Free January – Free to Play Tanks on the PC

When I think about Free-to-Play Tank games, there are 3 that come to mind. The first is the supremely well known World Of Tanks from Wargaming.net, which is set from WW2 – 1960 and has been around the longest of the three. The next game is War Thunder from Gaijin Entertainment, also set around the WW2 era and includes air combat as part of the package. Finally, we have the newcomer on the scene, Armored Warfare from Obsidian Entertainment, which brings tankery up to the modern era. The core focus of these games is PVP combat, usually 15v15 or thereabouts, with tanks being divided into tiers to make battles fairer – you advance up the tiers by unlocking vehicles on a tech tree. All of the games mentioned also have different types of vehicles for your armoured enjoyment, with everything from speedy light tanks to powerful tank destroyers at your disposal, although there are variances in vehicle types between the games. Another common theme is that you earn XP and currency from battles which are used to buy tougher, scarier clanking monstrosities, although this comes at the price of having to grind. In general, the grind really kicks in at around Tier V, but all of the games mentioned also offer a Premium option, which allows you to gain both XP and credits at an accelerated rate in exchange for some cash. Finally, all of the games feature Premium vehicles which can only be bought with real money.

World of Tanks

First up is World of Tanks (WoT) which, in addition to being the grizzled veteran of the three is also the first game of this type that I played. The focus here is more on PVP with an arcade feel to the controls and physics and at present there are 8 nations to choose from with trees that vary in size. The German and Russian trees are by far the most developed featuring many well known tanks such as the Panther and T-34, whilst the Czechoslovakian and Chinese trees are less developed. The more developed trees offer a wide range of vehicles from light tanks to heavy/super heavy, from Tank Destroyers to Artillery, so there is sure to be something you will enjoy. When you are starting out in WoT, you will have a Tier I vehicle for each nation sitting in your garage ready to go (typically a pre-war light tank such as the Lichttracktor) and from there you can battle to unlock more tanks in each nation’s tier. The grind isn’t too bad at first, but eventually – usually when you are aiming for Tier V tanks – you hit a sort of wall, where the grind for the in-game credits and XP really starts to bite, especially when you consider that you have to pay for repairs and ammo after each round, which at higher tiers can become costly.

FJ Tanks E8 Battle WoT
The mighty M4A3E8 “Easy Eight” prepares for battle (World of Tanks)

This really matters because in WoT you only have one life, after which you can spectate or return to your garage, which can mean a lot of sitting around waiting for the tank you’re grinding to become available again, although that does give you time to sacrifice goats to the matchmaker which can feel unfair, especially if you’re in a specialised vehicle. WoT does offer a Premium plan for cash which gives +50% XP and credits for each battle for a certain amount of time, which can lessen the grind a bit. Also of note, is that you earn 2x XP for the first victory of the day in each tank that you own, although this will invariably come when you get one-shotted as soon as you stick your nose out. In addition to Premium, you can spend some cash for other things such as additional garage slots, permanent camouflage (a temporary application can be bought for credits), conversion of free XP for use on other vehicles, credits and premium vehicles. Other than the premium vehicles, I have bought all of the other things at least once and other than speeding up your progress a little (like needing that last 50,000 to get a Sherman M4E8) they don’t seem to add a pay-to-win element as you still have to grind a lot to get into the better tanks. All of the niceties can be done without and the game can be played for free with ease. As far as the Premium tanks go, they tend to be unusual models which, whilst tough (*cough cough* TOGII) are by no means unkillable. A final feature for history nerds like me is the addition of “paper designs” which are tanks that were either never built, or never saw service, such as the Maus or E100.

FJ Tanks LTP Battle WoT
This is an example of a “paper design” tank – the Soviet designed LTP. This is a Premium tank, but it was given as a gift to all players to celebrate Wargaming.net’s 15th anniversary. (World of Tanks)

World of Tanks is developed and published by Wargaming.net, is available for Windows and Mac and can be downloaded on their website.

War Thunder

Next, we have War Thunder. This WW2 – 1950’s shooter includes both Air and Ground forces (the Air component was released first) so this week we will take a look at the Ground forces and next week will be the turn of the Air forces. Again, focussing on PVP, this game pits teams of 16 players against each other in search of glory. A nice feature, unique to War Thunder among the three, is the ability to take multiple vehicles into combat (in Arcade battles), thus giving you extra lives. The most vehicles I have taken into a battle is 5, which makes for some great fast paced action as you don’t need to be quite so cautious. As in WoT, vehicles in War Thunder are divided into trees according to their nation – Germany, the USSR, America and Britain are currently available – with the German and USSR trees seeing the most development. You can choose from varying weights of tanks, Tank Destroyers and AA tanks, but there are no SPGs available for artillery fans. AA really comes into its own as there are points in the battle when an air battle can be started (players can opt to join in the fun) which adds an (often hilarious) new dimension to the battle. War Thunder also offers the ability to fire multiple weapons on vehicles – the most striking use of this comes in tanks such as the M3 Lee where both the turret and the hull gun can be fired, whereas in WoT only the hull gun can be fired, making it into a glorified TD with the profile of a double decker bus.

