10 changes to World of Tanks that might fire up retired commanders
Wargaming's tank simulator recently rolled out its biggest update yet. Here's why it's more than just a new lick of camo paint.
Wargaming has been fulfilling the fantasies of history buffs the world over since it launched World of Tanks back in 2010 (2011 in EU and Russia) on PC. In the seven years since, the franchise has spawned two spin-offs – World of Warplanes (2013) and World of Warships (2015) – made its way to consoles (Xbox 360 in 2014, Xbox One in 2015 and PlayStation 4 in 2016) and even landed on mobile with World of Tanks Blitz for Android and iOS.
The globe-trotting studio opened Wargaming.net back in 2011, creating a single portal for its existing and future online games – like Blizzard's Battle.net but for military nerds.
Then in 2013, the same company started up its own esports organisation, The Wargaming.net League. A chance for WoT pros to flex their multiplayer muscles and work towards regular grand final matches.
Wargaming has fostered an army of fans and an ecosystem for those military aficionados to thrive. I say all this because as crazy as it is, World of Tanks only just released its 1.0 update this March. It has only now reached its benchmark version, years after building a kingdom. Wargaming deserves a medal of honour for spending so long maintaining and expanding servers, listening and responding to fan feedback, all the while working behind the scenes on core quality-of-life improvements.
Of course, like any long-running MMO, recruits come and go, fatigued by the slow roll of bug fixes and smaller updates. If you happen to be one of those Tanks deserters, here are 10 reasons the game's 1.0 update might rally you to jump back in the driver's seat.
1. New graphics engine: Core
The biggest and most important change is Wargaming's top-to-bottom renovation of the graphics engine used by World of Tanks. Built in-house, the Core engine replaces the old BigWorld engine (the locally-produced architecture that Wargaming acquired back in 2012).
This new engine aided many of the other changes below but the short and skinny of it is this: Core provides a new foundation that can support new and exciting graphics rendering and processing technologies. Havok Destruction for more realistic explosions and debris, SpeedTree 6 for improved lighting on vegetation and opaque surfaces and Adaptive Shadow Maps for more dynamic shadows and interaction with particle effects (even finer details like smoke will cast a light shadow). Core also allowed Wargaming to reinvigorate existing, admittedly weathered, content.
And to keep the gears turning for players on older systems, Wargaming gave a little extra TLC by optimising the new engine, balancing the new graphics subsystems and leaning on streaming technology to lighten the load on your machine.
2. The hills are alive...
Many of the biggest graphical leaps that Core allows for are best exemplified in World of Tanks' diverse map environments. Core's virtual texturing technology calculates heavy texture blending ahead of time and saves a more realistic "virtual texture" which is loaded before it appears on the screen (and only when necessary). This allows for more realistic grass, snow and building renderings while taking up less memory.
There's also adaptive shadow tech, which calculates shadows when the map loads and only processes changes as lighting impacts their positioning; an advanced tree model system that improves depth and lighting of in-world vegetation; and screen space reflections for a nicer sheen on water and ice (both look stunning in action). Last but not least, Core uses updated tank track calculations, running roughly 100 calculations per tank tread to give you movement that's closer to the feeling of steering an actual tank.
The result? I spent a stupid amount of time in World of Tanks' 1.0 update doing the tank equivalent of snow angels.
These are just a few of the improvements that free up RAM and lighten the load on the GPU, which leads us to...
3. Optimisation for lower-specced rigs
Chatting with the team in Wargaming Sydney, one thing that stood out was the insistence that their loyal player base would be able to smash that update button without forking out for a pricey PC upgrade.
Wargaming told us that a huge part of their target demographic, while clearly devoted, aren't the types to go out and throw down thousands on a fancy new rig with enough RGBs to outshine the sun. The decision to make update 1.0 playable on older machines was a no-brainer and, again, one that Core makes possible.
With all the advancements we listed above and a long list of additional code optimisations for graphics and little touches on World of Tanks' graphics sub-systems, we're told 1.0 runs like a dream on older systems.
With that said, we haven't had the chance to test it on a dated set-up but for those still cautious about making the jump, Wargaming has set up World of Tanks enCore, an app that runs a performance assessment on your current rig using a Core demo.
4. New map: Glacier
For such a monumental update, you need a little more than under-the-hood performance upgrades. To really get returning players excited you need to offer a whole new experience (breaking into song: A whole new world). Players get to experience World of Tanks' first fully-fledged snow map in update 1.0, Glacier.
The snow-covered hills and frozen lakes allowed Wargaming to put the new engine on show.
If you're thinking this winter wonderland bears an uncanny resemblance to the rolling hills of Sweden then you'd be on the money. You may also be wondering how the historically neutral Swedes ending up with Allied and Axis tanks duking it out on their front lawn. While World of Tanks has traditionally based maps on significant World War II locations and war zones, there really is no place like Stockholm if you're after vast landscapes draped in blankets of powdery snow, so an exception has been made with this particular map.
