Wot I Think: World of Tanks 1.0

World of Tanks review

The heavy metal thunderdome that is World of Tanks has finally hit 1.0, heralded by the sound of explosive shells and colliding war machines. It’s not 1.0 in a conventional sense, but it does give us the excuse to finally give it the ol’ review treatment. Here’s wot I think, eight years late.

World of Tanks sits at the intersection between arcade and simulation. Its battles are fast-paced and brief, with simple objectives and fleeting lives; but it’s also a game of geometry and tactics, of finding the perfect angle and trying to force enemies to reveal their weak spot through teamwork and even stealth.

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I use the authenticity versus accuracy comparison a lot when I write about games that dabble in history, military or otherwise, and I’m bringing it out again. If you don’t think about it too much, World of Tanks’ bloodthirsty behemoths feel like you’d expect from a tank, even though they’re massively abstracted. A lot of the heavy lifting is done by the obsessive graphics and audio engineers, whose work is newly highlighted in this 1.0 update. They’ve asked questions like “How would water react to a tank moving through it?” and “What does gunfire sound like in a valley compared to a field?” and then tried to replicate it in-game. It’s these tiny considerations that make the battles feel real and tangible, even when tanks are ramming each other off cliffs or skating across ice lakes.

World of Tanks is a lot more restrained than the bombastic trailers full of tanks smashing into each other and blowing up suggests. It’s a considered action game that creates just as many quietly intense moments as explosive brawls. And these fights are dramatically different depending on not only what class of tank you play, but what tier you’re duking it out in, as well. In the early tiers, for instance, you’ll mostly be fighting as and against low-damage light tanks and the occasional SPG, the artillery class. Later, medium and heavy tanks start to appear, along with predatory tank destroyers, and battles start to become more complex as a greater number of strategies become viable.

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Each class has different priorities. SPGs typically hang back, finding a perch or hiding spot from which they can safely pick targets with their bird’s eye view of the battlefield. Light tanks dash around, scouting and spotting enemies, helping out SPGs in particular, but also the entire team. Tank destroyers prowl the map like deadly hunters, looking for heavily-armoured foes to demolish.

There are exceptions in every class, however, and the class of a tank doesn’t always define its role. There are beefy tank destroyers designed to square up to their quarry, head on, the tank of tanks, but there are also tank destroyers that are better off attacking from long-range, preferably near bushes they can hide in. This means there’s usually quite a few reasons to dip into a new class, even if it’s one you think you won’t enjoy.

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I’ve become rather partial to support tanks since I started playing again. Despite its importance, teamwork isn’t as common as you’d hope in World of Tanks’ battles, at least not the random ones. There’s a minimap and an alert system that both prove to be extremely convenient, but only when people are paying attention to them. Playing a support role, then, can be simultaneously rewarding and dispiriting.

There are usually at least a couple of players being communicative, though, and it just makes playing something like an SPG a lot more engaging. Having that extra-long range and that broader view of the battlefield means you can react a little quicker, and perhaps rescue a friend-in-need even if you’re on the other side of the map. And since you’re not on the front-lines, it really helps to have people highlighting problem areas where you can assist.

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Destroying enemy tanks isn’t as simple as lining up a shot and firing. Tanks are elaborate, modular machines and no two models are identical. Their weak spots, heavily armoured areas and the thickness and angle of that armour all depend on the tank, so it pays to do a wee bit of homework. The reticle turns green when you’re hovering over a weak spot, but in the heat of battle, you don’t always have time to search. You’ve got to know even before you start aiming. And even then, you need to take into account the effectiveness of your own gun and ammunition, your tank’s weight and engine power, and of course your accuracy. If you’re moving, for instance, or are trying to fire quickly, your shots are going to be a lot more likely to go wide.

The result is that a single 15-minute fight can contain all manner of near misses, close calls, tense standoffs, explosive charges and calculated assaults. With so many different types of tank, a lot can happen. And if you’re taken out of the fight, you can head straight back to your garage, pick another tank and jump into another game straight away. Once the battle you left is over, you’ll get access to the other tank again. World of Tanks has a lot of faffing around, but it’s extraordinarily good at getting you back into the action as quickly as possible.

