World of Tanks: balance is hell

, | Game diaries

World of Tanks is a hard game to categorize. It’s certainly not an FPS, since the vehicles that are your “character” evolve over the course of thousands of battles in a process that owes much to RPG’s. On the other hand, it’s not really an MMORPG, since there are never more than 29 other players on the battlefield with you. I suppose “FPS/MMORPG hybrid” is the best way to describe it, aside from the horrendous acronym that results. Whatever label you prefer, the fact is that balance is crucial in such a game. With no PvE content and a player base that’s paying close attention, World of Tanks needs to get the balance right. As of today, I’d say they’re doing a mediocre job at best.

After the jump: matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match

One area that’s shown enormous improvement since the start of open beta is the matchmaker. I still remember the first time my speedy little PZ-III Ausf A literally ran full-tilt into a Maus. I was so shocked when the Tier 10 monster appeared in front of me that I rammed it. The Maus driver probably never even felt the impact, but I damaged both my tracks and couldn’t move. Lacking better alternatives (like panicked flight), I poured useless fire into the behemoth that did no good whatsoever, and he contemptuously one-shotted me ten seconds later.

Matches like that are a thing of the past. Tier 10 vehicles no longer get to rampage across battlefields populated with a hodge-podge of lower tier victims that haven’t a prayer of hurting them. Instead, each vehicle fights a fairly narrow range of enemies. Oh, the matchmaker still has a few problems. If you form a three-tank platoon with vehicles that are far apart in tier, the lowest tier tank may find itself in fights where it’s useless. I’ve seen a platooned Loltractor (the affectionate nickname given to the German Tier 1 Leichtetraktor) in a battle with Tier 6 foes, which led to some amusing chat prior to the battle. Another problem is that the matchmaker doesn’t distribute the powerful Tier 9 mediums well. If one side gets most of them (and that happens fairly often), they form a lethal wolf pack whose speed and firepower overwhelms the battlefield. Still, these are minor flaws, and easily correctable.

More serious are imbalances between the factions. The World of Tanks development team is from Belarus, part of the former Soviet Union, and I feel their bias against German vehicles in favor of their Soviet counterparts has been clear since beta began. Because it’s a problem that doesn’t appear until the higher tiers, players can be unaware of it until they’ve played hundreds of matches and invested countless hours in a tank line they now hate.

Frontal armor weak points (like the driver’s hatch) are one of the most glaring examples of this bias. All tanks have them, and rounds fired at these small and hard-to-hit locations are very likely to penetrate, score critical hits, kill crew, and so on. However, the weak points on the top tier German heavy tanks include areas that are enormous and (on paper) supposedly very tough, like their gun mantlets. Mantlets are so large (and their weakness in high tier tanks is so pronounced) that random shots fired by players ignorant of their existence routinely knock out German guns and kill the gunner. And mantlets aren’t the only large weak point that high tier German heavies suffer from…

Another good example of pro-Soviet bias is found in the tank destroyer
line. Tank destroyers are better at hiding than any other vehicles in the game, since firing from ambush is pretty much their entire reason for existence. While Soviet tank destroyer camouflage values slowly decline as you move up the tiers into bigger vehicles (but are still high even at Tier 9, the maximum), the top three German tank destroyers basically have no camouflage ability at all!

Testing by die-hard German players has revealed these (and other problems), and the devs have been promising fixes for a long time, fixes that have yet to arrive. Still, the fact remains that Soviet vehicles have never suffered from comparable flaws, leaving the player base deeply suspicious that they were intentional.

My solution to these problems is simple– until they are conclusively fixed, I only drive Soviet armor. It’s a pity, since some of the German vehicles are iconic and I also like their looks, but in a pure PvP game, I refuse to deliberately handicap myself by choosing them. In competitive games, players will always gravitate to the strongest builds. Balance is hell.

Click here for the previous World of Tanks entry.

Dave Markell’s probably been playing games longer than you’ve been alive. While his preferred genres are turn-based strategy and RPG’s, he’ll gladly demonstrate his incompetence at anything.