This piece was submitted to us by World of Tanks and War Thunder veteran Rossmum.
Back in May, I decided to write a piece for my oft-neglected blog about the comparisons between War Thunder and World of Tanks. Some things have changed since then in both games, but by and large, the overarching theme is the same: they don’t really compare. They’re two completely different games, with completely different objectives. Let’s take a look into some of the reasons why, and some of the things each game has going for it. This is going to be quite lengthy – grab your poison of choice and a snack.
War Thunder (henceforth WT) has always leaned towards realism, or at least, Gaijin’s interpretation of it; World of Tanks (henceforth WoT) has always valued smooth gameplay over realism. This is a very important distinction and one many people seem all too happy to gloss over. The reason for WoT’s eschewing of authenticity for ease of play is not simply “Gaijin doing realism better” as many seem to claim, but rather a genuine, deliberate design choice on the part of Wargaming to make the game as accessible as possible and as suitable for competitive play as possible.
This is where the root of the two games’ differences comes from. The two companies have completely different outlooks on F2P multiplayer gaming, and while Gaijin try to shoehorn people into their game’s “simulator” mode, Wargaming deliberately tailor their own game to provide genuine competitive play, as well as incentives to participate in it. As well as the existing company, team battle, and clan wars systems, Wargaming recently added “Strongholds” to WoT, which essentially provides a clan-based platform for tournament-style play while also implementing a strategy minigame type deal. I don’t believe WT has anything comparable, but I could be wrong; either way, it’s obvious that Wargaming are more into competition than Gaijin are.
This is also evidenced by WoT’s standard battle format – a fifteen minute match, with fifteen players per team, and one life per player. The rulesets on actual tournament matches are even stricter, with player limits, tier limits, total tier caps, and usually shorter times to complete matches. The average match in WoT is often decided in the opening two to three minutes, and matches that run the timer all the way are few and far between. Wargaming also provide a lot of statistical information to players, and thanks to the battle format, those statistics tend to carry some weight. A player who stays alive and does damage will win a lot more than one who doesn’t.
Taking a look at WT’s standard battles shows something quite different, and those differences are immediately clear. The battles often run for much longer, and in some modes there are multiple respawns per player. Where a WoT player has only one life to influence the match and a critical mistake could mean a loss for their team, WT players generally enjoy a much more relaxed pace, and the safety net provided by respawns can allow for them to remedy their errors in a new life. Although the game does track statistics, it does so at a much shallower level and primarily uses them to arrange its leaderboards.
We can see, then, that the two games aren’t quite as alike as you might think from a cursory glance. One is obsessed with providing an “authentic experience” (dubious, we’ll get into this in a minute) and the other with fostering a competitive scene and genuine short-format casual play. Let’s go a little deeper and look at the details and how they differ.
First order of business: movement. This is a core aspect of how any game works, but it gets so little attention. In WoT, your tank essentially drives like a car with an automatic transmission. A 40-ton car, okay, but you see where I’m going with this. The tanks have fixed turning rates, the slower you’re moving the sharper you turn, but there’s no need to ‘pulse’ the steering or any other particularly irritating quirks. Once you get the feel of a tank’s speed, acceleration, and traverse rate, there is no need to learn anything further and you can handle that tank with absolute confidence.
This is important for the game’s design, because it means players can spend less time worrying about their own vehicle’s performance and more about positioning it well and engaging the enemy. The tank will generally do exactly what you ask of it. This kind of system facilitates the furious, swirling brawls that many WoT players are accustomed to, and also allows for some pretty talented drivers to find positions that would realistically be hellishly difficult to get a tank into. In short, the map is there for you to use, and you can “fight the enemy, not your own tank” (a statement Wargaming have made previously when questioned about their system versus Gaijin’s). Although more detailed suspension and engine behaviour has been hinted at in developer diaries, it is as yet unclear how they will affect the game. My money is on “not much”, and I suspect Wargaming simply want to add them as cosmetic features.
Meanwhile, Gaijin went for a more ‘realistic’ approach. Gaijin’s attempts at realistic tank controls seem to amount to some kind of horribly janky clutch-and-brake system, which would be accurate for most of the lower tier German tanks and virtually all of the Soviet tanks had they actually done a better job of it. The problem is that the steering is finicky, with poor feedback, and it doesn’t always work. For example, if you want to turn my Panzer III from a stop, it will jolt around and turn painfully slowly. It should quite happily rotate around the stopped track. The moment you try to reverse and turn, though, it oversteers.
This is a common pattern – there’s understeer and oversteer and precious little between. It’s one thing to try and simulate a primitive steering system that requires some experience to operate well (shallow turns at higher speeds do require pulsing of the steering controls, as they do on real-life tanks with this system), but it’s another entirely for it to not even function as it should. Whether this is a deliberate design decision by Gaijin or yet another manifestation of their NOT FINAL™ physics system is unknown, but it hasn’t been changed in the slightest for the four or so months I’ve been playing the Ground Forces aspect of the game.
In addition to the strange steering, you do actually have to deal with gear changes in WT, even in the arcade battles which people are most liable to compare to WoT. It goes without saying that both of these factors impact the most on speedy light and medium tanks, and all but prohibit the kind of glorious chaos you’ll see in WoT. In WT, you’re more likely to see tanks clumsily wandering about the map, stopping to take shots and skating wildly any time they try to steer at high speed (their tracks are made of ice, apparently). You can circle larger tanks in some vehicles, but it’s difficult to do so without crashing into either your target or something else nearby, and keeping your gun on something while you move is extremely difficult. Firing on the move goes from difficult to nigh impossible with the more ‘realistic’ battle modes, of course, and turret traverse speed becomes a major headache for some tanks.