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Most of the faffing is relegated to World of Tanks’ convoluted progression system and business model. A boot camp tutorial that walks new players through a series of battles, interspersed with progression and currency walkthroughs, makes the first 30 minutes of the game surprisingly breezy. By the end you’ll understand the basics, and a bit more, as well as getting access to three tiers of tanks. You’ll also have a bit of extra experience and credits that you can use to upgrade the tanks you’ve already unlocked. Then the training wheels come off and it gets a bit messy.

The problem is that, even once the systems have been explained, they’re overly-complicated and draconian. Take the process to unlock a new tank, for example. First, you have to unlock the previous tank in the tree, then you’ve got to use that tank to earn combat experience points — slowly — which you can then spend on upgrades and the next tank. But even then you don’t own that tank. You’ve just researched it. Then you need to spend credits to actually buy the tank, and then a few more credits to fill it with ammunition and consumables, like fire extinguishers and medkits so your crew don’t die in a ball of fire.

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And that’s just the simple explanation. There’s also the separate free experience that can be earned slowly by any tank, which then gets place in a pool. Combat experience from other tanks can be converted into free experience by spending the premium gold currency. If you don’t have enough combat experience to unlock the next tank in the tree, you can use the free experience to get you there. After all that’s done, you then get the choice to spend even more credits on training the crew inside your tank.

It’s a horrible system that makes World of Tanks seem a lot harsher than it is. In the early tiers it’s a hassle, but you should be able to fill your garage with tanks and maybe even get your first tier V vehicle within a few days. After you reach the final few tiers, however, you’ll start to feel the grind as you play in low-tier matches to maintain your high-tier tanks, saving up to buy the fancy ammo that will allow you to stay competitive. You might even win a match and still end up losing credits as you swallow the repair bill. The alternative is spending cash.

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A premium account nets you more experience and credits after a fight, but big spenders can also splash out on fancy premium tanks. They’ve been a point of contention between Wargaming and its community since the early days. Wargaming argue that they’re different but not more powerful, but they’ve also been rightly pressured into removing certain tanks that were demonstrably overpowered. The issue goes beyond balance, however. In any competitive game, the introduction of premium-only stuff divides the community into the haves and the have nots. And in this case, letting everyone play together only exacerbates the feeling that some players have an unfair advantage, imagined or not.

This only becomes more pronounced in the higher tiers, where the game becomes more competitive and the premium advantages become more of a necessity. The message is: you can play with the big dogs if you want, but you should probably stick to the low-tier fights. If World of Tanks 1.0 is going to bring in new players, not just lapsed ones, the message needs to be different.

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Despite its eight-year evolution, I still feel the same way about World of Tanks as I did way back when I first decided that battering armoured vehicles seemed like a fun way to kill an evening. The big changes are largely positive, even if not every patch has been a success, but Wargaming’s flagship remains a great game that frequently gets in the way of itself. Reaching the higher tiers should feel like an achievement and the source of more exciting battles; it shouldn’t leave me worrying about bills and grinding. I prefer to leave that to real life.

World of Tanks 1.0 is out now and can be downloaded from the official site.

36 Comments

  1. Landiss says:

    “A lot of the heavy lifting is done by the obsessive graphics and audio engineers, whose work is newly highlighted in this 1.0 update. They’ve asked questions like “How would water react to a tank moving through it?” and “What does gunfire sound like in a valley compared to a field?” and then tried to replicate it in-game.”

    Have they finally done something about the audio in the newest update? For years it was the weakest part of the game, also when I played it the last time a few months back. Pretty much all engines sounded the same (well, perhaps there were a few types, but nowhere near enough), and not very well at that. Gun shots were also very similar and not very good. Nothing compared to the level of audio detail in some other games, notably battlefield series. I have also never actually noticed any changes in sounds depending on the map and environment. Would be really nice if that really was changed now, together with the graphics update.

