By accident or by design, Wargaming has cornered the Dad Gaming market. Dads (and gentlemen in the Dad age group) have limited free time, and Dads don't have the lightning fast reflexes they had in their younger days. Their tastes have matured; they have learned to appreciate fine whiskeys and cigars, and glossy documentaries about the death machines of World War II.
World of Tanks has been crafted to meet the needs of the Dad Gamer. Slow and measured, the arcade action has a veneer of historical authenticity. Most important of all, it does not require huge time commitments – each battle lasts 15 minutes at most. In his reclining leather chair in a study that smells of mahogany, a Dad can test his wits in a hypothetical warzone, sipping the finest cognacs as his cannon reloads.
The design decisions in this landmark Version 1.0 release have clearly been guided by a keen insight into Wargaming's most valuable customers. This is the classiest free-to-play game I've ever seen, a far cry from the Fisher Price cot toy interface of Hearthstone.
The gameplay is largely unchanged from when World of Tanks launched back in 2011. Two teams of 15 control iconic armoured vehicles of the early 20th Century and fight to the death on a varied selection of maps up to 1km square. Victory generally stems from concentrating your team's firepower and by refraining from recklessly letting the enemy chip away at your hit points. Concealment via foliage and hard cover is crucial, and familiarity with each vehicle's armour thicknesses and shell penetration values can help you squeeze the most out of any tactical situation. It's accessible, but there's a great deal of technical depth to get lost in.
World of Tanks 1.0 marks the debut of Core, a brand-new custom engine created to replace the old BigWorld engine. Core meets two goals that are seemingly at odds with each other: it looks absolutely stunning on the latest hardware, but it will still run smoothly on very old PCs – the latest build will run on a Dual Core Windows XP machine with 1.5 gigs of RAM. If you had a crack at the game when it first launched seven years ago and haven't upgraded since, there's a good chance your PC will still run it. Yet on more up-to-date hardware the graphics are on a par with any recent release.
Perhaps the most striking upgrade is the rich and layered audio. While perusing your tanks in the garage distant loudspeakers will blare out fragments of wartime political speeches. The freshly-recorded orchestral score reacts dynamically in battle, reflecting the mood as you begin to win or lose. Even the sound effects have been completely re-done. Compared to smaller calibres a massive 152mm shell getting locked into the breech sounds positively ominous.
As free-to-play games come under increasing scrutiny worldwide, it's worth looking at how much World of Tanks will cost you. Most players pay nothing at all, but there is no upper limit on what you can spend.
Is World of Tanks exploitative? That depends on how much self control you have. Most of the iconic tanks of World War II are 'tech tree' tanks that can be unlocked for free simply by grinding for credits and XP. You can get your hands on famous vehicles like the M4 Sherman and the Tiger without paying a cent.
But the garage slots to store them in cost gold – premium currency. Every last gunner, loader, driver, and commander is tracked separately, and swapping one crew skill for another costs gold. Accelerating crew training when you move crew from one tank to another costs gold. Certain equipment upgrades for your tanks are classed as being delicate items; to remove them without destroying them costs gold. Most of these transactions are for relatively tiny amounts of premium currency, but it all adds up.
And for premium tanks – vehicles only available for gold or cash – the sky's the limit.
Take the KV-2 WH40K, a premium version of a classic tech tree tank that as of this writing has been newly added to the Premium Shop. It's much the same as the normal KV-2, but is adorned with personalised flair to make it resemble one of the tanks from the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The base version is AU$39.56, but you can also spend AU$65.17 for the Ultimate Bundle, or AU$108.68 for the Supreme Bundle. The latter is advertised as a markdown from its true price of AU$144.90 (a 25% savings!), but astute readers will have noticed that this isn't terribly meaningful when describing digital goods for which the price has been plucked out of thin air. They could just as well have said it's normally AU$1,086.80 (a 90% savings!).
More ominous is a tank that recently returned to the Premium Shop: the Chrysler K, the vehicle that sparked the 'Fochgate' scandal last year. A World of Tanks streamer by the name of Sir Foch got rather irritated by the fact that this premium tank had no frontal weak spots; most vehicles will have targets like viewports or hatches that more skilful players will aim for. The standard ammo for the The Chrysler K also had relatively low penetration, nudging players towards using premium ammo, in turn nudging players towards paying gold for said ammo, or towards paying for premium time. Many players were concerned that such changes would negatively affect the game they loved by turning it into a more dumbed-down, pay-to-win experience. If you 're curious as to whether the Chrysler K is overpowered you can find out for yourself for as little as AUD$49.68 for the standard bundle. Also available: The Ultimate Bundle for AUD$73.58, and the Supreme Bundle for AUD$91.94.
World of Tanks can be a delightful hobby. For a person with poor impulse control, it can be a very expensive one.
Some design flaws will likely prove intractable for the foreseeable future. The recently reworked matchmaker guarantees you'll spend the majority of battles on the bottom tier, facing off against tanks up to two tiers higher than you. In such situations you can spot and harass and distract your foe, but you'll have a hard time damaging him, let alone killing him. This disparity is particularly acute at tier VIII. Many a player will invest some serious cash in a tier VIII premium only to find himself facing Batchat after Batchat, Maus after Maus. This experience is doubly absurd in the Tiger II. Historically it was better than any enemy tank it faced. In World of Tanks it's just another rolling slab of cannon fodder.
Quibbles aside, the underlying game mechanics are rock solid, and the upgrade to the Core engine truly is a Great Leap Forward. For lapsed fans who've been taking a break this will feel like a whole new game. There's never been a better time to check out World of Tanks.