Review: World of Tanks has good graphics, just enough physics
At a Glance
World of Tanks is quite a bit more "tanks" than "world," which I mean as criticism of the marketing, not the gameplay. It is a "lobby" game, where you queue for battles, and are dumped into a random map alongside random players to blow each other up. Battles are short (generally 5-10 minutes), visually appealing, and require a mix of tactics, situational awareness, player skill, reflexes, and teamwork.
Each player controls a tank, hence the name, and there are a lot of tanks: 10 tiers, several nationalities, and multiple size categories (light, medium, heavy, and so on). You begin, of course, with very weak "Tier 1" tanks, and as you gain experience and money, you upgrade to progressively higher tiers. You can own multiple tanks, but you pilot only one at a time in battle.
World of Tanks bills itself as an MMORPG, but it really isn't, and if you want "EVE Online, but you're a tank instead of a spaceship," that's not what this is. Some elements may seem familiar: You gain experience with lower-tier tanks, which you then spend to upgrade your tank with better weapons and gear, and also to unlock the next highest tier. The crew of your tank has a set of skills which can improve over time. You can equip consumable gear to repair damage or restore an injured crewmember to health.
Quibbles over categories aside, is it fun? Yes. It's very easy to get into and start playing; the game design places playability and balance over strict historical accuracy. There's a simple WASD control scheme for moving, with the turret aimed via mouse motion, and a few number-key commands to swap ammunition types or use a repair kit. World of Tanks does not ignore basic physics or tank performance limitations; the physics engine does an excellent job of conveying a real sense of bulk and mass. In a reversal of a common trope in other games, small ground elements (fences, trees, parked cars) are trivially run over and crushed, while even relatively slight inclines can stymie your vehicle, forcing you to take an alternate route.
Basic gameplay in World of Tanks is: Pick a random battle, wait 30 seconds or so, then roll out! Unless you are in a Tank Company (guild) or Platoon (group of friends), you'll be mixed in with 14 or so random strangers on one team, to battle an equal number on the other, all in tanks roughly close in power to your own. There are no defined "sides" in World of Tanks, so each team will mix tanks from all nationalities. The map selected is random as well, and the maps range from wide-open spaces to narrow mountain passes and city streets. Learning each map's unique features is part of mastering the game.
It's very easy to die in World of Tanks. Being one-shotted by someone you didn't even see is commonplace. It's rare, in my experience, to have more than 2-3 survivors of any battle, on either side. While you have to pay a small amount to repair your damaged tank, you don't lose anything except time. You must wait until a battle is over to use the tank again, though you can join a different battle in a different tank.
If there's a flaw here, it's that battles can get repetitive, although the human factor (there are no computer-controlled opponents) helps minimize that. After you research Tier 4 tanks, two new battle types open up. There are 33 different maps, as well, and maps are constantly being edited and improved. In addition, new tank lines are being added, further increasing variety.
While it's hard to generalize from a small sample, I found the community in World of Tanks to be generally positive. Only rarely did I encounter the kind of behavior that is too often a hallmark of online gaming. This may be due to the game design: Since the teams are random, there's a strong awareness that the guy you're shooting at now could be on your side in the next match. On the other hand, the higher you rise in the game, the higher the penalties (repair costs) for losing become, so this may change at higher tiers of play.
World of Tanks is free to play, but there is a cash shop. While it's not absolutely required to play, many tanks are "premium only", as is better ammo, some upgrades and equipment, and so on. Being a "premium member" also increases your experience gain. Many things which can be bought with credits (currency you earn in game) are much easier to aquire if you pay with "gold" (purchased with real cash). The temptation to spend a few bucks for better ammunition, faster experience gain, or the ability to transfer experience earned on one type of tank to another is very strong.
Like many games, World of Tanks can be modded. The visual changes from a mod are only visible to the player who has it installed, but it can certainly make play more interesting and screen shots more amusing. There's a vibrant modding community and a huge assortment of skins to download, ranging from changes to add historical markings to bright pink pony tanks.
Since World of Tanks is free, there's little risk in checking it out. The rapid pace of battles and the easy learning curve makes it a game you can play on and off, while the number of tanks, maps, strategies, and achievements provide depth for more obsessive types.
Note: The "Try it for free" button on the Product Information page takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software.