World of Tanks screenshot - in the Garage where you equip your tank
 
Anyone who visited Tankfest 2011 cannot have missed seeing the promotion for the multi-player online game of 'World of Tanks'.  With some 3 million players already joined up to the game worldwide, this was an impressive and eye catching element to Tankfest this year, with a large stand in the Tamiya Hall at the Tank Museum, opposite their new Afghanistan exhibition.  There has also been a range of 1/144 model tanks from Japan known as 'World of Tanks' and there is an obvious association between the two.
 
The good news for many is that World of Tanks is free to join up and play.  Yes, it really is free, though of course if you want to take it more seriously, you can register to pay 'micropayments' which allow you access to additional advantages, such as increased armour protection, better ammunition and such like.  With millions of players worldwide, it is the more serious gamers who therfore support it financially.  However, for youngsters or perhaps for those who are unemployed and can't afford to buy it, then there is free access to the whole game.
 
As for their appearance at Tankfest, well some young ladies outside the main museum entrance all day attracted many visitors attention, and the main stand had a number of workstations set up where you could be logged in and have a go at playing the game.  With CDs being handed out to save the effort of downloading it, along with some of the little ready made 1/144 model tanks.  Everyone I know who has seen it has been impressed.
 
The game is not for a solo player.  You play against other people, not the computer.  It is geared up to involve teams of about 15 on each side, and communication between the team members is a key element to the way the game works.  A genuinely multi-player game, and relying on multiple players being online from wherever they are in the world.  I was grateful to have the opportunity to talk to the CEO of World of Tanks, Victor Kislyi, and it was Victor who kindly took me through how it works.
 
Your starting point is a basic light tank, set in a 'garage' as illustrated above, and where you equip your tank ready to take it out onto the battlefield.  In the image above you see a Jagdtiger.  This is a more powerful vehicle and is the sort of heavy tank you work your way up to having.  As with most games, the more points you earn ('game money'), the more upgrades you can buy and your performance on the battlefield earns you experience to move up through the mulitple levels of the game.  In  the garage, you set your crew and equip the vehicle, with fuel, ammunition, maintenance, first aid kits, and so on, and as you earn credits, so you can add variations.  Just as an example, you might have a Panther, but can choose which gun to arm it with, and maybe fit a Schmalturm turret and 88mm gun instead.  Again though, you have to earn the points that allow you to access the upgrades or choose a different tank to play with for the game.
 
One thing it isn't is a straight recreation of WW2.  You don't have to pick which side you are on, as tanks and self-propelled guns from any nationality can be found together on the same side, and among your opponents.  What they are though, are historically based equipment with armour, mobility, hitting power and reliability that reflect the historical accuracy of the tank you choose.  The other element to that, which you will see from the screen shots below, are that the graphics showing the tanks is really first class.
 
There are a number of 'maps' that the games are played on, from the wide open expnases of the Russian Steppes, to a French village or countryside, the North African desert, to the urban surrounds of a city.  I am told there are 18 different maps currently available and more are being created.  The thing about the scenery is that it interacts with the tanks.  You can drive a tank over a small tree, though it may not manage a larger one.  Tanks can hide behind buildings and be difficult to spot, but you can shoot into them to destoy the cover if that is your chosen option.  Having watched the game in progress, it is impressive, with each game/battle lasting up to about 15 minutes.  The teamwork element was clear, as while you concentrate on one or maybe two opponents, another can creep up on you from behind, so you need to rely on your team mates to cover you at these times, as you must for them.
 
From kitting out your chosen tank in the garage, it is quick to then get into a battle, and drive away looking for combat.  There are many different AFVs from Germany, Britain, Russia and the USA already modelled in the game, and others are being worked on and added all the time.  The importance is in the accurate look of the tanks, and that their performance reflects their real strengths and weaknesses.  It is also sorted for you than when you enter a battle, it is with players of about the same level as yourself, so you are not instantly fighting the experts and more experienced players.  There are multiple levels, I think about 10 if I remember correctly.  You earn access to the bigger and better machines as you play.
 
I was impressed by the game, and can see it becoming quite addictive.  The fact it is free to use makes it well worth trying out, and is accessible to everyone.  Judging by the growth in players on the game, it is clearly proving popular with lots of us.  My thanks to Victor, Dasha and the team at World of Tanks for their time in telling me about the game.
 

For those in Europe, click here 

For those in the USA and Australia, click here