Once again after being prodded by my friends I decided to try another F2P game, this time World of Tanks. After playing WoT I'm beginning to see why Riot Games with League of Legends is currently considered the cream of the F2P crop.
A simple description of Wot would be Counterstrike with tanks instead of people. At the start you have access to one tank from each of the current available nations: USSR, Germany and USA. Tanks are grouped by class and tier. Currently there are three classes of tanks in the game: Standard tanks that are further broken down by light, medium and heavy variations, tank destroyers which are slow to move but do a lot of damage; finally are artillery tanks that can rain hell down on the other team.
Tiers are tied into the progression in the game. The higher the tier represents better tanks in terms of stats, technology and equipment. A tier 1 tank is easy fodder, while a tier 6 tank is a completely different story. In order to move up the tank roster you'll need to grind several different types of points.
Credits are WoT’s free currency and are earned after every battle. Like League of Legends you'll earn credits regardless if you win or lose with a bigger pot going to the winner. Research points are earned on a tank by tank basis and are used to go up the tech tree for that tank.
Each tank's tech tree consists of better equipment and a higher tier tank available to research. Like with credits you'll get research win or lose after a battle but will get more research if you win. One important distinction is that unlocking something through research doesn't mean you bought it; it just means you made it available to buy. You'll still have to spend credits to buy the tank or equipment before you can use it.
If you research everything on the tech tree for that tank you'll unlock elite status with that specific tank. That means that any research points you'll earn from that point forward on that tank can be used to speed up improving your crew members (more on that in a bit) or can be used along with gold to take those research points to another tank.
Gold is the type of currency that costs actual money and is used for several things. First you can buy special tanks that can't be bought any other way. Second you can use it to convert research points associated with a tank to free research points that can be used on any tank. Gold is also used to buy special ammo, items and can unlock additional storage space in your garage for more tanks. You can also convert gold into credits to speed up the process of buying new equipment .There is also a premium account you can buy for the month that gives you more experience and allows you to group up with friends to play.
Each tank has a crew that goes with it that represents important jobs in the tank like the gunner. After each battle your crew will receive experience and once they earn enough they can unlock a new skill such as better accuracy or faster repair.
Now let's talk about the game-play. Matches can last 15 minutes but most matches will not last that long. A standard match is over when either a base is captured by the other team or one team has lost all their tanks. Like Counterstrike once your tank is destroyed you're out of the match. Also like Counterstrike and most team based games, running around by yourself will get you killed fast.
In WoT the game-play while not completely realistic still recreates some real world tactics. Tanks have noticeably weaker armor on the back and sides compared to the front. It is possible to one shot kill a tank with an accurate shot to the back of it. Armor penetration also plays a factor, the more armor the tank has the less chance a shot will penetrate or do a lot of damage. Higher tier heavy tanks can shrug off damage from the front.
When everything comes together WoT is fun to play, however when it doesn’t you can see the cracks in the game design. First is the grind in WoT, there are three different things for the player to grind up to have any chance at getting better at the game. Now in games of even skill or equipment having future goals to upgrade can be fine however due to WoT's design that is not the case.
In WoT tier means everything and being just one tier below the enemy is a huge disadvantage. Matchmaking is design to have the bulk of the team at the same tier and a few tanks either one tier above or below the average. Being below makes you fodder as tanks that don't have the required armor penetration cannot even hurt higher tier tanks. This also plays into the feeling of being useless in the game.
The hook that WoT uses is that your tank is crap compared to everything else. This is why you should grind out the credits to buy better tanks, research to get better equipment and experience to get better crew so you are less useless in the game. It feels demoralizing to know in some games that my best role is to stay out of the battle so I don't get hurt.
A fully upgraded tank in some ways is better than a newly bought tank that doesn't have enhanced equipment and crew members. What this means is that when you start out at a higher tier you are back to being useless compared to the other tanks on the field. If you are matched against enemies of a higher tier then you are back to square one unless you spend countless hours grinding out the necessary credits and research to improve.
On one hand this does make the player feel good about purchasing that new tank or turret, but on the other hand it really kills enjoyment in my opinion. With League of Legends I don't have to worry about spending hours playing a champion so that they can actually help out in the game. As long as I know how to use that champion then I will be an asset to my team.
Unlike Team Fortress 2 where items and equipment are mostly side grades to the classes, everything that can be bought in WoT are pure upgrades from the baseline of each tank. Unless you are lucky to be the most advanced tank on your side, prepare to always feel one step behind everyone. One of my least favorite moments is when I completely get the drop on someone to only discover that the tank is a higher tier then mine or has better equipment and that I can't do anything while it kills me in one hit.
Another design flaw is how an alternate name for this game should be World of Snipers as that is how most games devolve into. Due to how camouflage and scouting works you can know that there is someone 200 ft in front of you but without scouting you can't see them and they can just blast you. I've lost count of the times that I get destroyed by five different shots that come out of nowhere because they spent the last 3 minutes staying in one spot.
Artillery is a pain as well; once an enemy is detected by someone that gives artillery free reign to hammer that area with shells and due to their high damage once upgraded can easily get the most kills in a match. Another situation where I've lost count of is when I kill an enemy to only be destroyed seconds later by an artillery gun halfway across the map who kills me in two shots.
All this just adds up to this feeling of worthlessness unless I spend the hours to get all the necessary points to improve. Then once I get my new tank I get to do the same thing over again but this time with a longer grind. I do see where this can be fun for a group of people who get together and play (and spend the money on a premium account). The use of real money to speed up this process and get more items leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
The challenge of balance in micro transaction design vs. free content is always tricky. It's ok to use money to speed up progress but the regular path should be enjoyable as well. When your only options to improve your tank are spending hours grinding or spending money it does limit the enjoyment of playing.
There has to be give and take for the F2P model to work in my opinion, meaning the player should be able to get by just fine in your game without spending money and will spend money to improve themselves. The designer shouldn't hold mechanics and improvements at ransom requiring the player to spend money to make the game enjoyable.
Overall I find World of Tanks to be an interesting title but hampered by its F2P design. When you have so much content based on a treadmill design you have to give the player some reason to enjoy the treadmill and continue with it. It's like the designers had trouble determining how much of the game should be behind a cost of entry and how much of it should be free. Once again I have to give credit to Riot Games for League of Legends for finding that happy medium.
Also one final tip for the F2P designers out there, please don't require someone to spend money so that friends can play together.