Free-to-play games must strike a fine balance to have long term value. Putting too much behind a paywall causes the experience to fizzle out quickly and fragments the player base. Conversely, not giving players a reason to pay for anything means that no money is going to the developer and the long term support of the game is in jeopardy.
Wargaming has had a lot of time to find this balance for their tactical tank shooter aptly titled World of Tanks. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because the game has been around for a number of years, starting its life in late 2010 on the PC in Russia, and subsequently coming to other countries and platforms over time. This latest PlayStation release is far from a simple port of the PC version, something I detailed in my PSX preview, as well as my write up from my visit to Wargaming Chicago. If you haven’t read those, I encourage you to. I’m going to try to avoid subjects I already covered there.
When you first start up World of Tanks, do yourself a favor. Play the tutorials in the Proving Grounds portion of the game. There’s a lot more here than just “drive a tank around and blow shit up.” The tutorials are a new addition for us impatient console gamers who don’t have the time to jump in, browse all of the forums, and figure out the nuances on our own. It’s a welcome feature considering the complexity of calculations that go into things like armor thickness, critical zones on each tank, and even the angle of the shot to the tank, which will determine if your shot penetrates or bounces.
It should come as no surprise then that World of Tanks is a tactical game. You’re given a single life each battle, and once your tank is a smoldering heap, your time is done. You can opt to sit around and watch the remainder of the battle, or head back to your garage to choose another tank to jump into. Being a run-and-gun style of gamer, it was quite an adjustment to realize that I needed to play a little bit more thoughtfully, but there was never any denying that the reasons for my failures were my own.
Every time I would blow up, I took it as a teaching moment. I considered the class of tank that I was in, and what choices I had made that had led to my destruction. If I was in a light tank, was I dropping the ball on my scout role and attempting to take on tanks far more powerful than me? If I was artillery, was I putting myself in the enemy’s line of site too much? It’s about far more than your kill to death ratio. It’s about how well you support your team to victory, whether that be spotting enemy tanks as a scout, raining support fire as artillery, or eviscerating the opposing team with the lumbering heavy tanks.
For an always online game like World of Tanks, it’s essential that everything be free of lag, that matchmaking happens quickly and efficiently, and that things generally load correctly. This is even more true of a free-to-play title where players may not have any monetary investment into the game and could easily stop playing at any time. Fortunately, the load times are never unbearably long, and matchmaking is quick.
Games are always full, and the balance of tank types on each side makes for a fair fight. The biggest problem that I faced is that as I am nearing 200 matches, I still have only played two types of game modes. One requires the teams to try to capture the opposing team’s base. The other drives the confrontation to a single capture point in the middle. In both cases, eliminating all opposing players will also result in a victory. While these battles are a lot of fun, it would be nice to see a wider variety of game modes.
Look, Ma! I’m Driving a Tank
Controls take some getting used to. I mean, it’s tank controls, which are everybody’s favorite, right? While they may not be so loved in old games like Resident Evil, the control scheme does allow for independent movement of the treads versus the turret, so while it was jarring at first and I found myself running into walls (ok, I still run into walls. And trees. And rocks. Sometimes just for fun), it ultimately offers more freedoms and versatility in controlling the tanks.
Shooting is a mixture of good aim, finding the right spot on the opposing tank, and waiting long enough for the dispersion circle to narrow. If your aiming reticle is red, then you know you’ve got a high chance to penetrate and either do some damage or land a critical hit. This is where the game is a little vague and tends to not offer any insight as to what I just did. Sometimes my shot will hit and I earn a critical ribbon, but I don’t damage the tank’s health. Did I kill the driver? Damage the tracks? Kill their radio man? It would be nice to know exactly how I am crippling my enemy, especially given the complex number of ways that I can.
Nothing Good Is Free?
Of course, we’re talking free-to-play so we need to address the free versus paid portions of the game. Wargaming agreed to buff my account with a nice bit of extra silver (in-game earned currency), gold (paid currency), and free XP (experience that can be used on any tank), but before they did, I made sure that I got in over 100 battles without any kind of head start as a controlled comparison.
I was the most surprised that getting a bunch of extra currency did not help me become a tank badass. Sure, I could skip through some tanks now, move into higher tiers, and generally play as whatever I wanted, but Wargaming has carefully developed the massive array of tanks so that there is no one specific tank that is a purchasable God mode. In short, the World of Tanks is not pay to win. In fact, it’s not even pay to do better. Battle performance is still entirely up to your skill and how you play. Pay to unlock a tier X tank? You’ll be matched with other players in high tiers, and if you haven’t earned your way there, you’l probably be a smoldering heap soon.
Everything can also be earned completely free. The transactions in World of Tanks are not paywalls. Instead, think of them as time savers. Premium memberships allow you to earn 50% more silver and XP per battle (you still have to play well to earn higher amounts). You can also purchase premium tanks, extra silver, and more garage slots, but none of these things guarantees you’ll win. I’d challenge anyone to play against a team and try to determine who in the match has paid money into the game, and who is still freeloading. I’ll bet that you won’t be able to tell the difference.
One issue that I ran into was my selected camo not applying for each battle. Sometimes it shows and sometimes it does not. While something as silly as customizations not showing up correctly normally isn’t a big deal, World of Tanks requires you to pay silver to apply customizations for a specific period of time (or gold to permanently keep it). When I am spending hard earned currency — or potentially money — I expect the selected camo to show up in every match I take that tank into.
Of course, World of Tanks has its striking visuals and stunning sound design too, and the power of the PS4 has allowed Wargaming to do a lot of new things like adding detail into the maps and even bringing in varied weather effects.
If I haven’t mentioned it enough, World of Tanks is free-to-play. This means that you can go and download it right now, and the only thing you’ll be out is a little time to check it out and some space on your hard drive. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but who knows? You may just find yourself having a little fun, and you may even choose to pay for something. For now, there are a few things to be ironed out, but with constant updates and support, this is a game that will be worth coming back to as it evolves and changes in the future.
World of Tanks review account provided by developer. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.
Stay tuned for our World of Tanks Founders’ Packs giveaway that we’ll be holding this weekend to help you get a jump start in the game.