Though I've never played it competitively, I've always had a lot of respect for World of Tanks. It arrived at the dawn of a new era for Free to Play gaming, spearheading a transition toward a less casual movement for the industry with games that don't require a retail purchase, but instead offer an in-game shop that can be used to purchase new items and upgrades - most of which can be purchased using in-game currency, too - that in turn allow the truly hardcore to compete without ever paying a dime, and those with a busier lifestyle to compete without donating hundreds of hours a month toward 'grinding for gear'.
This monetisation model can be found everywhere now, but it's usually applied to games without a hardcore element, or competitive eSports following. That's where World of Tanks has always stood tallest for me; it strives to offer a realistically paced shooter that doesn't follow any traditional mechanics (which is to say, it doesn't blindly copy other shooters in the way so many have, attempting to buy in to the market), and it does it by supporting the biggest movement in gaming since Mario - Free to Play eSports.
In order to continue offering this experience without becoming stale, Wargaming have recently announced Version 8.0, a meaty new update aimed at keeping World of Tanks current by upgrading many of the engine elements, such as graphics, physics and lighting, alongside an overhaul of the user interface and a handful of new tanks. Take a look:
The video above can show you the effect of the new physics engine better than I ever could in words, though, having played around with these new mechanics a little, I thought I might shed some light on how they can be used to alter gameplay.
Traditionally, a game of World of Tanks is fought from afar; the game is designed in such a way that sticking your head out from around a corner is a sure-fire way to get it blown off. As such, most players stick in packs, and creep carefully forward until they're able to catch an enemy off-guard and get a shot in before they're spotted.
That said, it's easy to find yourself in a stand-off scenario with another player nearby, with no ammo, or while reloading, and it's here that the new physics play their largest role: you can, quite literally, ram into other tanks to force them back, or simply to stop them from firing on allies, or knock their aim out.
Furthermore, the new physics add a tactical and terrain advantage like never before, allowing you to create strategies that result in ramming opponents off cliffs and bridges, pushing them into allied fire - hell, you can even roll on top of an enemy tank, or knock them down hill and watch them bounce and roll over trees and fences along the way, without getting stuck on the landscape.
It's visually stunning, and also drastically alters the gameplay experience for those with the mind to use it to their advantage.
New Graphics and Lighting
From new dynamic shadowing to enhanced water effects and scenery improvements to the mountains, sky and snow, it's clear that there's been some work done to the textures. The video again highlights some of these changes, though having played around in game myself on the highest settings, I can tell you that it's not an honest representation.
While there are definitely obvious improvements, those indicated in the video have clearly been touched up quite a bit to give it more of an effect. This is my only real disappointment with the 8.0 update; I was expecting more from the texture updates, probably because the visuals in the video look so awesome (and I know we can produce that level of quality in-game now), but it's not something I'm going to complain about. The graphics and lighting effects are definitely improved; with any luck, update 9.0 will improve them even more.
New Interface and Game Options
There've been a huge amount of improvements made to the interface, including an improved tech tree interface, extended battle stats, and improved camouflage mechanics that, while not game changing, really help clean up the overall effect, again helping World of Tanks move forward into the future.
They added some new options, too, such as the ability to select the battle mode you want to play manually, and improved shortcut system to make it easier to navigate and, most awesomely, the ability to customise tanks with emblems and inscriptions, to make it easier to identify between clans and tank types, and of course, because it's awesome.
Visual and mechanical improvements aside, no update is complete without the additional of some new machines to play in, and fortunately, there's a good offering of those, too.
First up, they've added 4 new Soviet tanks to the mix; the Su100M-1, SU101 Uralmarsh-1, SU122-54 and the Object 263. There's nothing particularly special to note here (though, more experienced players will likely have something to say here), except that these are Russian tanks, and you can never have too many of those.
Finally, they've added the first ever British tank to the game, the Matilda Black Prince, a Tier V Elite unlockable that's as cute as a button, and a pleasure to drive.
This is a huge update, and it's one I expect will be well received. It's not an expansion, so there's not a huge amount of new content to enjoy, though the content that's always been there is better than ever before, and it looks as though it's only getting better.
Moving forward, I hope that future updates will offer further enhanced visuals - this is exactly the type of game that should look incredible on machines capable of running it, Battlefield 3 incredible, to be precise, and at this point, it just doesn't. That said, given the audience and market positioning, it'd be silly to restrict World of Tanks to a single audience, so scalable visuals should always be key. It should run on anything, as it does now, but for those that are able to enjoy it, it should look a lot better than it does now.
Elsewise, I'd like to see further enhanced spectator modes with features specifically designed for eSports following and commentating. I see big things coming for World of Tanks in the competitive market - especially so, with World of Warplanes and World of Battleships on the way - and I think DOTA 2-style spectator options are the key to seeing these games fully experience eSports in the way StarCraft 2 does today. They have such a unique identity, a rarity in this industry, and Update 8.0 does nothing if not show just how committed Wargaming are in making World of Tanks a leading competitor in competitive gaming - and from where I'm standing, it's almost there.