Thursday 12 May 2011

Starting out in World of Tanks, Part III

If you’ve followed Part I and Part II, you should by now have a couple of heavily customised tanks with improved suspension, better engine, bigger gun, alloy wheels, under-tank LED lighting and massive woofers to pump out phat bass from banging choons rewind boom innit. I’ve no idea what half of those words mean, but our marketing department have demanded we increase our appeal to the urban demographic so I’ve been listening to Tim Westwood a lot.

Are you experienced?

As you’ve probably noticed, the experience you earn goes into two buckets: most of it is specific to the tank in which you earned the XP, but 5% goes into a “Free Experience” pot you can spend on any tank. It’s worth saving up the free experience for later tiers, when it can take a lot of XP to make early upgrades that can really help a tank’s performance. When you’ve researched all the possible upgrades of a tank it achieves “Elite Status”. This gives you two possibilities for the experience you earn in future battles: either it stays in the XP bucket for the specific tank, which can later be converted into free experience by spending gold, or if you tick the “Accelerate crew training” box you don’t earn tank experience but the crew train faster (the training figure is the percentage next to each crew member; training improves performance so a highly trained loader loads the gun faster etc.) If you’re definitely not going to spend any cash on in-game gold, or you’re planning on sticking with a tank for a while, you might as well train the crew.

Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold

Talking of gold, World of Tanks has a dual currency system: gold that you buy with real cash, and credits that you earn in game. The good news, if you don’t want to spend any real money, is that there isn’t much that can only be purchased with gold. There are some premium gold-only tanks (the Germans get captured French tanks, the Russians have British lend-lease vehicles), but they’re not uber-tanks that destroy everything in their tier, they range from “not too bad, I guess” to “pretty decent”. There is also premium ammunition, generally slightly more exotic variants that do the same damage as regular armour-piercing but with greater armour penetration. Unless you’re fabulously wealthy I wouldn’t worry too much about these as (personally, at least) I find it hard to get past the idea that you’re firing actual money. “Enemy tank in view, line up for a shot, and… hang on, this shell cost 3p, what if I miss? That would be money down the drain… And it’s only a light tank, I don’t really need the additional penetration of this premium ammo, I’ll just load a normal shell… oh, I got shot.” There are also some premium consumables that improve your performance for a single battle, but again it’s going to get pretty expensive if you’re playing a lot and using them all the time. If someone desperately wants an edge in a fight then yes, they can chuck money at the game, but it’s not an overwhelming advantage; teamwork and player skill more than trump premium ammunition and consumables.

On the subject of teamwork, if you want to group up with friends in game at least one of you will need to upgrade to a Premium Account to create a platoon (a World of Tanks team). You can buy a Premium Account for gold for 1, 3, 7 or 30 days at a time; as well as the ability to form teams you get a 50% bonus to both experience and credits after each match, so it’s quite worthwhile if you’re playing a lot.

Other than that, gold is mostly a trade-off of money for time. Crews can instantly be trained up to 100% with gold (or to 75% with credits), or gold can be converted directly into credits as a quicker way of earning enough to purchase upgrades, equipment or tanks.

Anyway, back to the tank upgrades. Looking back to the Russian MS-1 tree, having researched various track, engine, turret and gun upgrades you have three potential avenues for advancement into Tier 2: artillery (the SU-18 self-propelled gun), tank destroyers (the AT-1) and light tanks (the BT-2 and T-26), which in later tiers lead to medium or heavy tanks. To see longer-term upgrade paths click the “Tech Tree” button. If you follow the BT-2 line down it unlocks the BT-7, then A-20, then the T-34 medium tank; the T-26 unlocks the T-46, T-28 then the KV heavy tank. Which to try first?

To thine own self-propelled gun be true

Artillery is one of the biggest differences between Tier 1 and the higher tiers. A self-propelled gun (SPG) has a large calibre long range gun (or howitzer, or gun-howitzer, depending on your preferred terminology) that can fire indirectly, and not very much armour. Think of it as the proverbial “glass cannon”, only made out of steel instead of glass, and a gun-howitzer rather than a cannon. The range, damage and indirect fire of artillery can come as a very nasty shock when you move from Tier 1 to Tier 2; you can be sitting in your nice little ambush spot, confident you’re safe, when there’s a whistling sound and a shell arcs its way over a nearby hill to destroy your tank with one shot. Clearly a ludicrously overpowered unit that can one-hit you when you can’t even see it, right? Well, sometimes…

As artillery, you can have a different view of the map; press shift and you move out of third-person to an overhead view, able to range over the entire battlefield. You can also ctrl-right click on the map to instantly switch your view. A green line extends from your tank to this point if you can shoot there, the line turns red if it hits an obstacle you can’t fire over. As with other tanks you get the green circle representing the possible area your shot will fall that gradually, slowly, shrinks as you hold your target steady, and rapidly expands as you move it.

