I just got done testing the game fairly extensively (as far as is possible in just over 1,000 battles) and have come away with mixed feelings on this title. I managed to grind four tank lines to tier 5, which seems to be the first "non-newbie" tier.
It has a lot of good things going for it.
- Free to play
- Lots of tanks that (as much as is reasonable) are historically accurate
- Lots of room for progression
- Solid graphics
- Beautiful maps
- Engaging gameplay
- Interesting tactical and strategic elements
So let's go over the good things first. Being free to play is always good IMO, as that puts the option of when, where, and how to spend money in the hands of the customer. With plenty of tanks to choose from, you shouldn't get bored easily. There are currently five different nations' tanks represented: USA, UK, Germany, USSR, and France. Chinese tanks are coming soon, probably in a patch this year. Besides the UK, all nations currently have medium tanks, heavy tanks, light tanks, tank destroyers, and SPGs (Self Propelled Guns, aka. artillery). Most tanks are different enough from each other to warrant distinctly unique play styles. The tanks are arranged in tech trees, arranged in tiers 1-10, starting with weak tanks of course and progressing to newer stronger tanks. The graphics, while not the best in the business perhaps, are still excellent. The maps are different enough to keep gameplay from getting too stale. And for the gameplay itself, it offers lots of room for tactics and strategy to have a significant impact.
There's more that could be elaborated on here, and has been in many other reviews. For the sake of keeping it brief I'll move on.
Unfortunately, next we get to
- The new player experience
- The matchmaker
- It's pay2win
- Not enough individual impact
Many of these things tie into each other, and you can't explain one without explaining the rest. Before explaining how and why the new player experience is bad, I must explain how the matchmaker is bad, and how the game is pay2win.
Let's start with the matchmaker. As I stated above, tanks are split into tiers 1-10. Now, you would think the purpose for splitting tanks into tiers is so players can play against other players at their own level of advancement. Unfortuantely that turns out not to be the case, as the matchmaker pits tanks up to two tiers apart against each other. Tanks are generally balanced against other tanks of their own tier, and there is a significant power gap even from one tier to another. Jumping two tiers is a huge power gap. To give you an idea, think of tiers as a PvP bracket in WoW: tier 1 would be level 10-19, tier two 20-29, etc. So you get the equivalent of getting thrown into a 30-39 PvP mach as a level 10. You can do a little, but not much. I'm told the power gap between tiers diminishes at higher tiers, but at tier 5 my tanks were still vastly outclassed by tier 7 tanks. This is the main reason why the new player experience is bad. Not only are you facing players with vastly more experience and resources, you are also facing tanks that simply outclass yours to the point that as a new player, you will be nearly 100% ineffective against them. At tier 1, most of your matches will be only other tier 1 tanks, some with a few tier 2 tanks. At tier two it's about half and half. At tier 3 and above, most of your matches will have higher tier tanks.
So, how is the game pay2win? Glad you asked. It's all about armor and penetration. To put it simply, to do damage to a tank, your shots fired must penetrate its armor. All tanks have varying amounts of armor on front, sides, and rear, with separate values for the turret and hull. (American tanks generally have more turret armor and less hull armor.) All guns have varying penetration values, which can be altered by using different types of ammunition. Most guns can use three types of ammunition, some can only use two. The default type on most guns is the basic AP (Armor-Piercing) round. Most guns can also use HE (High-Explosive) rounds that have less penetration but deal more damage. ALL guns can use premium rounds. There are a couple different types of premium rounds that I won't go into detail on, because they all do the same thing: they greatly increase penetration, while doing roughly the same damage (sometimes slightly more, sometimes slightly less). The game was balanced around the standard AP rounds. With these rounds, most guns will easily penetrate the armor on most light tanks, tank destroyers, and artillery of their own tier. They will be somewhat less successful against medium tanks, and to penetrate heavy tanks you have to aim at one of several weak spots on your target tank's armor. If you're a good player, you can avoid some potentially penetrating shots by positioning your tank in such a way that the armor is angled so your opponent's shots bounce off and have no chance of penetrating. Then we get to the premium ammunition. These shells, as I stated previously, all have vastly better penetration (usually anywhere from 25%-100% better penetration than standard AP rounds). These are an absolute must-have if you want to have any real chance of consistently penetrating a heavy tank two tiers above you. They are also extremely useful against heavy tanks of the same tier. And they are extremely useful for any tank on which you have as yet been unable to upgrade the gun. If everyone were using only standard AP rounds, it would be a non-issue as everyone would be playing the game as it was originally designed. However, no one of even above-average skill using standard AP rounds can consistently defeat players using premium rounds. Most of your AP rounds will deal little or no damage, while the premium rounds (given merely average player skill) will deal damage on virtually every shot. Originally, these shells could only be purchased with cash-shop currency. Recently they changed it so you can now also purchase them with in-game currency. "But wait," you say "doesn't that make it not pay2win?" Nope. Why not? Because they cost far too much in-game currency for the average player to afford, certainly at least until you've got thousands of battles (hundreds of hours) under your belt, and have a good high-tier money-making tank. And even then, it will keep your bank account drained. Unless, of course, you buy a high-tier premium tank with cash-shop currency. These tanks generate enough in-game currency to fund the use of premium shells. All this is doubly bad for new players who are faced with the largest power gap between tiers, the largest player-skill differential, and no resources (other than perhaps real money) to do anything about it.
So next we get to artillery. Most of the top players in the game (spend a few hours perusing the forums to see) take issue with the artillery. It's so bad that most of the top players will not use tier 10 tanks in random battles due to the artillery. To understand why it's so bad, you need to understand how the artillery works. Most tanks have a sniper mode (hold left shift by default) that zooms in a bit, making it easier to aim. Artillery gets a birds-eye view instead, allowing the player to see any of the map in top-down view. Any tanks that are currently visible from being spotted by teammates can easily be fired upon from safe distance, provided they are not directly behind some tall cover blocking artillery shots. Some maps have virtually no such cover at all. This is a far cry from realistic artillery, which was entirely dependent on communication from the front lines to find targets, direct fire, and confirm hits or misses. For being able to shoot great distances while being safely hidden, artillery does far too much damage with too much accuracy. This, in turn, removes lots of tactical and strategic options as tanks must constantly fear artillery shots.
So what do I mean by "not enough individual impact". The game is team-dependent. TOO team-dependent. Even the most of the best players have only enough impact to win 60% of their games or less. Less than 1% have enough impact to win up to 65% of their games. And less than .1% have enough impat to win more than 65%. This would not be such an issue if the game used an ELO system, or if players could form larger groups. As it stands, free players can only team up with one other player, and premium players with two others. As teams have 15 players, that leaves the outcome of most matches largely up to the luck of the random matchmaker, even for good players.
I wish I had more good to say about the game. Sadly, out of the 1,000+ battles I participated in, very few were actually enjoyable, due to poor matchmaking and from players using cashshop equipment.