For those well-accustomed to Tanks' maps, its worth noting that Glacier offers random battles in the standard battles format and is open to vehicle tiers IV to X.
5. Refreshed maps: 29 maps overhauled
Glacier isn't the only map to play if you're looking to put the new improvements to the test, with 29 existing maps have been given a full HD overhaul.
For some maps, this makeover is only skin-deep, a high-def refresh. However, a handful of maps were in dire need of a bigger improvement, so Wargaming took time to improve each map to make some additional changes, addressing some long-standing complaints.
In particular, Fisherman's Bay, Ruinberg and Pilsen had some imbalances ironed out and the campers in Erlenberg, Kharkov and Steppes will have to find somewhere new to crash thanks to the layout changes made to those maps.
6. New music score: 60 unique region-based tracks
While we're on the topic of updated maps, it's worth mentioning World of Tanks' reworked music. In its never-ending quest for authenticity, Wargaming went ahead and scoped out musicians from across the globe to contribute to the updated score.
This resulted in a whopping 60 new songs added to the World of Tanks soundtrack, each performed by the Prague Symphony Orchestra and around 50 musicians from around the world.
The most interesting part of the new soundtrack is that each new song is region-appropriate (hence the globally-diverse musos). A few examples include Karelia, which uses ringing bells often associated with Slavic and Russian stories, and Ruinberg which takes a page or two out of the book of iconic German composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
If painstakingly crafted scores are your jam, you can listen to the entire soundtrack on the World of Tanks website without even updating to 1.0.
Right, so while we don't necessarily have the recent update to thank for the addition of the Australian Centurion, it's still a damn fine reason to hop back in the driver's seat.
The iconic Mk. 5/1 RAAC rolled into World Of Tanks earlier this month. Those hungry for the stats on this machine may be a little disappointed to see a premium tank at this tier with higher stats across the board (with the exception of hit points).
However, players in Australia will no doubt be chuffed to represent the Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC) on the WoT battlefield.
Yes, plenty more tanks have been added in the 1.0 Update, too (see below), but the Centurion definitely deserved to be highlighted.
8. Rain destruction
There are few physics effects that are more appealing than environmental destruction. I'm one of the few that had little to no interest in 2009's Red Faction: Guerilla before I played it, but from the first moment I toppled a building with a sledgehammer, I was floored. And there are few tools better used for destruction than the barrel-end of a tank. It's a match made in Havok.
Yep, thanks to World of Tanks' new Core engine, the game now takes full advantage of Havok Destruction technology.
What Havok allows for, specifically, is more granular destruction effects. For example, firing a round at a destructible surface will do the expected job but with Havok, you can actually see the loose particles and debris scattered on the ground.
That might not seem like a massive improvement on paper, but it's one you almost have to see to really feel the difference. It's also another testament to Wargaming's obsession with fidelity.
In my time with the 1.0 update, I've experienced the absolute pleasure of crashing through a few waist-high walls and having the crumbling sandstone scatter in my wake.
9. Well, what do you call it? An HD tank hole!
While World of Tanks is first and foremost a game about blowing your MM-Opponents to smithereens, a large part of the community is understandably interested in showing off their collection of tanks. It's something of a virtual nirvana for old-school model and memorabilia collectors.
Players have always been able to display their collection in all its glory but like the maps described above, the garage has also copped a sexy HD makeover.
It has also completely changed the setting, taking your tanks out of the stuffy hangar confines of yore and setting up camp in the wilderness for a more makeshift/temporary look.
The sunnier setting has also become a bit of a hot-spot for the rarely sighted human inhabitants of World of Tanks. Your garage dwellers are currently window-dressing only, but Wargaming has hinted at the possibility to interact with these friendly faces in future updates.
The new garage also comes with some nice UX changes that should please collectors: you can now zoom further in for a closer look at the finer details, and further out for larger tanks that the camera could barely fit in before.
There's also parallax scrolling in the garage now, which is just a nice little visual cherry on top of the gourmet of graphical delicacies on offer.
10. Scores of issues fixed and more updates beyond the fog of war
While the 1.0 update is well overdue and a fairly definitive milestone, it's just the tip of the Ruinberg.
Wargaming already released 1.0.1 which brought with it 11 Italian tanks (plus the return of the Italian Province map) and a few more tweaks and balances. Now the studio that apparently can't slow down (aka Speed 3) is testing version 1.0.2 which looks to address a long list of technical issues across the board and further tweak more vehicles (specifically USSR tanks).
Update 1.0 wasn't a be-all and end-all spitshine for World of Tanks, but rather a new steel foundation to further build and improve as time goes on. Luckily for lapsed fans, that new foundation also came with a suite of new features and technical improvements that will put some fuel in the tank for commanders that ran dry a long time ago.
If, like me, you tend to tank on consoles, more exciting news on the World of Tanks console version (PS4 and XBO) arrived recently too. World of Tanks on consoles will be rebranded as World of Tanks: Mercenaries in the game's biggest expansion yet.