FJ Tanks M3 Lee Garage WT
In War Thunder, both the turret and the hull gun can be fired independently making this M3 Lee surprisingly deadly (War Thunder)

Gameplay wise, there are 2 modes to choose from, Arcade or Realistic, depending on your preference. The main difference between the modes (other than physics and damage models) is that in Arcade mode you can field multiple vehicles, whereas in Realistic mode you only have one life. Both modes are a lot of fun and are fought at a frantic pace across an array of maps. Participating in battles will earn you XP and credits which can then be used to upgrade your ride, or to buy new tanks. Unlike in WoT, where it is possible to upgrade some tanks through several different variants (as in the M4 Sherman), in War Thunder each vehicle variant is a distinct vehicle on the tech tree, which must be researched and purchased. Fans of historical accuracy are likely to be pleased by this as it means that vehicles are more akin to their historical counterparts. Moving on to the use of real money in War Thunder, there is Premium available, which boost the amount of XP and credits earned in a match and you can buy Golden Eagles to buy extra garage slots, decals and camouflage. There are also Premium vehicles, which tend to be unusual vehicles and whilst these vehicles tend to be good, they are by no means overpowered. I have been playing F2P since I started and have got a lot of enjoyment out of the game without spending a penny and although the grind in the game can be tedious, the ability to take several vehicles out in one match helps to keep the game interesting.

FJ Tanks PZ38-T WT
The Pz38(t) rumbles forward in search of victims (War Thunder)

War Thunder is developed and published by Gaijin Entertainment, is available for Windows, Mac and Linux and can be downloaded direct from their website, or through Steam.

Armored Warfare

Last, but by no means least we have Armored Warfare, which entered open beta in October 2015. This game takes cues from the other titles and then adds it’s own special something to create a new twist on the genre. The most obvious change is the era – rather than WW2+, Armored Warfare features modern vehicles from the 1950’s all the way up to modern times, so if you’ve always wanted to drive an M1A1 Abrams or a Challenger 2 you can, although these tanks are at higher tiers. There is a little overlap in timelines between this and the other games, so an M60 Patton which is the top of the pile in War Thunder makes an appearance at Tier III here. Another interesting difference is that Armored Warfare has a back story around PMCs, which explains why you see such mixed teams of tanks battling it out. This story also alters the way that Tech Trees work as here, instead of having nation-specific trees, there are (at present) two trees available from different arms dealers who can sell you a variety of exciting metal toys. As you might expect, with the modern focus comes some variance in the types of vehicles available, so you can drive MBTs, IFVs, AFVs and SPGs rather than the traditional light/medium/heavy/specialist splits and, being in beta, there is a pleasing array of options, although I’m sure there is more to come. Not only are there different types of vehicles, there are also new toys in the form of smoke and ATGM launchers that add extra complexity to the battle and encourage having a flexible strategy.

FJ Tanks BMD Garage AW
Armored Warfare introduces new vehicles, such as this IFV, to the fray (Armored Warfare)

In terms of gameplay, the PVP element of the other games is very much present and correct, in much the same format, but this game also features co-op PVE which functions as a campaign of sorts. In PVE, a team of 5 tanks joins forces to complete missions and demolish an array of enemy AI tanks, which is a great way to gain credits and XP (albeit more slowly than in PVP) and have fun with friends. This mode is also a great way to try out new tanks and upgrades before jumping back into the PVP shark tank to continue the grind, which can be painful – especially for credits. In its current form the game is highly playable and feels well fleshed out and realized. The only major problem so far is the optimization which can cause sharp framerate drops and some graphical lag, which is more of an annoyance than a major problem. As this game is still very new, there aren’t a boatload of Premium features, but you can buy Premium time to ease the grind, get some extra credits or Global Reputation (XP) and there are a few Premium tanks available, but I haven’t seem too many of them at this stage. The ability to purchase Global Reputation does have the potential to give an advantage, but at this point it is used for upgrades rather than vehicles. For the moment, then, it is very possible to play F2P without problems, especially as garage slots – which are a Premium item in the other games – are available in Armored Warfare for free.

FJ Tanks T64 Battle AW
One of the Soviet designed Main Battle Tanks ready for action in Armored Warfare

Armored Warfare is developed by Obsidian Entertainment and published by Mail.Ru in Russia and My.com in Europe and America. It is currently in beta and the European client is available to download for Windows from My.com’s website.

In conclusion, which free-to -play tank game would I recommend? Well, that’s more of a theological question, because all of the games have their strengths and weaknesses as well as something to offer. World of Tanks has the most content and feels very arcadey, whilst War Thunder is more realistic and good looking. Armored Warfare feels the freshest of the three because it’s the newest and offers a modern twist. All of the games are pretty equal when it comes to gameplay, although Armored Warfare adds PVE to the mix and the pay-for elements in the game do not, as a general rule, make you feel as though you must pay to win. A downside that all of the games have is the interminable grind, especially as you move up to the higher tiers, but this is balanced by the bigger and shinier booms that you can then play with once the grind is done. All things considered, then, I would say that Armored Warfare is my favourite game at the moment, although that may just be because it is the newest.

Ben

Wargamer,geek,Editor of the the Vox-tower

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