This fosters slow, generally static gameplay. Flanking manoeuvres in WT generally amount to faster tanks zipping into a good position and then firing from there, as opposed to howling through a flank firing as they go. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; while WoT takes a lot more on-the-fly mathematical prowess to be good at, the ability to position well is extremely important in WT’s more difficult modes (in arcade it doesn’t matter so much, thanks to respawns).
With that said, let’s look at the differences in shooting mechanics, too. WoT, being a more competitively-oriented, easily-accessible game, uses the classic system of hitpoints, DPM, alpha strike, and RNG that most gamers are used to. The attributes of each tank are distilled into numbers, and those numbers don’t change but for the RNG, and so a skilled player who can play and do arithmetic at the same time can use that to their advantage. Knowing exactly how many hits you can tank from an opponent before you kill him is a huge tool. Players who aren’t so good with this kind of thing clearly suffer, and many of them moved to WT just to get away from it. That’s fine – not everyone likes WoT’s more abstract combat – and as someone who grew up on sims I need some variety as well.
WT features much more obtuse shooting mechanics. A shot might penetrate clean through a tank without doing a single thing to it, because the ‘health’ of the tank is decided by its subsystems, not an arbitrary amount of hitpoints. To knock a tank out, you need to actually damage the squishy bits inside. This gives an obvious advantage to larger, more powerful shells. This system usually works alright, but I have encountered a few eyebrow-raising moments where a bottom-tier light tank has taken upwards of eight penetrating shots to knock out from a much larger vehicle.
Worse yet, shot feedback in WT is truly terrible. It’s common, at least with my roughly 250ms ping, to see AP shells hit the dirt in front of me and yet mysteriously wreck my tank. This has never happened to me in WoT. Your own shots, too, seem to hit things the game doesn’t think they’re hitting. I suspect a lot of WT runs clientside, which is bad news from both a high latency and an anti-cheating standpoint. I’ve seen tanks drive right through wall segments without knocking them down, which suggests at the very least that some physics objects are clientside. This has implications for situational awareness as well, with downed trees and fences being a common way of figuring out unspotted enemy positions in WoT.
For obvious reasons, being on the receiving end of fire in WT is much, much more unpleasant than it is in WoT. Modules are easily damaged, and they take a long time to repair – if they can be repaired at all. After only one or two hits, it’s likely your tank is more or less combat ineffective. There are no repair kits or medkits here, so you need to live with that damage. Of course, in WoT, driving a crippled tank is no fun at all, but it’s still not quite as brutal.
Another reason a lot of people swore they would leave WoT the moment WT added Ground Forces was the former game’s spotting system. To newer or more casual players, it’s an arcane web of bullshit that exists to give everyone except them the advantage. Any hackusations thrown around in-game generally originate squarely from a lack of understanding of how the spotting and camouflage systems work. Although the documentation is sketchy and contradicts itself at times, the information is available, and by now a lot of the veteran players have the system more or less worked out. This doesn’t help a casual who doesn’t want to put the effort of finding this information in, though, and so WT is seen as the preferable game. Realistic games wouldn’t have spotting systems, right? If the tank is there, you’d be able to see it, and the only camo would be actual visual camouflage.
Just like WoT, WT has its own spotting system. It has always had it. Air crews have always had a skill called “keen vision”. Sure enough, Ground Forces has one too. The skills are there to see. The implementation is actually somehow more obtuse than WoT – I recently had a tank drive behind a rock and disappear utterly before he was even halfway concealed by it. I had to drive fully around the rock before I could see him, even though the front three feet of his tank had been jutting out the whole time. The game doesn’t just remove markers for ‘unspotted’ enemies like the air game does; it actually makes the tank invisible, just like in WoT. Given the choice, I know which system seems to work better out of the two games.
The reason spotting systems work the way they do isn’t to give more experienced players an advantage, or to try and extract money from you to buy things to offset them. It’s a simple and very effective anticheat measure. Since the client is not being told there is a tank there by the server, no amount of clientside wizardry can show an otherwise unspotted tank. Before you go and complain too loudly about these systems, think whether you’d prefer invisible tanks, or tanks that can see you all the time, from any distance, behind any obstacle. Ask a Counter-Strike player if you’d like to know how infuriating that gets.
Finally, art. While WoT has been playing catch-up graphically for its entire lifespan, WT is a pretty game. The difference noted before – which still exists – is that WT is graphics for the sake of graphics. From the standpoint of authenticity, WoT actually wins by a good margin – to the point where they consult historians when modeling a tank in order to wear its paint where the crew’s boots would scrape it off, or where equipment would rub against it. WoT’s new HD models are a definite winner over WT’s, and even the old models make up for their lack of graphical sophistication with a good dose of authenticity.
In closing, the two are very dissimilar games. They have completely different priorities. As such, it seems unlikely that either will “kill” the other, or even really impact the existing player base. People will migrate between the two according to their own personal tastes; many will probably play both. WoT is a serious competitive game, but also more accommodating to true casuals due to its format and easily learned classical gaming mechanics, while WT is aimed more at people looking for immersion, which is certainly something it can provide better. WoT prioritises solid mechanics over graphics, while WT looks very nice but is still plainly unfinished and quite janky at times. The real winner in the battle between World of Tanks and War Thunder is the player, as the two tank games will compete with each other, improve, and grow.
Rossmum is a long-time World of Tanks and War Thunder player. He regularly posts battle recaps and commentaries at his YouTube account.