Odds are my latest tank--just like the one before it--is going to wind up a smoldering heap on some artillery-pockmarked hillside alongside the decimated husks of friend and foe alike. I've already accepted my fate well before the first echoes of cannon fire thunder across the countryside. Still, that doesn't stop my mind from racing with excitement over the strategic possibilities and crazy armored showdowns ahead as I prep for battle in this tank-centric strategic multiplayer shooter. That's because the deeper you delve into it, the more World of Tanks grows into a delightful playground of deadly rolling metal and military might.
The original PC version of World of Tanks has evolved and grown quite a bit in the three years since it first launched, with a sweeping array of updated visual flourishes, fresh battlegrounds, and lots of extra tanks added to the pile. While this steady drip of enticing new content goes a long way toward keeping longer-time players in the fight, it's the strong foundation that's most important. It's easy to imagine armored-warfare history buffs salivating over the attention to detail found throughout the game design. From the authentic look of each tank model to the way each one functions and handles on the battlefield, the little details are meticulous. What's cool, however, is that World of Tanks is anything but stuffy and overcomplicated. Grabbing your first tank and rolling into battle is effortless, and a streamlined control scheme allows for lots of maneuverability without bogging you down in an overabundance of commands. In essence, you drive, aim, and shoot. It's simple, though the tactical nuances of battle run far deeper than that, and this accessibility carries over into the flow of combat.
World of Tank's 15-on-15 matches are often epic in scope but short and explosive once munitions start flying. It's not long before skirmishes erupt at key choke points along each map, as the front lines clash and pave the way for the artillery duels and heavily armored pushes not far behind. Getting blown up sidelines you to watch the battle unfold as a spectator, though you can jump out of the match and start a new one with a different tank too. This staggered approach to matches keeps you close to the action, and each encounter is as thrilling as the last.
Players who are interested in venturing down deep in the rabbit hole of munition types, armor possibilities, and crewmember training will find that these systems add interesting depth to the combat. But they're just as easily left to the periphery if your focus is on the action and strategizing on the fly. With an emphasis on victory through killing or capture, battles rarely bump up against the 15-minute time limit anyway. Sweeping wins are as common as narrow ones, however, thanks to good matchmaking that balances the types and levels of tanks in each conflict. A few of my favorite wins even boiled down to last-tank-standing affairs, which is an intense way to win the battle for your team. Losses can be spectacular fun too, like that priceless moment I drove my damaged Panzer full speed off a cliff and came crashing down onto an enemy tank below, destroying us both in the process.
Tank variety is one of the biggest draws here, because gaining experience from each match lets you gradually upgrade the tanks in your garage to boost their effectiveness. The massive tree of unlockable vehicles you can get access to is impressive in its breadth and variety. With several hundred tanks across 10 tiers and seven different countries, there's a ridiculous amount of armor on parade here. Light, medium, and heavy tank types offer a nice range of assault strategies and capabilities to pick from, but a slew of artillery units and self-propelled "tank killers" round out the great mix.
Equally impressive is the wide range of battlefields you fight across, which are large, numerous, and detailed. Matches unfold across sprawling vistas that run the gamut from gorgeous countrysides and mountain terrain to cramped urban industrial settings and windswept deserts. The terrain itself also plays a huge role in how you approach each encounter, and it's a lot of fun to test out different vehicles in different locations. Maps are well designed with cover, structures, hills, choke points, and lots of other elements that have a major impact on the flow of battle and what tactics you have to use.
It's not long before skirmishes erupt at key choke points along each map, as the front lines clash and pave the way for the artillery duels and heavily armored pushes not far behind.
Gaining access to new tanks and maps, however, is a slow and often grindy process. The grind itself isn't always a bad thing, because upgrading and unlocking tanks is a substantive reward for your efforts on the battlefield. The better you do, the more experience you gain with a given tank to upgrade its components, which in turn grants access to higher tiers of vehicles. When you do make progress, it's very satisfying. The problem is that it can be quite a slow affair until you get a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of certain tanks and how to best use them. Getting blown up a lot before you can do damage and earn points can put the brakes on your upgrading groove in a hurry. Slowness aside, it's an important system that adds incentive to keep playing hundreds of matches. I'm drawn to the grind, because it has pushed me to improve my prowess in battle. Matches are fun on their own, but the quest to constantly work toward more powerful and varied tanks is a vital component to World of Tanks' ability to lure you back for another round of explosions. If you're not in any rush to the top, then the measured progression is far less of an issue.
It's good that spending real-world money isn't necessary to have a blast with World of Tanks. Earning experience naturally in battle lets you unlock new gear and tank tiers, while spending in-game silver coin adds them to your roster. Premium gold lets you buy everything from additional space in your garage and temporary experience boosts to bonus tanks, but buying the higher-end kit isn't cheap. If you're not hell-bent on unlocking the exclusive tanks--which are reasonably powerful but are still balanced and can't be upgraded--you can get by without digging too deep into your pockets.
World of Tanks is a slick-looking game with a ridiculous amount of great content to back up its accessible tank-on-tank combat. Recent graphical updates and new additions add to the experience in excellent ways. Making progress in unlocking the massive range of vehicles can be slow going, but the thrill of strategic battles well fought and the eventual rewards for your hard efforts steamroll the sluggish moments into the dirt.