    • Fraser Brown says:

      The audio was overhauled along with the graphics. I think the game sounds amazing, but I confess that I’m struggling to remember how it sounded before the update since I took a long break.

  2. mf says:

    Ok listen up potential new players. Game is fun until you learn about the balance and developer (WG) prioritization. It is a team based PvP game where “team” part gets forgotten. Game is toxic to a state where most playes have in game chat disabled. The game is so toxic that chat with the opposing team was permanently disabled.
    Yes, it now looks good, but the is a polished turd at best. Powercreep is real, FOTM tanks are introduced to encourage real money spending and XP conversion. Borderline OP premium vehices are introduced to milk playerbase. Map balance, game mechanics (25% rng on penetration and damage values) and class imbalance have not been addressed for years.
    If you are looking for a game to blow off some steam, dont mind toxicity and dont care for statistics (your performance) – it is for you.
    If you are looking for healthy competitive team based gameplay with frequent and well thought out balance changes – this game is definately not for you.

  3. rapchee says:

    small correction: you earn free xp all the time, not just on elite tanks (like 1% of all the xp you get in a battle), elites help you train the crew, give one crewmember with the lowest xp 150% (i think) crew xp
    otherwise great article

    • Rorschach617 says:

      With Elite tanks, you can choose to either continue receiving XP on the tank (then spend premium currency to change it into Free XP) or to “double” the amount the crew receives (where the extra XP split is weighted towards giving more XP to any under-developed crewmen).

      Good article, but he really should have mentioned the toxicity and the lack of any reliable team cohesion.

      New Players? Get into the game if you have friends to play with. WoT’ers have a saying. The battle isn’t 15v15 players, it’s 1v29. Having a platoon mate you can trust makes all the difference.

    • Fraser Brown says:

      Thanks for the correction! I think I must have been muddling it up with the extra crew training that you can do with Elites. I’ll fix that in the article.

  4. mitrovarr says:

    I don’t understand why people play games like this. Online multiplayer games are generally games you play for huge amounts of time. Spending a bit upfront to get a game that isn’t designed from top to bottom to squeeze more money out of you just seems like good sense. I mean, what are the possibilities here?

    1. You don’t spend any money and operate at a permanent disadvantage to the other players in the game. I’m pretty sure an online multiplayer game where you have a permanent disadvantage is one of the levels of hell.
    2. You spend some money and have both the disadvantage of not spending as much as the ‘whales’ as well as spending enough to get a better game anyway.
    3. You spend like a whale and get to waste huge amounts of money in a bad game, knowing your achievements in it are essentially the result of cheating within the game-world and not having anyone respect them because everyone knows it’s pay to win.

    • Someoldguy says:

      Because smart, knowledgeable play beats cash. Some premium tanks are considered better, but the argument about which standard tanks are better than others at each tier has raged since inception too and balance changes routinely shift things around. On the whole a player who knows their tank and the map they’re playing on will outperform a cash player with weaker knowledge. The team which coordinates well will beat individuals who don’t and cash players aren’t renowned for teamwork. And finally, at the end of the day even if you meet a whale in one game, you may have one of your own to beat him and either way it’s done in 5-10 minutes and you’re off to a different engagement. You’ll only meet them regularly as you push past tier VII and frankly, nobody needs to do that if they don’t find the upper tiers fun. I’d happily play a World of Tanks that scrapped lower and upper bands and stick to IV-VI forever.

      • Landiss says:

        You say that as if having cash and playing smartly exclude each other. There are plenty of players who play very well and spend really a lot. Actually the game rewards the best players with upgrades that give them even bigger edge over regular players.

