vehicles from different nations and learn about the playstyles of the different classes and national tech trees. And there is considerable variance in the game. Strictly speaking, there are only five classes of vehicles: Heavy tanks, medium tanks, light tanks, tank destroyers and self-propelled guns (commonly referred to as "arty" for artillery).
But within that there are national characteristics, as well as tech tree themes. Tech trees are the branches of any given vehicle line that you move through by grinding experience, and ending up in with a tier X vehicle. These factors often combine to produce different playstyles for vehicles in the same class and their same tier, even those from the same nation. However tempting it is to go for higher tiers as soon as possible, don't. A big beast with a noob behind the controls will still be a dead beast real quick.
World of Tanks is still a freemium title through and through. You grind your way through experience towards the next vehicle in the a tree, all the time using experience to unlock modules - tracks, engines, guns, radios, turrets - that upgrade your existing vehicle.
A "stock" tank once you start heading up the tiers is a vehicle that hasn't been upgraded. Some play fine without upgrades, some are complete pigs until improved.
The better you play, the more experience you gain and the easier it is. All the time while playing, you will also being earning (or sometimes losing) credits. This the currency you actually buy tanks with, and can be used to purchase premium ammunition - ammo with higher penetration values than standard. This ammunition is the stuff that gets chucked around a great deal at higher tiers, and as I learned while playing with Telxvi, quite a bit at lower tiers too now.
Your crew also gain their own experience and get skills and perks as they progress. Choosing such skills and perks is the subject for a separate article - but there is plenty of advice on the forums.
Being a freemium game, there is of course the option to buy boosts for experience, crew skills etc. Additionally, premium vehicles are able that earn more credits and train crews faster. It used to be these were generally a little worse than their tech tree counterparts, in recent years though, many more powerful premium vehicles have been added.
Note - the highest tier premium vehicles are tier VIII. Tiers IX and X remain the preserve of "proper" tanks and we don't think Wargaming will ever change this.
One of the strengths of World of Tanks has always been in its careful depiction of armoured vehicles. HD models for every vehicle in the game are now present, and the latest 1.0 release has brought beautifully detailed environments worthy of them. As a self-confessed tank nut, I find them superb to look at, with only the occasional gripe about accuracy. Of course, World of Tanks is not limited to actual mass-produced tanks that saw service, but also uses vehicles that were only prototyped, or concept modelled, saw limited production and many tanks that never made it off the drawing board, or even off the back of a notepad. A new player won't be disappointed with how the vehicles look.
That said, it's important not to get drawn in too much on other questions of historical accuracy. At its core, World of Tanks is an arcade game, not a simulator. If you really want accuracy, you'd end up with any player above 5' 9" being prevented from playing low profile later-era Soviet medium tanks.
The actual grind through the tiers is fairly, well, grindy. My recommendation would be to play with a friend in a platoon when starting out as it will make the whole experience more enjoyable.
WoT veterans often consider the basic public game mode, with 15 players on each side, to often actually be 1 vs 29, such is the frequently poor quality of your own side. In theory, it should be a team game, and at its best moments it is, but all too frequently it turns into a series of lopsided engagements depending where on the map players have distributed themselves. Having a few mates to rely on is a good thing.
There's also the ability to watch other players on your team once you've been wiped out. If someone seems to be playing well, or doing something that's working - take some time to watch what they do. As with any game, a little time spent watching good players on Twitch or YouTube will give you some general ideas on how to get the most out of your game. QuickyBaby is the most popular WoT celebrity, but we'd recommend DezGamez, Circonflexes, TheFochYou, skill4ltu, and Iyla Red too.
Going back to the AltChar experience, the delight my inexperienced companion displayed when actually hitting other tanks or actually blowing them up was hilarious to me. And gave us both a good feeling. And that's what you game for. Repeating the "blowing people up" so you plan on doing it regularly is the bit that comes with experience. But there's enough in the title to keep a lot players coming back for more.
It's still the best armoured combat game out there - and it now looks and sounds a lot better.