When facing artillery, just to prove the old proverb wrong you have two choices: you can run, or you *can* hide. Running is pretty straightforward, it’s very difficult to hit a moving target with artillery, so keep on the move and you’re usually safe (until someone knocks your track off). Hiding is just a case of finding a tall enough obstacle (generally a house, large wall or mountain) to block the arc of an incoming shell, though always bear in mind (both as artillery and when trying to hide from it) that some scenery can be destroyed.

I can’t comment authoritatively on artillery as I haven’t played SPGs very much. They’re a very team-dependant unit; if you’re protected and have some decent scouting, you can be devastating. If the enemy don’t stay still long enough to conveniently be shot, and the rest of your team sod off while you’re busy looking on the map for targets, you’re vulnerable to just about anything else especially fast light tanks that can literally drive circles around you as you try and get a shot at them. It’s certainly worth trying out as it’s quite a different playing style to other tanks, but I’d get a bit more experience with other vehicles before giving it a go.

[A couple more splendid SPG tips from Papa Smurf in the comments:
– When using artillery/SPGs in the overhead view, where the targeting line turns from green to grey is the limit of your range
– When any tank fires it shows a tracer shot briefly, so after playing with arty for a while you’ll get an idea of the best places for arty to hide on a given map, if you watch those areas you can (if lucky) see the tracer from a specific bush (for example) revealing where the enemy arty is, simply target the bush and BOOM! blind kill ]

George Thorogood and the Tank Destroyers

Tank destroyers (at least the German and Russian models in the game at the moment) sacrifice the flexibility of a turret in order to mount a larger gun, fixed to fire forwards. Protection varies, early TDs are painfully vulnerable but later models get better armour, especially on the front.

“He waits, that’s what he does” could be the motto of the tank destroyer, if Guinness hadn’t used it for surfers; you want to get in a good position with a TD (helped by the fact that their low profile makes them especially difficult to spot in cover, so stay behind bushes) and wait for the enemy to come to you if at all possible. If there’s artillery on the map remember to “shoot and scoot”, take a shot (or two, if you have a fairly quick reload), then move off to another firing position before the artillery can zero in on you. Try and be aware of where friendly artillery is as well, it’s often a prime target for opposition raids, potentially giving you a good ambush opportunity.

Tank destroyers are a good choice if you’re calculating and patient. If you can’t last a minute in a MMOG without jumping a lot and shouting “GOGOGOGOGO”, you should probably look at something else…

The unbearable light tankness of being

For your very first vehicle upgrade I’d suggest buying one of the Tier 2 light tanks. One of their biggest advantages is that you’ve got a good chance of being placed into a battle with only Tier 1 and Tier 2 light tanks; over on Overlord’s blog there’s a match-making chart if you’re interested in the technicalities, essentially as a Tier 2 light tank you’ll be up against Tier 3 tanks at worst, whereas tank destroyers and SPGs get chucked into a wider variety of matches with higher tiers always involved.

If you end up in a Tier 1/2 fight everything’s peachy. Just do the same stuff you did in your Tier 1 tank, but with the advantage of at least one of a bigger gun, better armour or superior performance (or all three, after sufficient upgrades). Once you get into battles with different types of opponent (you can tell from the team list at the beginning of the round even if you haven’t memorised every armoured fighting vehicle from 1932-1945; tank destroyers have a darker gray icon, self-propelled guns have a red icon) you need to be a bit more careful, especially of artillery – don’t stick around for too long if you get spotted or you might get nuked from orbit. Or shelled by artillery, at least, they haven’t implemented tactical nuclear weapons in World of Tanks. Yet. I reckon that’d have to be premium ammunition.