        That’s not to say that you have to pay or you will lose games. No, it is not designed like that. It is mostly designed to make you pay or you have to grind a lot. This is reinforced by pretty much every single element of game mechanic. For example, the tank trees are done purposeful so that on the way to a great tank you have to go through some bad tanks (tanks that are considered by everyone to be much worse than others on the same tier) and money lets you skip that. Another thing is how the economy works – in order to be able to buy high tier tanks and the ammo (and repairs) for them, you have to get premium tanks (who earn much more) and the premium account or play really tons and tons of battles in low tier tanks. Yet another example is the “gold ammo”. It used to be possible to get it only in premium currency, but they very smartly changed it, so you can get it with regular currency (same as the one used to buy tanks, repairs etc.). Meaning a lot more players use it and there is much higher pressure to use it as well. Another smart decision was to make premium ammo not do more damage than regular one (in most cases anyway). However, it has better penetration, so in practice you will deal more damage with it, at least when fighting your tier or higher (which happens regularly). Most known YouTubers playing WoT play with a lot of gold ammo (or even exclusively with it), even though they are very good at the game and in theory they are able to penetrate with regular ammo as well.

        It is a very sophisticated system very carefully designed to milk players, let the big spenders spend really a lot, give something to the middle tier spenders and give the rest (which is majority) an impression they don’t have to pay anything. That impression is especially stressed during the first hours of gameplay, so new players are not scared away. It really is a brilliant system, if exploitative.

        • Someoldguy says:

          So it’s pay to go faster? I’d agree with that wholeheartedly. Except there’s no real reason to go significantly faster if you don’t want to get to tier VIII-X where the time sink is completely egregious. As Fraser points out, you can hit Tier V pretty fast.

          If you’re the kind of person that needs to unlock everything then it’s going to take a ludicrous amount of time to unlock all the f2p tanks. Probably forever since they release more as time goes on. If you just want to have fun and make a little progress after every modestly successful battle, there’s lots to be had.

          • Landiss says:

            No, not really, it’s not that, or certainly it’s not only that.

      • ludde says:

        Yeah, but smart + cash beats smart. And there are lost of times where dumb + cash beats smart as well.

        There really are no excuses for pay-to-win mechanics. Not even those bordering gray areas.

    • rusty says:

      Uh, cos it’s fun?

    • EatingDirt says:

      Paying for this game only gives only 2 advantages over a non-paid player and only one can be considered possibly pay-to-win(or how you put it, becoming a “whale”).

      1. Premium players advance faster, and because of that, their crew gains skills faster. Premium tanks only increase the rate at which you advance your tanks/crews. This should be seen as acceptable.

      2. Premium players make more in-game credits, which mostly goes into buying new tanks, however it also allows them to use more, what I’d consider pay-to-win ammo, which increases your tanks shells stats. This is really the only issue I have with the game currently, but it’s better than what it was a few years ago, where you could only pay real money. They need to just get rid of the “premium” shells altogether and look at seriously re-balancing guns throughout the tiers to compensate.

      • ludde says:

        The premium ammo spam at higher tiers is unbearable. On a standard account even more so, because you’re really limited in what you can afford to fire back.

        And then there are premium consumables that are really expensive. You can still make a profit with those on a premium account, but on a standard you just can’t and it’ll break your bank, effectively limiting their use to premium accounts.

        Then you have the premium vehicles with all of their imbalances of late, plus higher income so you can afford even more premium ammo and consumables than the non-paying player. And there’s free exp so you can skip past grinding really crippled tanks and while in theory you can grind that out, the grind is so long past mid tiers, I believe most players just buy gold and convert.

        All in all, to suggest there’s a level playing field is silly.

        • ludde says:

          Oh yeah, completely forgot. 100% skill crews are only available for real money. If you only have the ingame-currency, then you get 75% crews.

  5. Someoldguy says:

    I’ve dipped into WoT from time to time since its inception. For all the grumblings about the highest tiers, I would say that a pretty solid ratio of battles in the III-VII range are fun and allow most players to shine if they play capably. It works for me in a way that no standard PvP game ever has, because no matter how hard you try you can’t get a tank to bunny hop or side strafe across the map. I can even proudly recall a few times where my non-premium tank with non-premium ammo scored 5+ kills and won the day for my team. They’re rare, but all the more precious for that.

    Nor do I have a problem with not chatting with the opponents. It makes them all the more menacing as a silent posse of heavily armoured individuals intent on obliterating us. There’s nothing more immersion breaking than the opponents radioing you the position of somebody on their own team that they’re upset with for some perceived failing, or just general juvenile chat that make it clear your opponents in the Tigers are little Jimmy, age 15 1/2 and his drunk uncle Bob rather than the highly trained and merciless SS-Hauptsturmführer Wittmann and confederates.

