It’s rare to play a game with such brutal specificity as Wargaming’s World of Tanks, but here we are: a tank-based shooter sans frills, bells or whistles, devoted solely to the act of tank-on-tank mayhem. That description might conjure up, for a certain player, images of a hardcore sim where tread depth and weapon caliber matter, but World of Tanks is, mechanically, at least, a shooter all about ease-of-access—even if the presentation is a bit rudimentary.
Set in the unnamed plains, fields and deserts of any number of World War II engagements, the free-to-play World of Tanks drops you and your faceless crew into several tons of slow-moving steel as you annihilate the tanks of the opposing team in three types of single-kill Capture the Flag matches.
You choose your tank, get dropped into the battlefield, zip along at a brisk 25 miles per hour, struggle with the targeting reticule, and probably get blown up and bounced out of the match. Then you do it again, this time, using some of your match winnings to unlock temporary and permanent mods for your tank (consumables and equipment), while using a combination of game (and real) cash and XP from kills and achievements on the battlefield to unlock upgrades and new tanks. And then, you dive into another match and do it all again, the same feedback loop of your typical modern shooter, albeit done at the glacial pace of a tank.
And it’s kind of glorious.
My struggle, in writing this review, is attempting to explain the pleasure of playing World of Tanks, when the very back-of-the-tin description is precisely what will make the average shooter fan avoid it like the plague.
It’s precisely that grim, no-nonsense gameplay loop that keeps me coming back. Either I survive to the end of the 15 minute match, or I die, and return to the menu to pick another tank for another match while I wait for my last tank to return to the garage. And then I do it again—kill-die-repeat—and the lack of (obvious) depth is obscured by the (relative) rapidity of the play experience. In their way, each match is a frenetic rush where each 15-player team scrambles to the edges of the map (you don’t want to be in the exposed open spaces in the middle), tagging and launching rounds at the opposing team, occasionally remembering that there’s a flag on the opposite side to be captured.
Maybe it’s because I was somewhat insulated from the game’s economy—the game’s developer and publisher, Wargaming, provided 5 million in the game’s silver tier currency and 25,000 in gold, so I didn’t fret about those early upgrades and have been able to buy the vehicles and equipment I need. Maybe it’s because the ultra-spare progression didn’t feel like it involved a lot of personal investment—there’s no sense of “one more match so I can unlock this next thing”.
The Spartan nature of the experience will be a turn-off for some. World of Tanks lacks even menu music and the sameness of the game modes should, by all rights, translate into a homogeneous experience. Menu navigation, which seems to be a holdover from the PC version of the game, is a laggy chore, and the drab browns and various hues of greens won’t give the old rods and cones a workout.
But that purity of experience is kind of the point of World of Tanks—anything else would seem excessive, like a bit of shiny flair.
Charles Webb is a long-time game industry veteran, having worked as a writer and narrative game designer. You can enjoy his complaints about movies on Twitter at @TheCharlesWebb.