World of Tanks
Hear the title, see a few screenshots, and you could be forgiven for assuming that World of Tanks is a simulation game inaccessible to anyone who doesn’t know the difference between a T20 and a T29. That’s not the case at all though; World of Tanks is a shooter first and foremost, with uncomplicated controls and a relatively sedate pace that make it easy to get into. Furthermore, it’s a free-to-play game that, while loaded with plenty of ways for you to spend money, can be enjoyed for countless hours without ever doing so. World of Tanks wouldn’t be difficult to recommend even if reaching for your wallet was a prerequisite, so recommending that you give it a try for free is a no-brainer.
World of Tanks even controls like a shooter; you use the WASD keys for movement and the mouse to aim and shoot. There are some other controls used for things like enabling cruise control, locking your turret so that it doesn’t follow your mouse as you look around, and switching between different shell types, but familiarizing yourself with these can wait until you’re comfortable with the basics. You don’t need to memorize any advanced controls or techniques before climbing into a tank and entering a battle for the first time because, unlike many online shooters, World of Tanks is a game that you can ease yourself into without repeatedly dying at the hands of experienced players. That’s largely because when you enter a battle you’re matched with players who are driving tanks comparable to your own. Go to war in the lightweight tier 1 tank that you start your career with, and you’re unlikely to fight alongside or against even tanks from the slightly more powerful tier 2, much less the heavyweight beasts from tiers 7 through 10. Conversely, when you’re driving one of the big boys after investing many hours (or perhaps many dollars) to unlock them, you don’t get to steamroll the new kids.
One of the great things about World of Tanks is that even if you find a favorite tank and stick with it, you’re never quite sure how your next battle is going to play out. Not only are maps randomly selected from a sizable and varied collection, but you might find that your tank is the most powerful on the field in one game and then among the weakest in the next. What you never find, though, is that one team obviously outclasses the other–at least not where the quality of their vehicles is concerned. Before any battle gets under way you get to see a list of all 30 players that details the vehicles they’re using and makes it easy to tell, at a glance, whether one team has more tank destroyers or self-propelled guns (more commonly referred to as artillery or “arty”) than the other. You and your teammates can plan your strategy accordingly, though in practice the chat window used to communicate with each other rarely gets a lot of use. On the other hand, the minimap–which you can click on to immediately highlight areas for your comrades–is a quick and effective way to coordinate and to draw attention to enemy locations. Not that you even need to do that a lot of the time; every vehicle in World of Tanks is equipped with a radio that automatically relays positions of sighted enemies to comrades who are in communication range. As a result, providing useful intel for your teammates requires almost zero effort on your part, which is great news for anyone using artillery.
You’re free to try to fill any role on the battlefield regardless of your vehicle choice, but artillery are so lightly armored that job one when you’re driving one is to stay far away from the enemy. Job two is to use your long-range gun to destroy enemies before they even have a chance to spot you. As the commander of an artillery unit, you can target enemies using a bird’s-eye view of the battlefield on which you can see any enemies that your teammates have sighted. You can zip your targeting reticle around the screen as fast as your mouse will let you, but it generally takes your gun a while to catch up. Furthermore, even once you have an enemy in your gun’s sights you’ll notice that the target area has lots of room for error. Because the target area shrinks over time, the challenge comes from knowing when to shoot; click that left mouse button too early, and there’s a good chance you’ll miss, but wait too long, and the enemy you’re homing in on might move or disappear from your map because he’s no longer in visual range of your teammate who scouted him. Playing as artillery is a lot of fun when you’re grouped with players who will both scout for and defend you, but that’s not always the case, and as with all vehicles in World of Tanks, the map that you end up playing on has an impact on how effective you can be. Get stuck playing on one of the city maps, and buildings often obscure your shots, for example.
When you’re not in the mood to play as artillery you can choose to drive either a regular tank or a tank destroyer. The choice might seem obvious given the names, but while tank destroyers undoubtedly hit hard enough to live up to their name, they also don’t have nearly as much armor as tanks. If an enemy gets behind you or manages to attack you from the side, you’re going to take a lot of damage, so when driving a tank destroyer, you need to think about staying unseen, which might mean equipping a camo net and/or remaining still for extended periods of time. The biggest disadvantage that the vast majority of tank destroyers have versus tanks is that their guns are fixed rather than mounted on turrets, so the only way to target an enemy off to one side of you is to turn your entire vehicle around. That can be a painfully slow process, and it can also make you visible to enemies who otherwise might not have had any idea that you were nearby. Driving a tank destroyer is perhaps the most challenging way to play World of Tanks, but it can also be the most satisfying. In a tank destroyer you’re powerful enough to defend your base long after most of your teammates have been killed, and fast enough to then make a dash for the enemies’ base if you’d rather win by capturing it than by completely eradicating the opposition.
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