  6. Palindrome says:

    The match maker is an abomination. It is the norm for games to be wipeouts for one side or the other, although given the general lack of teamwork this is perhaps unavoidable. What is unavoidable however is the range of tiers allowed in each map. There are ten tiers and each tier you advance you get more HP as well as a better gun, armour and generally better stats. You can manage a tier above you without that much difficulty but 2 tiers become problematic, particularly with tanks that relay on their armour as a higher tier tank will effectively completely negate any advantage you have while being largely immune to return fire. Matches at tier 4 and above have a 2 tier level range which means that in most game you will be facing tanks 2 tiers above you who are hugely more capable than what ever you are driving. This has always been a problem (in the beta it was 3 tiers difference…) but the devs simply don’t care, in fact that seem happy with this crippling imbalance. Basically being forced into no fun scenarios in a regular basis drove me away from the game and until it is fixed there is no point in me returning. Premium ammo is also something that should never have been introduced.
    I played a handful of matches in 1.0 and the game is exactly the same as it was, just a bit prettier, and I doubt that I will try again.

    • Landiss says:

      Of course they aren’t going to change it, as it is done on purpose. This lets players who are not the best to also have battles where they kill several tanks (who are simply 2 tiers lower).

      • Palindrome says:

        Low skilled players will still just get splatted as tank destroyers are fairly protected by tier difference as they tend to have higher tier guns and there will still be a few on tier vehicles around. I simply don’t understand why Wargaming loves enforcing unbalanced tiers as it makes for unbalanced games which inevitably leads to unfair fights which only masochists will enjoy. WoT has a large enough player base to allow only a 1 tier difference which would make for a far superior game yet…..

        • Daymare says:

          As someone who’s never played (and very likely never will) play WoT, I’m curious why a tier difference — which I understand means a statistical difference in power — should exist at all?

          It’s sort of like LoL’s (now removed) different tiers of runes. There were originally 3 tiers, and basically the T3 was about 50% better than T1. I don’t know why, in terms of balance, such a thing exists for any other reason than for monetization.

          With the removal of these runes they’ve now started selling in-game emoji for about 4€ apiece which … yeah. But at least there’s no power difference and you can mute them on enemies … and people can’t be arsed to use them, anyhow.

          • Makaze says:

            Tiers are how they separate historical tanks with vastly different levels of power. Roughly, tier 1 tanks are late WW1/interwar tanks with paper thin armor armed with heavy machine guns. Tier 5 is early WW2 tanks like the Sherman or Panzer 4. Tier 10 is post-WW2/crazy concept tanks.

          • Palindrome says:

            The tiers are a good idea as they are not really about stat improvements (although hit points dues increase quite significantly with each tier) but rather it separates tanks out according to their real world effectiveness as defined by their armament, armour and role. Something like a T-26 (a tier 3 tank in WoT terms) wouldn’t even be able to scratch the paint work on a ST-I (a tier 9) for example.

    • ludde says:

      I think this was done to make players want to progress through the tiers. Basically, the only way to constantly be top-tier and not get bullied around is to get to tier 10.

      And to afford to keep playing tier 10 you need to pay for a premium account. Or grind those mid-tiers and get bullied again.

      (It also makes players fire more premium ammo.)

  7. Sian says:

    I haven’t played WoT in years and this article made me want to give it a go again – at first. Two things bother me more than anything else, though:

    1) Bills potentially being higher than earnings even after a victory. That would be disheartening even if there weren’t so many credit sinks. As it is, it’s a huge turn-off.

    2) The result of the above being that high tier, skilled players have to play low tier matches to earn money if they aren’t willing to pay. This combined with what I heard about the matchmaking system makes it sound like I’ll more than likely run into highly skilled players when I’m trying to get my feet wet again. I like to at least have a chance on lower tiers.

