It's particularly considerate of the Wargaming.net chaps to let us take a look at their closed beta for World of Tanks. Doubly so, when you consider that for is a Russian-only closed beta, there is a surprisingly large amount of English to be found. That is to say, there was. Until this morning, when they patched it, and removed every last bit of English in the game.
Much like last Saturday night, therefore, this article will rely solely on scattered memories and eyewitness testimonial.
Wargaming.net is a London based studio previously responsible for the Massive Assault franchise, along with the otherwise forgettable Order of War from last year. Interestingly, Square Enix took some time out from dealing with slow gameplay, spiked hair and saucer-sized eyes to publish that particular foray into the depths of mediocrity, however it doesn't appear that they've managed to get their hands on World of Tanks yet.
The acronym MMO is fast stretching credulity these days, as developers of online games delve into much greyer areas of interconnectivity, requiring PR and marketing types to invent all sorts of new ways to fit square pegs into dodecahedral holes. World of Tanks is no different here - is it really fair to call 30-per-side combat "massive"? By that definition, is Battlefield 1942 an MMO? If you removed the Battlegrounds component from World of Warcraft and released it as a separate game, would that too be an MMO?
But I digress. World of Tanks is, at it's core, an incredibly simple game that follows the basic tenets of all good war titles - give the player a large battleground, some kind of military equipment that is illegal to own outside of Equatorial Guinea, point them at the direction of the enemy and include some kind of high score board. Youthful aggression and sugared snacks tend to do the rest. World of Tanks expands on this slightly by offering a monetary system, and the ability to upgrade (and indeed eventually replace) your chosen tank in order to play a more strategic role on the battlefield.
Upon setting out, you'll start with a tank so small and delicate you'll think it's been recycled from the set of 'Allo 'Allo. After learning that charging straight at the enemy whilst protected with armour thin enough to read through is unlikely to be included as a viable tactic in a revised edition of The Art of War, you'll learn to sneak from tree to tree and bide your time in wait of your prey. And then get blown to smithereens without ever actually spotting him, because this is a war game and people at the bottom of the equipment list always get slaughtered in the first five minutes.
If you manage to make it through this Darwinian equivalent of a hazing ritual, the money accumulated from destroying enemy tanks will give you the ability to upgrade your weapons, your engine power, your traction potential - pretty much all of the key elements that you'll need to become a more efficient killer. The developers have stated that these upgrade paths are tied in directly with the actual enhancements made from each tank model to the next during the war, which if true, is a nice touch indeed.
For added realism, they've also equipped each tank with hitboxes that accurately reflect the sort of damage you can expect whilst being attacked. You can survive quite a few blows to the heavier armour around the turret, however one shot to the ammo storage area or a direct hit to the engine, and you're going to discover pretty quickly why your school camp leaders always told you to remove the lid before you cooked a can of beans.
Before they disgracefully removed English from this Russian-only beta, I managed to try about four different tanks, ranging in size from the diminutive "traktor" to the mighty MC-1 and T-26 variants. Each handled remarkably differently, and had quite substantially different rates of fire, damage potential, and ability to absorb damage. It's pretty clear that the developers haven't gone for an arcade feel (even if that would lend itself well to this type of gameplay) rather, they've attempted to recreate tactical engagements over large areas. The mode of choice for each game in the beta being capture the flag, although this obviously could simply be one of many included in the final release.
Although I lost every single game I played, it was pretty clear from the chase camera that others were managing to clock up kills in an annoyingly proficient manner. Your gun will take, at a minimum, a couple of seconds to reload, so you need to choose your trajectory well - no small feat when you're moving sideways in reverse with twelve German tanks about to crest the hill in front of you.
World of Tanks sports over 150 accurately model vehicles, at this stage all of which appear to be limited to the Russian and German armies from World War II. Which, one would have to suspect (and hope) would be all of them. There's a great deal of potential for this game, provided the upgrade path for each tank is logical, there's enough interest from strategy gamers, and they avoid going down the path of cheap kills from unseen foes.
The last one, in particular, I'll be looking out for come the open beta shortly.