Free-to-play games can often be a weird one: because the developer needs to make money from the complimentary client, it often has to stack it with microtransactions. This ensure a potentially nice revenue stream, but often it leads to unbalanced matches. And this, coincidentally, is also quite a big problem with World of Tanks.
The simple basis of this vehicular battler is two teams of 15 tanks battle in one-off matches over large maps, which aren't anything to get excited about visually. Each player only has one life, so charge into the battle head-first and you'll find that your first bout will be over in a matter of seconds. This sense of vulnerability makes Wargaming's biggest title a tight, tactical affair, but at times it can be frustrating.
The good news about World of Tanks is that thanks to many different types of vehicle, it can be played in a variety of ways. While nippy Light Tanks are good for flanking but low on armour, Heavy Tanks are cumbersome but pack a real punch. If you're a player who likes to shoot from afar, Artillery will be more your jam, or if you like to wreak havoc on the armour of your opponents, then Tank Destroyers are perfect for you.
It's got quantity in spades, too: there are over 100 vehicles to choose from, ranging from German Tigers to American Shermans to Soviet... Whatsits. Not only that, but every tank can be upgraded with Silver – the game's main currency – and Experience to get better weapons, armour, and manoeuvrability. However, this is where World of Tanks' biggest weakness comes to light.
What's obvious from the get-go is that this is a very, very complicated game, and we often found ourselves lost in the menus – it's unfriendly to new players, to say the least. The tutorial only does so much to introduce the mechanics and interface, but not nearly enough to get a good understanding of the game. Not only are there tanks to buy and research, but there are upgrades to get, tank crews to progress, skills and perks to assign, and multiple currencies to get to grips with – and that's not to mention the multiple tabs showing off stats, the in-game store, and challenge-style Ops. And that doesn't even cover the actual gameplay.
Said store allows you to buy in-game Premium time – a subscription that gives you added perks – as well as the game's Gold currency, which can only be earned through rare special events or by spending money. This Gold can be used to buy special Premium tanks and upgrades that can only be bought with Gold, which, as you can imagine, unbalances the game a little. The currency can also be exchanged into Silver, which is normally unlocked by playing matches, while XP gained from matches can be converted into Free XP, which can be spent on any tank, instead of normal XP only be spent on the tank that you gained it in.
We really can't stress enough just how convoluted this all is.
Not only that, but the addition of Premium tanks can really make matches unfair; we understand that players who pay get priority to those who don't, but many Premium tanks are pretty much unstoppable unless you have a gaggle of tanks with you to attack one. Thanks to World of Tanks' poor matchmaking and team balancing, we were put up against these behemoth-like vehicles in the first couple of matches that we played, which is an excellent way of giving a bad first impression to new players.
It's all the more annoying when you consider that, once you've got the hang of it, World of Tanks is quite the compelling tactical game; the fact that maps are divided into grids makes you feel all the more like an actual tank commander, and the way that other players are constantly spotting new enemy tanks and formulating plans makes for some good team-oriented gameplay.
Sadly, World of Tanks doesn't really have much variation in terms of modes: there are four different types of match, but they all revolve around either capturing a base or destroying the enemy team. It would've been nice to have some different, more exciting modes – escorting a truck through enemy territory or a free-for-all battle, for example. While the general tank-play feels good, there are some scenarios in which the game gets outright boring, namely when you run out of ammo.
Since there's no real way to get ammo while in battle once you've used up all of your consumables, the game becomes a forgettable slog. Your only options are to spot enemy tanks or to ram – the former being boring and the latter being suicide. It would've been good to hide ammo dumps and such around the maps, especially when you're facing off against Premium tanks, which seem to absorb shells and spit them out again.
And that's the biggest problem with World of Tanks – it expects you to be an expert before you've even played the game. It puts countless menus, dials, and buttons in front of you, and expects you to know them all off by heart. It's a fun game to play when you can sink many hours into it, but getting into it can be pretty hard, as you suffer setback after setback.
For a free-to-play game, World of Tanks has got content spilling out of its cannons. Its wide selection of tanks and tactics is welcome in an industry in which online shooters are becoming stale, but its complexity is ultimately its Achilles' heel, as the mess of menus and mechanics can be too much for even the smartest and most patient gamer to stick with. If you're looking for a complicated game that will take a lot of time to master, then look no further, but if it's a pick-up-and-play shooter that you desire, then World of Tanks isn't Reich for you.