World of Tanks: Mercenaries Review
World of Tanks has finally come to PlayStation after beginning its run as a free-to-play tank-based shooter on the PC and then expanding to consoles on Xbox. If you've played World of Tanks on any of those other systems, you'll have to start from scratch as your PSN account will not be connected to any existing accounts on other systems. At least your experience with the games will give you an initial leg-up on the PlayStation competition, I suppose. Those of you who are new to the game are in luck, though, because the PS4 version of the game is the best yet at introducing new players to the game. Gone is the old and tiresome "look around, drive here, shoot that" tutorial of old, that gave you only the very basics and then dropped you into the game's surprisingly deep waters without a life vest. In its place is a series of battles, first against AI and soon against other players, during which different aspects of the game will be rolled out to you in digestible chunks. The game could still stand to explain each of these features in better detail than it does as new players will still probably feel a little overwhelmed by it all, but at least the game is now giving newbies a better leg-up than it did in its prior incarnations.
If you're still a little unsure of yourself after going through the indoctrination period, or you're just looking for a change of pace, the game has an offline Proving Ground mode that lets you take on AI-controlled tanks in online style battle modes or in game variants such as a tank race mode and a hunt mode in which you must fight your way through the enemy ranks to find and take on the biggest and baddest tank in the game. The enemy AI in Proving Ground is no replacement for live players, but it does provide plenty of challenge to players new to the game. Also making Proving Ground a great way to break into World of Tanks is the fact that you'll earn game currency as well as experience for your tanks' crews in this mode, albeit at a reduced rate compared to the multiplayer matches.
As for the online game modes, there are three of them: Standard, Encounter, and Assault. Standard mode has both teams starting in a base at opposite sides of the map, Encounter places a single neutral base in the center of the map, and Assault puts one team in defense of a base while the other attempts to capture it. In the first two modes, a team wins after it either captures the opposing (or neutral) base, while in Assault there is a time limit to the match and the defenders win if they are still holding the base at the end. In all three modes a team can win by eliminating the other team - there are no spawns in World of Tanks, once you're knocked out of a match you are out for good. And you won't be able to use the tank that you lost in battle until the rest of the battle plays out online.
The gameplay itself is essentially a third-person multiplayer shooter, just one in which you play with tanks. The tanks are drawn from the real-world arsenals of the prime combatants in World War II, and include tanks that existed, in both deployed and prototype stages, from roughly five years before that war broke out through its end. The game straddles the line between arcade shooter and hardcore simulator, so while there is a marked difference between the tanks and you'll need to contend with things like limited ammunition, reload rates, tank speed and handling, and shot angles, things are streamlined to keep things fun and decidedly less difficult to manage than from inside the hull of the real thing. Plus there are the advantages of a third-person chase cam viewpoint and a zoom mode for the main gun that World War II tankers certainly didn't enjoy.
The tanks are available in several classes. Battle tanks, which come in light, medium, and heavy variants, are the head-to-head combatants for the game, the assault troopers of the battle, if you will. Light tanks serve as scouts, zipping around the battlefield acting as spotters of enemy tanks for the rest of the team. They are lightly armored and lightly armed, so hit and run tactics are necessary for survival.
Medium tanks are the backbone of the army, a balanced mix of speed and armor that give them the ability to range across the battlefield actively looking to engage the enemy.
Heavy tanks give multiple meanings to the word "tank" in the game. Slow but heavily armored and packing a powerful punch, they can take a lot of punishment and put the hurt on any tank unlucky enough to cross their path.
Tank destroyers are the snipers of the tank world. They have powerful guns with phenomenal range, but that comes at the expense of armor and maneuverability. They are best used by finding a hidden, elevated position to hunker down in and then lie in wait for an open shot on an unsuspecting tank. While the tank destroyer is a master of long-range combat, it is at a huge disadvantage in a close-quarters brawl, and a battle tank can make short work on them in this situation.
Lastly there is the self-propelled artillery. They're not technically tanks, and they don't play anything like the other classes in the game. They can rain down explosive shells across the map at enemies that they can't even see as long as a friendly tank can keep an eye on the target. This is potentially a huge advantage over the other tanks in the game, but this capability is tempered by a long reload time and the fact that you need a stationary target to have any hope of hitting your target with anything other than blind luck. Artillery takes patience, and the ability to resist taking shots until the right moment. It also means relying on your team for protection, because a close battle with a tank means certain doom.
