The World of Tanks is one where missiles and helicopters never evolved to spoil the fun. It’s the first world where endless warfare is utopia. A World of Tanks! I can’t stop saying it. The phrase alone conjures everything we’ve been working towards with multiplayer video games all this time. I never want to see another burly soldier’s sprinting ass as long as I live, and I’m seriously wondering why we all gathered to spend so long staring at them in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with man ass–I have one myself and use it every day–but the shell of the Churchill is just so much sexier.
World of Tanks connects Facebook-style addiction mechanics to an actual game. In $#!+ty social click-a-thons your reward for picking ten red flowers is getting to pick yellow flowers. In World of Tanks your reward for exploding ten tanks is a getting a bigger tank to explode more tanks. That’s not just an improvement, that’s a positive feedback loop connected to a new reason for living.
It’s got a great learning curve, because that curve is the ballistic arcs of your own exploded fragments. The only feeling better than screaming “I’M A TAAAAAAANK!” as you charge headfirst into your first game is blowing idiots like that up in your second and third. The game combines explosions with murderous mechanics just as awesomely as the tanks it’s based on, and levels up as you progress. Your first battles are melee Pac-Man, swarms of light tanks tearing around the map to destroy each other. Earning improved armor opens larger maps and introduces tank destroyers and artillery, and you learn many more skills than the standard shooter twitch-aims.
You’re reading the terrain as you advance, eying rocks for cover and slopes for emergency escapes. The first time you throw twenty tons of tank off a cliff at just the right speed to survive you feel like every movie getaway you’ve ever seen, but it was you and IN A TANK! Note: adding IN A TANK! makes any exclamation more interesting. Within a week you can recognize other players’ body language even when their body is forty tonnes of Jagdpanzer.
It passes the mot important test for interesting shooters: it’s possible to score without shooting. Obviously you don’t want to be an armored pacifist, but non-explosive scoring indicates a game with more to offer than ADHD aimbots. WoT’s alternate mechanic is “spotting” enemies. The heaviest tank in the world can’t shoot what it can’t see, and can easily be picked apart by a ring of mediums which are smart enough to stay out of sight. Spotting a tank highlights it for your entire team, and you get equivalent points for every point of damage anyone inflicts. Light scouting tanks aren’t cannon fodder, they’re the eyes of death, and can clean up by simply spotting the enemy–and there’s nothing like crippling an enemy heavy by quickly blasting off one track, tagging it for your teammates, and roaring off as it turns into an inverse fireworks display with fire streaking in from all over the sky to explode at one point on the ground.
Far more terrifying than incoming high-explosive rounds is “Free to play,” and its evil twin “Pay to win.” I’ve played tank games where ten dollars earned you a diamond tank firing small nuclear warheads, but games like that end up only earning those ten dollars as everyone else leaves. In World of Tanks you can pay to earn XP faster, or to transfer earned XP from one tank to another, but the key concept of “earning” remains in place: you can’t just buy your way to the top.
There are some high level tanks for sale, but they’re all in parallel with vehicles earned the old-fashioned way. Which means people aren’t paying for an unfair advantage, they’re spending money to steer an expensive explosion against expert players who’ve earned their way up. And because the teams are balanced, you’ll never have an unfair advantage.
Of course there are the nickels and dimes, the meat and drink of free to play games. You can pay for better ammunition, gasoline, and repair kits, but they’re only an edge, never a guaranteed victory, and can all be bought with in-game currency. And they certainly don’t make you a better player. I’ve never bought a single piece of these and I still explode other players left and right. It’s especially fun to blow an enemy’s tracks off, see them repair so quickly they must have used real money, then blow their tracks of again and explode them. It feels like taxing other players to support my own fun.
But the most brilliant breakthrough is death, and that’s not just the way you’re meant to see a bright light when that happens. When you die in this game you’re out. And it’s brilliant. Because you can leave and play another round with another tank while still getting all the XP and silver from the flaming wreck of this one. There’s no downtime–you’re always upgrading your stable of tanks. It’s nothing less than a work of genius: because dead players are off playing somewhere else, nobody is bored or frustrated, and because you only get one shot at each match, you really think about what you’re doing. The battle of attrition creates a real ebb and flow to the battle, always building to an inevitable victory, and the permanent deaths mean you enjoy each kill infinitely more than culling endlessly respawning idiots on BattleDuty.
It’s a game where you can be a tank, and it feels exactly that awesome. Every other game in history has only gotten the first half.
World of Tanks is available on PC, and as a free download on Xbox Arcade.
Luke McKinney writes about games, drink, science, and everything else that makes life amazing. He’s a columnist on Cracked and writes for several beer magazines. He’s also available for hire. Follow him on Tumblr and Twitter @lukemckinney.
Luke priorly surprised you with his picks for The Best Xbox Games To Buy Right Now.