World of Tanks has been around on PC for almost five years now. During that time it's been fettled and tweaked into what it is today – a slow-paced, but thoroughly engrossing tactical shooter. It has since transitioned from PC to Xbox 360, and recently made the jump over to Xbox One (with cross-play support for those who already have a 360 account).
It's basically a PvP game in which two teams of 15 players face off on one of a wide variety of World War II-themed battlefields. Some are blasted cityscapes, while others are open fields, countryside and mixed urban environments. Locales range from deserts to the arctic, and the terrain runs from flat plains to mountainous regions, each of which makes for its own unique tactical opportunity. However, whatever the situation, the objective is always the same: either destroy all the tanks on the opposing team, or capture the enemy's flag by parking your tank within its radius for a specific period of time.
In many respects, World of Tanks is a cover-based shooter, since the gameplay echoes the more tactical and strategic nature of tank battles, where you use obstacles and landscape features to help ensure you're not quickly destroyed by the enemy. This is not a game where you drive headlong across the battlefield shooting all and sundry. Well, you can try to do that, but if you do, you'll invariably be very quickly picked off by heavy tanks or tank destroyers.
Nope. This is a game where you need to take things a little more slow and steady. When a round starts, all enemies are invisible on the map, and to locate them you need to move within visual range, which will then cause them to appear on the map. This is where the roles of different tanks come into play. There are five basic tank types – light, medium, and heavy tanks, tank destroyers, and artillery – and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Light tanks are essentially faster than most, and are scouts, ideal for pushing forward and spotting enemy tanks. Medium tanks are more of a dual support and spotting role, while highly armored heavy tanks are slower, but ideal for assault and firepower. Tank destroyers are more of a hunter/sniping type, while artillery sits at the very back of the battlefield lobbing shells at the enemy from long range, using an overhead view.
Having different roles is an interesting twist that I didn't quite expect when I first encountered the game on PC back in 2010 during North American beta. It allows you to essentially pick tanks that augment your playstyle strengths. I'm a little impatient, and like more action, so I tend to favor light tanks, which are best used for rushing forward, leading the charge and spotting enemies, at which point I then hunker down and wait for reinforcements or artillery to clear them before moving forward again. It's a risky role, but I enjoy it a lot.
The tank role aspect also imbues the game with an unexpected level of subtlety. This isn't just a straight-up shooter as might be first apparent – this is a game that rewards skill and thought. Most tanks can only shoot once every few seconds, so every shot really does count. The highly accurate damage modeling also ensures that movement and positioning is very important – it's possible to take out tank turrets, tracks, or even specific crewmembers, depending on where the tank gets hit. And if you haven’t figured it out already, patience also plays an important part in the game as you sit and wait for the right shot, or hole up behind cover and wait for a tank to approach so you can ambush it. Like I said at the start, if you just roll straight across the battlefield, it's likely you'll be taken out very quickly. This is a strategic cat-and-mouse game where selecting the right position and taking the first shot can very much give you the upper hand.
Winning is important, of course, because that earns you money and xp. World of Tanks follows the traditional MMO structure where your earned currency can buy you new gear for your existing tanks, and also new tanks as you rank up. Leveling up is fairly easy at first, however, once you get to around tier six (out of ten), the game becomes quite a grind, and if you're serious about earning the upper-level tanks, it's pretty much a necessity to buy gold and convert to a "premium" account, which offers accelerated xp and money-earning opportunities. Yep. World of Tanks is a freemium game that you can play without paying for, but you'll have to invest a lot of time to do so. Paying to play gives you access to a faster leveling process, and you can also buy higher-level tanks. None offer any real advantage over the tanks you can earn – it's simply a financial short cut to buying into higher-level tanks if you so wish.
I played World of Tanks a lot on PC a few years ago, and rediscovering it on Xbox One has been a huge amount of fun. I spent almost an entire weekend playing, and relearning all my old tactics and strategies has been very enjoyable. The game is very slick and polished on Xbox One, and looks great too. The tanks are very nicely rendered, and the landscaping is great, with some really nice attention to detail that help bring the environments to life.
While World of Tanks' slow and strategic gameplay isn't for everyone, finding out whether or not it's for you is simply a case of downloading it and giving it a try. It's easy to get into, and some of the lower-level tanks are really fun to drive. Indeed, I often find lower-level games are quicker and more immediate than the higher-level games, where you have to be careful not to fall foul of the more numerous heavy tanks and tank destroyers that can blow you to pieces with ease.
Ultimately, World of Tanks offers something different to the usual shooter fare - it's smarter and more thoughtful than most twitch-based games. That said, you still need to be able to aim well in the heat of the moment, but there's more to do in terms of pre-planning your attack than other run-and-gun games. If you like the sound of it, don't let its freemium nature put you off – give the game a go and at the very least you'll get a good few evening's worth of excellent entertainment out of it for free, before the real grind begins. And by that time you'll know whether or not you like it enough for it to be a worthy investment of your money.
Quite complex, and takes a little getting used to. But once you've played for a few hours, navigating around its numerous screens becomes second nature.
Huge long-term appeal assuming you're willing to pony up some cash and buy a premium account to avoid having to grind for new tanks and gear.
HIghly effective. Very good spot effects, and the voice-over is decent.
Excellent landscaping and tank rendering make this a surprisingly pretty game.
World of Tanks is an entertaining and enjoyable tactical shooter with a surprising amount of depth. If you're not prepared to pony up some cash, it does become a grind eventually – but if you reach that point and you still want to play, spending some money is very likely a worthwhile investment.