    • Someoldguy says:

      Low tiers aren’t played to earn credits, only to pursue a different branch of the tank tree to unlock new mid to high tier tanks. It has the advantage of making the mid tier battle matching very active so you don’t have to wait as much or keep meeting the same group of people. Once you get to mid tier it is quite helpful to have skilled players on the team so you can see how they play and learn from it. Some of my best spent time was watching from the viewpoint of another tank to see what they did after my own was KOd.

    • silli-pentti says:

      1) This is indeed the case for tiers 9 and 10, especially without premium account.

      2) I think many players (including myself) pay for a premium account. Credit grind is most efficient with tier 8 premium tanks. For free-to-play, I think it is tier 6 (or arty…). In any case there is no huge influx of skilled players grinding credits at the “low” tiers. On the contrary, as somebody how started playing roughly a year ago, I think the general level of players on EU server is fairly poor and as a returning veteran willing to use their brain one can do really well.

      If you are scared of the top tiers being money sinks, you could consider just playing many of the enjoyable tanks in tiers 5-7. The average player skill level is lower, which is a mixed blessing. Still, if you choose your tank well, you will have a lot of fun and won’t feel like you’re missing on anything, especially considering the HEAT-infested hellscape that is a full tier 10 game these days.

      As mentioned, the matchmaking is fairly bad (I guess it used to be much worse), producing total wipeouts when the three top tiers are poor players. You also get 5/10 matchmaking (5 tanks on tier x and 10 on tier x-1), which I would prefer as the default. Tier 8 mm has been particularly bad on EU, producing the number of bottom tier games one would expect when every match has 7 tanks at the bottom tier.

  8. Evan_ says:

    The thing is… what felt a bit grindy and not always fair 8 years ago, seems totally egregious today. The F2P industry progressed, and left the Wargaming / Gaijin business model on the side of the road.

    Hope it will die out soon – I’d love if awesome concepts like Total War Arena or WoT-likes weren’t tied to such a smelly, barely concealed cash-grab.

    • MrUnimport says:

      Do you mean cosmetics-supported games like DOTA and TF2? I wonder if that would be practical for these games.

      • Evan_ says:

        Well, there are many other business models that appeal more for the masses instead of the whales. Can’t say I could name one that would work perfectly as it is, but I bet multiple ones could be tailored to fit such games.

  9. MrUnimport says:

    War Thunder review next!

    • Evan_ says:

      As I hear the differences could be summed up in a fat paragraph. Cool damage model, also it’s 2 in 1 with the previous plane-game. Ships are on the way too.

      • Daemoroth says:

        Everyone always seems to miss another HUGE difference:

        In WoT, if you want to unlock the “next” tank, you are forced to play the previous tank in the line (So if it’s a shitty tank, enjoy).

        In War Thunder, you assign which tank to research, and then earn research points using ANY tank (Same with planes). You’re never forced into any particular tank(s).

        • silli-pentti says:

          In WoT’s defence, the different tanks have very different styles of play, so grinding the lower tiers (in well designed lines) forces the player to learn the line’s play style before getting to the higher tier. This does not excuse the use of tanks that clearly designed to be skipped with free experience, though.

  10. BaronKreight says:

    I agree.

  11. Askis says:

    As someone who has played WoT on and off since the beta, the reworked maps are really nice to look at and some have received good changes to their layout.
    With the new engine, I get better FPS than with the old one, although sometimes loading the maps and tanks takes so long that the round has already started.

    Apart from that, the game hasn’t really changed…
    Premium/Gold ammo is in dire need of a rework, with statpadders flinging nothing but “gold” at low and mid-tiers and all the slow, higher tier heavies, which rely on their armor, tend to be almost useless.
    (Don’t get excited about the Maus or E100, you’ll just be eating HEAT shells as soon as you’re spotted)
    The experience grind for Tier 7-10 tanks is still atrocious, the credit grind is worse, leveling up your crews (The Sixth Sense skill is almost mandatory at Tier 6+) is even more grind on top.

    It can be decent fun, especially with friends, but apart from the eyecandy, the 1.0 patch didn’t bring enough changes imho.

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