Games Review: World of Tanks 1.0 (PC, 2018): Here comes the boom

There are certain games that fall into a category I like to call “My Dad Would Love This.” Games in this category typically revolve around war or military history, maintain some degree of simulation and are full to bursting with digital recreations of real world military hardware. Now, after eight years of ongoing development, World of Tanks 1.0 has arrived. And boy, my dad would love this.

World of Tanks 1.0 is an interesting combination of war game simulation and arcade brawl. Matches are as fast and dirty as they are tactical and angular, and the objectives are kept rather deliberately simple — destroy this, disable that, make ’em all pay (this is a double entendre, we’ll come back to that in a minute). The tanks on offer feel like what you want a video game tank to feel like, which is to say that if you can find me an actual real world tank that behaves like any of the ones you see in the game then I’ll eat my WW2 era slouch hat. It’s the little things, little presentational touches on everything around the tanks that allow them to feel more real and grounded — the way water reacts when you drive through it or the way the sound of your cannon fire changes based on the acoustics of your environment. It’s an obsessive level of attention to detail that allows the proceedings to feel more real, even when the game devolves into dodge-em cars writ gleefully large.

Don’t totally believe any of the trailers or sizzle reels you see on YouTube, I promise you the actual game isn’t solely the Big Battle, Hulk Smash, You Go Boom Now brawler presented there. There were plenty of times when the match conditions called for stealth or devolved into tense, 30-minute stand offs. It wasn’t unlike being an especially noisy prey animal — I’m trying to keep a low profile while stuck inside this giant, rattling machine purpose built to be the opposite of subtle. Enemy tanks rumble about the map, circling like sharks, hunting for me. My play is to blend in as long as I can and then spring an ambush, come in behind, give them hell and then scurry back into the undergrowth. The early game mostly pits you against other light tanks while you get your head around how it all works. As you progress up through the game’s tiered experience system you’ll start to notice medium and heavy units beginning to appear. By the time the tank busters start to appear, matches get interesting in a hurry and the complexity of any given fight goes through the roof.

Each class of vehicle means adjusting your playstyle to suit — SPG’s stick to the back line and use their broad sightlines to pick off targets from afar. Light tanks don’t pack much of a punch compared to other units but are great for scouting, can get out of trouble very quickly and are difficult to hit. Tank destroyers are terrifying, shuddering monsters that don’t care if you know where they are or not, rumbling around and hitting every enemy they find with devastating fire.

Destroying a tank is not an easy thing to do though. They are machines that are built to withstand heavy fire and carry on regardless. This means every model has a different weak point and considerations like armour thickness and even the angle at which you’re firing have to be taken into consideration. This means doing a bit of research will be to your benefit. Hitting those weak spots is the fastest way to stymie a powerful enemy, even if your plan is only to slow them down long enough to run for your life. What are your tank’s strengths and weaknesses? How can you prevent them being exploited? Study up, because then you’ll know what to do — and knowing is half the battle.

There are you typical problems inherent to online games that can hurt the experience — uncommunicative players, trolls, throwers, et al — but overall I found the community to generally be very friendly and welcoming. Everyone’s there for the same reason — a shared love of blowing shit up with a rolling, hyper-powerful cannon. When its all working well, the team is communicating and you’ve got the hardware you need, the game really sings and its easy to understand why it’s had such a long life ahead of full release.

So that’s the good news. What’s the bad news? Well, let’s start here: the tutorial, while quite thorough and certainly giving you enough of the basics to get started with, doesn’t really give you a good idea of what the actual game is like to play. There’s so much the tutorial doesn’t prepare the player for, from systems to game-to-game battle experience, that I felt quite shortchanged after my first few matches.

I also found myself running up against the game’s business model before I’d ever played my first real game — to unlock a particular tank isn’t as simple as it should be. You have to make your way down an unlock tree to get the tank you want, which means getting multiple tanks you likely have no interest in just to get one that you actually want. Great, okay, I’ve got it. Let’s go and drive my new … wait, where’s my damn tank?

And then you realise, wait, I don’t actually own it. I just know about it. I’ve researched it. At that point, you have to spend in-game credits to properly buy the tank and then you need to spend more credits to fill it with ammo and supplies to keep it from exploding and killing your crew.

Understand, what you have just read is a massive oversimplification of what the system is truly like. It begins as a pain in the backside that won’t keep you from getting your collection going, but it only worsens from there, descending into full blown credit grind by time you’ve reached the high end tiers. You wind up grinding lower level games to keep yourself in credits, avoiding the need to pay for huge repairs or especially fancy ammo unless absolutely necessary. It’s a horrid, labyrinthine mess of a system designed to bewilder and exhaust the user into spending money. It takes a part of the game that should be super fun — getting new tanks — and makes it miserable. Developer Wargaming.net have some serious work to do here because the system as it currently stands makes them look openly craven.

Some of this grind is alleviated by, surprise surprise, a paid Premium Account, which pays out more credits and XP. And, of course, impatient whales that want the best and baddest tanks right away can simply shell out real cash for them and get to work. This is something Wargaming have been clashing with their community over for years. Wargaming insist that these tanks are no more or less powerful than others but have also been known to remove or nerf certain tanks due to their being obviously, blatantly overpowered. The point that Wargaming seems to miss when they swear the premium tanks don’t mess with game balance is that the problem isn’t actually about game balance. The premium tier nonsense serves only one purpose — to divide the community into whales and free-to-players, those with cash to blow and those without, haves and have-nots. Turning them all loose against each other only reinforces the notion that players willing to drop serious change on the game do so to gain an edge, real or imagined.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the game’s upper tiers where premium content becomes a must have. There’s coded messaging there — you can run with the pros but the buy-in is high. Can’t afford it? Go back to low-tier, scrub. If you want to expand your audience, you need to do away with that shit and you need to do it now. New players aren’t going to put up with it. The players you’ve got are barely happy to live with it as it is.

World of Tanks has been evolving gradually over the last eight years. It remains one of modern gaming’s most oddball and interesting stories. When the game is on point and everyone’s having a good time, it’s an absolute hoot and a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. Most of its changes from version to version have been positive steps forward, and 1.0 is another good example of that. But it does have a bad habit of getting not just in its own way, but the player’s. Getting to the top of the tank heap should feel great, it should feel like you’ve really accomplished something cool. But it doesn’t. Instead of getting to the end of a match and being excited to try my next tank and keen for the next big battle, I’m worried about how much the match cost me and how far I’ve been set back. 1.0 is here, but Wargaming still has plenty of work to do. Their military-loving hearts are in the right place, but they need to turn their cannons on that business model.

Score: 7.0 out of 10
Highlights: Tanks are fun; Big skirmishes are great; Nice hybrid of sim and arcade
Lowlights: Every facet of their monetisation model sucks
Developer: Wargaming.net
Publisher: Wargaming.net
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC, Mobile
Available: Now

World of Tanks is free-to-play. Review conducted on Windows 10 PC using a media account provided by the publisher.