Saturday Spotlight: World of Tanks

World of Tanks - garage

I know that previously I’ve given the impression that the Saturday Spotlight is reserved for games which readers are less likely to be aware of, or titles which could do with the little bit of extra exposure a small site like Arcadian Rhythms can provide. And I know that Wargaming.net’s World of Tanks doesn’t fit either of those categories. It’s an enormous success which is encouraging its creators to behave like absurd Hollywood clichés.

But bear with me here. Today’s post exists because I want to write a few words about this game but I’m not planning on doing a full review. A full review of a game like this would be the preserve of someone who’s played the game a lot, who knows about military history and tank design, and who has an understanding of the realities of free-to-play game design. Someone like David Lydon from Quarter to Three, in other words, who’s the reason I’m playing World of Tanks.

David Lydon seems to know his tanks. There are a few military history fans on Qt3, it seems, with Bruce Geryk sitting at the hardcore strategy end of the spectrum. Tom Chick dabbles all over the place. David Lydon gets to play with an online multiplayer tank pseudo-simulator. That’s more up my street. And I know a little bit about tanks. Not a lot, but apparently just enough.

I know that tanks tend to be pretty slow, but some tanks can surprise you with how nippy they are. I know that certain armour was historically almost impenetrable by the ordnance of other tanks in the field at the time, though I can’t remember which tanks that was true of. I know that some tanks look ridiculous today, like the Soviet T-35 with its five turrets. That’s the sort of thing you see in Supreme Commander, not photos from the 1930s.

More practically, I know that tanks typically have their most powerful armour on the front, I know that aiming is easier when stationary, and I know that a good rule of thumb for the likelihood of armour penetration is the gauge of your barrel. Mmm-hmm. You gotta front. You gotta stand your ground. And you gotta bring a heavy weapon.

I’d been reading David Lydon’s articles with interest for some time, my curiosity toward WoT previously being fairly academic. But a post on June 28th left me resolved to give the game a go: in it Lydon talks about the steep learning curve for newcomers to WoT and criticises the game’s matchmaking system, which tends to dump players in at the deep end. This is mostly a launchpad so that Lydon can critique Wargaming.net’s overall approach to matchmaking and stat tracking, and it’s a fair critique. But it was the idea that the game is unfriendly to new players, that newcomers must accept they will be a “net negative” while they learn to play, that perversely drew me in.

It turns out that, actually, World of Tanks is not so tough to get into. Lydon’s right in saying that Tier 1 tank battles don’t just involve newcomers; there are plenty of expert players cruising around in those crude metal boxes. These will quite likely be the players who kill you. There are also those whose approach in every single battle is to gun their engines directly towards the enemy base, right across whatever no-man’s land the map happens to involve. We call these people the cannon fodder. They’re probably new, but they’re still making a very stupid mistake.

Play World of Tanks cautiously – as though preserving your tank and its crew were something you’d actually want to do – and it’s really not that hard. The basics are simple. Aim at the side or rear armour of enemy tanks. Firing wildly is counter-productive and will only help reveal your position. Instead select your targets, settle your aim and then let rip. If you’re up against several opponents, back off – but always keep your front to the enemy. If there’s an opportunity to flank an enemy, take it: that’s how you get at those juicy weak spots. Just take care not to reveal your own.

No doubt World of Tanks becomes more difficult at higher levels of play, but Tier 1 is relatively simple to get into. All you need is caution, a grasp of relative positioning, and enough patience to make your shots count. If you lack those you can still play. I’ll just look forward to picking you off as you rumble obliviously across that open field.

World of Tanks - failure

That, or I will die like the rest of the scrubs.