It's taken me a few years to realize it, but World of Tanks is a comfort food game for me. It mightn't be the greatest game out there – even though I think it's damn good – but it's one that I return to time and time again when I feel the need for a PvP shooter that's just a little different to most.
I've been playing it on and off ever since it was in Beta in late 2010. Back then it was only available for PC, and I was really impressed with the way its gameplay captured the feel of real tank battles. In that sense, it's steady and strategic, and definitely not a game where you want to rush ahead of everyone else and start shooting at the opposition. For a start, you won't see them until it's too late. When a game of World of Tanks starts, enemies are invisible. To make them appear on the map and radar, you need to "spot" them by rolling into sight range, whereupon they'll suddenly pop up as targets you can shoot at. The thing to consider is that if you're the one rolling forward, that means the enemy could well be lying in wait, and the first thing you'll experience after seeing them is being on the receiving end of an opening salvo from their gun. Or guns, if there are several tanks waiting to ambush you. Under that circumstance, it's pretty much game over.
Nope. There's no rushing forward in this game unless you're a fast and agile light tank doing spotting duties, and even then you have to be incredibly careful about where you go, otherwise a heavy tank could well make mincemeat out of you.
Instead, this is a game of cat and mouse, where you move forward carefully, using cover from either the natural terrain, or buildings. Once you've spotted a target, you try to leave as little of your tank exposed as possible as you peek around a corner with your turret in order to get in a shot before the enemy can hit you. Rolling back and forth is a tactic here, where you try to goad your enemy into loosing off a shot, which will hopefully miss, or careen off your heavily armored front, before you roll forward again and let rip at your target – hopefully with better results than them.
It's this more patient, less frenetic approach to the game that makes it highly appealing to me. When I'm fed up with the need for nanosecond reactions of games like Battlefield and Call of Duty, World of Tanks' altogether slower-paced cadence is like a breath of fresh air. But the thing is, even though the gameplay doesn't rip along, it doesn't feel like there's any lack of action. Here, every shot counts, and it's all about planning the moments leading up to when you take that critical shot at an enemy - which is tense and involving. Most tanks take several seconds to reload, so you only want to shoot when you know you've got a bead on your target, and that your shell is likely to do damage to it. It's all about picking your target and firing at just the right moment. In that respect, the game can feel almost zen-like – when you get it right, it gives you a moment of deep satisfaction before you immediately start planning your next move – which could be another 30 seconds down the line. Definitely a far cry from the rapid-paced running and gunning of most PvP shooters.
The other thing that World of Tanks is good at is putting you in specific roles. There are a variety of tanks in the game, and they each have a purpose. Maneuverable, fast-moving light tanks are ideal for spotting targets, and also hunting down low-armored, but highly dangerous artillery vehicles, which tend to sit at the back of the battlefield, lobbing shells at stationary tanks – often with devastating results. There are tank destroyers who are the snipers of the game, holing up under cover, waiting for an unsuspecting tank to roll into their sights. Medium tanks are great for support and spotting, and take a general all-round role on the battlefield, while slow-moving heavy tanks are best used for major assaults and providing cover for other tanks.
While these roles might all sound very similar – whatever tank you're in, you're ultimately driving around shooting at targets – they each have a different strategic objective, and actually have a totally different feel. That's one of the things that I really love about World of Tanks. If you feel like sitting back and playing the game in a very relaxed fashion, choosing artillery delivers that exact experience. Or, if you want the opposite experience of a white-knuckle ride where you take a highly dangerous, but potentially critical role for your team, choose a light tank and go spotting. You'll get shot at constantly, but if you're good, your maneuverable tank should be able to avoid incoming ordinance and keep you out of trouble. Just make sure you use cover all of the time, otherwise you're likely to get one-shotted by a medium or heavy tank – or artillery if you make the mistake of sitting too long in one spot. Driving light tanks can definitely feel quite stressful!
Medium tanks are great for when you just want to get out onto the battlefield and mix it up. Their powerful guns can destroy most other tanks on the battlefield, and they're fast enough to spot enemies and hunt artillery should you so desire. And if you want to feel like a "proper" tank that can soak up endless punishment, take the seat of a heavy tank and slowly roll into battle with your big gun blazing. Add in the patient, sniper role of the tank destroyer, and you have a wide variety of roles that can suit whatever mood you happen to be in. Whether you're feeling the need for immediate and visceral action, or just want to be patient, potentially waiting minutes to take that vital shot to knock out an enemy tank in one hit, like you can do with a tank destroyer or artillery.
I said at the start of this piece that I initially played World of Tanks on PC. Now I've transitioned to Xbox One and have collectively put somewhere in the region of a couple of hundred hours into the game across both formats. There's just something about World of Tanks' action that I just love. It's intense, but steady. It requires as much thought as it does reflex action. Few titles combine those two aspects of gaming and presents them with a variety of roles in the way that World of Tanks does, and that's what makes it such a comfort food game for me - whatever my mood, it has something for me.