The tanks in each class are further divided into ten tiers; Tier I tanks are comprised of post-World War I peashooters while Tier X tanks represent the culmination of World War II tank technology. Tanks are also grouped by nationality, so each of the war's major combatants has a full line of tanks across the tiers. The game takes the tiers into account while matchmaking, so you don't have to worry about your Tier I being squashed by Tier X tanks each time you roll out.
Each player begins the game with a Tier I light tank from each nationality, and unlocking higher level tanks requires researching new "packages" for your tanks. These packages provide improvements to a tank such as improving its gun damage and range or its movement speed. After you've worked your way through all of the upgrades, you'll unlock the tanks on the next tier along that tech tree. Researching upgrades is really a two-step process, with the research itself being funded by experience that you earn in battle and the actual purchase of the upgrade being paid for with game currency called 'silver', both of which are earned by playing in battles. Experience is tied to the tank that you earned it with, so all of that time in an American tank won't help you unlock anything in the British tech tree. Silver can be applied to any tank, but it is also used to repair and resupply your tanks after battle so there's a bit of a tax on the silver that you earn. You can accumulate silver faster and tax-free by spending real money on the 'gold' currency which you can then convert to silver, although you can also consider this to be a tax paid on impatience. Gold can also be used to purchase special tanks at any tier, but these tanks exist outside of the tech tree and so can't be used to leapfrog your entire tank arsenal to higher tiers. They also carry the advantage of being fully upgraded "out of the box", with no need to spend time earning experience in the tank to unlock better packages of weapons, armor, and engine upgrades. If you decide that you want one of these premium tanks, then be aware that the highest tier tanks can set you back over $20 worth of gold currency.
Silver can also be used to purchase special upgrades for your tank as well as consumable items to help keep your tank in a battle once it starts taking damage. There are also vanity purchases available such as fancy camouflage schemes which can be 'rented' for a period of time for silver or made permanent by spending gold.
No matter which path you choose, making your way through the game's tiers takes time. If all that you are focused on is obtaining new tanks and tricking them out, then building your collection will probably feel a bit like grinding your way to better gear in an MMO. However, the game's matches are fun at any tier, so if you just focus on playing matches and having a good time, then your arsenal will continue to grow and evolve as a natural part of the gameplay, and you might not even notice how long it's taking you to reach the top tiers. As for those who are fine with taking the latter route and are worried about being at a disadvantage against the 'gold tankers' , I can assure you that it is quite possible to be successful playing the game's 'stock' tanks. Sound tactics and gameplay trump tank stats on the battlefield, although it may take a little more work to take out a premium tank.
As for the look of the game, the tank models look good and are packed with a number of details. Part of the fun in the game is looking around during the pre-match countdown and checking out your allies' tanks and the camo and other customizations that they've applied to them. The environments are not as detailed as is typical for a PS4 game, but it's not like you're playing a last-gen game. There's a lot of fog and dust in the air and the color palette used for the environments is decidedly muted. I didn't really find that it bothered me that the game didn't look like a top-tier PS4 shooter, especially since sitting around and enjoying the scenery is a great way to find that you're suddenly taking enemy shells up your tailpipe.
I enjoyed playing World of Tanks. It looks and feels different than other multiplayer shooters, and not just because it's played with tanks. Playing smart and taking things like sight lines, target profiles, and shot angles into account leads to far more success in the game than twitch-like reflexes. I also like the variety of play that you can get by taking tanks from all of the different classes into battles. There are some downsides to the game, though. If you are playing a stock tank and end up in a match with players who have both paid for premium tanks and know what they are doing, then you probably won't last very long. Also, it can take a very, very long time to reach the top tiers relying entirely on free in-game currency; it's something that you're really going to have to work at. The fact that there are trophies tied to playing 100 matches in each tank class attests to the length of the haul. However, the game is certainly worth taking the time to download and try out, and even if you don't buy anything premium or spend hours unlocking everything the game will give you an enjoyable break from other shooters and will probably be something that you find yourself coming back to play now and again.
Final Rating: 87% - PlayStation gamers finally get their chance to be a tank jockey in this enjoyable free-to-play shooter.