Light tanks can have a tough time in later tiers as medium and heavy opposition start appearing; there’s no point taking on much tougher opponents head-to-head, but you can still play a vital role by scouting. Depending on the map, your tank, and personal preference, there are two main avenues: stealth and speed. Stealth is a case of getting into a decent hiding place in advance of your lines, and waiting for the enemy to come into your field of view. If you have a spare 100,000 credits you can improve your survival chances by buying a camouflage net, but it’s pretty unlikely you’ll have that sort of spare cash unless you buy some gold and convert it (in which case: equipment is the three slots between the tank components and ammunition in the garage). Don’t worry about shooting, unless you’re pretty confident of actually doing some damage, as you’ll give your position away; your main role is to let your teams big guns hit ’em from the other side of the map. If you do get spotted you can try and get out of range then work into another spotting position, though the main giveaway that you have been spotted tends to be when your tank is obliterated, which makes repositioning a bit tricky.

Speed is my preferred scouting technique, especially as a quick tank like the BT-7 with a fully upgraded engine. Heading straight down the middle of the map is one option, and you’ll probably discover the enemy team before very long, but your life expectancy will be somewhat shorter than that of a spoonful of custard in a cage of rabid hamsters. Who really like custard. Better choices are usually the extreme left or right flanks of the map, though of course sometimes the other team think the same way and half their team goes each way, in which case a sprint down the middle can catch them by surprise. Either way, with a combination of judgement, skill and a dollop of luck you might make it to the far side of the map, at which point you can curve around and start hunting for tucked away artillery or tank destroyers. If you find one and can get behind them you should be able to get a few shots in as they frantically try and turn around, though if there are several units and some of them are pointing guns your way keep moving as fast as possible with a bit of zig-zagging to try and throw their aim off and fire off a few random shots off as you go. If fate is smiling, you might even make it past everyone into some cover while their turrets are still traversing, although I wouldn’t bank on it.

Stuck in the middle with an M2

The name “Medium Tank” was ingeniously adopted after the original designation, “Lighter Than A Heavy Tank But Heavier Than A Light Tank Tank”, proved slightly unwieldy. In earlier tiers, medium tanks tend to be stepping-stones on the way to heavy tanks; in the latter tiers they replace light tanks, retaining reasonable mobility but with a gun that can actually damage targets. With their flexibility their role generally depends on team composition, a lower tier medium tank on a team packed with heavies and artillery would be most useful as a scout, a higher tier medium with more light tanks on the team can spearhead an attack.

He ain’t heavy, he’s a KV-1

Heavy tanks are tanks that are heavy. Heavy armour, heavy guns, heavy metal, they’re, like, a heavy scene, man. They’re big buggers, and unless you’re in a heavier tank you really don’t want to get in a one-on-one scrap with them. Thanks to the vagaries of the matchmaking system you can be up against Tier 5 heavy tanks when you’re in a Tier 3 light tank with its starter gun, which is about as effective as a water pistol. Actually probably slightly less so, with a water pistol you might cause some nasty rusting after long enough… Heavy tanks are fearsome foes as you scrap through the tiers until you finally earn one yourself, at which point you cackle maniacally at the thought of crushing lesser tanks under your mighty tracks, and the first battle you get stuck in is against even heavier Tier 7 opponents who can still one-shot you from across the map. Eventually, though, you find yourself in a fight against opponents of your tier and lower, mostly light and medium tanks, so you dust off the maniacal cackle again, set off to capture the enemy base single-handed, and find it takes you a week to make it halfway across the map and you’re not so invulnerable after all when three or four tanks are all shooting you, knocking out bits of equipment, then breaking a track leaving you a sitting duck for artillery. Heavy tanks can be great, but they’re not the solo battle winners they can seem when you’re on the wrong end of them.

The weakness of heavies tends to be their speed, which with the starter engine is often “arthritic snail”, but can be increased to the heady levels of “sloth (with a limp)” after upgrading a couple of times, you might want to concentrate on light and medium tanks if whizzing across the map is important to you.

So that’s a whistle-stop run through World of Tanks, for the first few tiers at least. Give it a shot! Try not to get too hung up about moving through the tiers, though; as an MMO player it’s easy to focus on “levelling up” but really, World of Tanks is the battles. It can be frustrating being thrown in to fights against considerably tougher opposition (especially when the match-making seems to to have a personal vendetta against you and does it several times in a row), but getting a better tank yourself makes you eligible for battles with even stronger opponents, so if you find a vehicle you really like it can be better to focus on fully upgrading it, training the crew and adding equipment.

Anyway, it’s free, and the SOE games still aren’t available…

(Observation correct at the time of writing; the status of SOE servers can be up as well as down)

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