Tempted by World of Tanks, but don’t know where to start? Going to the website and downloading and installing the client is probably a good first step, after setting up an account of course. Assuming you’ve got a PC, that is. And an internet connection. And some biscuits. The biscuits aren’t essential, but you might get peckish; digestives are good, though difficult to dunk in a cup of tea unless you’ve got an especially large mug. Hang on, this has gone slightly off track, let’s assume you’ve managed to sort out an account, got the game installed, and you’ve started it up and logged in. And have some biscuits. Digestives or otherwise.
So, you start off with three Tier 1 tanks in your garage, one from each country currently represented in the game. I say “tanks”, that’s stretching it a bit; they’re more the inter-war experiments that generally pottered up and down in front of generals before slowly toppling over or sliding into a ditch while the generals tutted about them never replacing horses and swigged gin. Imagine a Morris Minor wrapped in aluminium foil for protection with a bloke leaning out of the window with a spud gun, that would be the sort of terrifying death machine you run away from in a Tier 1 tank.
Still, faint heart never won a 15 vs 15 arena-based armoured vehicle death match so pick a tank, hit the “Start Battle” button and get in there. It doesn’t really matter which nationality you choose, World of Tanks exists in a parallel dimension where German, Russian and US tanks band together to fight their common enemy: different German, Russian and US tanks. You should only get shoved into battle against other Tier 1 or Tier 2 light tanks, so at least everyone’s in the same boat. Or tank, as the case may be. Though everyone’s in a different tank, 30 people in the same tank wouldn’t work at all.
At the start of the battle there’s a 30 second countdown to allow the participants to prepare, discuss complex strategy and catch up on Twitter, when the timer reaches zero UNLEASH HELL! Or at least rev the engine a bit, drive forwards a few yards, stall, then drive into another tank, apologise, reverse into somebody else, apologise again, and then get into action. Actually you can’t stall, don’t worry about that, but it’s not a bad idea to wait a few moments for other people to move away. 15 tanks in close proximity all wanting to go in different directions often end up resembling Parisian traffic, with a similar level of collisions, gesticulation and shouts of “priorité à droite!”
While waiting for the chaos to subside, you can press F1 for a full list of controls. The important stuff is WASD for moving, mouse to turn the turret, mouse wheel to zoom in and out, left click to fire. Your team show up as green dots on the mini-map, the enemy (when discovered) are red dots; convenient red or green diamonds float over the top of tanks to make spotting them a bit easier, and if you have line-of-sight to a tank and move your cursor over it the outline glows red or green. Remember: green stuff is on your side (DON’T SHOOT IT!), red stuff is the enemy (SHOOT IT! LOTS!), if you’re red/green colour blind then things might be a bit trickier (though a game mod may help).
There are two ways to win a battle: destroy all the enemy tanks, or capture the enemy base. Bases are the big flags marked “I” and “II” on the map, if you park within the white circle that surrounds the enemy flag then a counter starts ticking up, if it reaches 100 you win. Charging headlong towards the enemy base usually isn’t the best plan, though, your opponents tend to unsportingly shoot you a lot, so better to focus on shooting them instead. This is where cohesive teamwork can really come into play, though in random pick-up matches there’s not too much chance of that; apart from anything else on the European servers you might be on a team with a mix of people who are fluent in only one of French, Polish, English or LOLSPEAK, so trying to give orders would take as long as getting the scores in the Eurovision song contest (“Attaque sur la droite! Atak na prawo! Attack on the right! LOL ATAK RITE LOLOL! Luxembourg, nul points!”) Probably the best thing for the first few matches while you get used to the maps is to try and follow two or three other tanks at a slight distance (so they get shot at first), and take random potshots at any enemy tanks that show up.
There’s a green circle in the middle of the screen around your gun sight, this is the shot dispersion circle. Your shot may end up anywhere in this circle, and friendly fire is possible, so be particularly careful if someone on your side is anywhere near the line of fire. You probably noticed the circle gets really big when you drive around, making it incredibly difficult to hit anything past point blank range; ideally you want to stop and let the circle get as small as possible before firing for the best chance of a hit, but bear in mind that being stationary also makes you an excellent target. After you fire the circle turns red and starts ticking around, once complete it turns green again and the gun is reloaded for another shot. The good news about the starting popgun is that it reloads quickly so you can blaze away, the bad news is you’re unlikely to do much damage, much like the German anti-tank gun “derisively dubbed the “Door Knocker” (“Heeresanklopfgerät”, literally “army door knocking device”) for its inability to do anything other than advertise its presence to a T-34 by futilely bouncing rounds off its armor”, but you might get a lucky shot, and it’s not like you’ve got anything much else to be doing.
Around this point some rotten bounders on the other side will probably be shooting at you as well, quite possibly leading to your unfortunate demise. After exploding you can keep watching if you like, but you don’t need to wait for the fight to end; hit Esc and leave the battle, you’ll still qualify for any rewards you earned, but you can pick one of your other terrifying armoured death leviathans and launch straight into another battle. The results of any previous fights will show up in the bottom right corner of your garage once the battle ends, so you can see later if your heroic sacrifice spurred your team on to glorious victory, and more importantly how much experience and cash you came out of the battle with. As you accumulate experience you can research upgrades for your tank, and as you earn cash you can buy and fit them; more on upgrades, tech trees, different tank types and advanced tactics (like “hiding in bushes”) in the next exciting instalment.