Monday, 15 August 2011

World of Tanks: Beginner's Tips

This is the first part of a guide to playing the MMO World of Tanks, a tank-warfare based game which includes tanks from pre-WWII up to the 1950s. It is, in my opinion, a simply fantastic game to play, but one which is surprisingly hard to play well. This guide should (hopefully) help new players in that respect, and maybe even provide some interesting reading to those World of Tanks veterans.

Important things to know:

·     In WoT, you only get one life per match, meaning that if you die straight away then you’ll have to sit out the entire match and watch your team-mates struggle without you.

·         A normal battle can end two ways; either when all the enemy team are destroyed, or their base captured.

·         Experience and credits are gained through killing, damaging and spotting players, and defending or capturing bases. These can be used to research and buy guns, turrets, tracks, radios and engines, and eventually lead to a (hopefully) better tank on the ‘tank tree’.

·         Tank Trees are nation-specific, each branch being made up of tiers. Generally, out of a maximum tier of 10, tier 7 is the highest to aim for if you don’t have a Premium (paid) account; higher than that would eventually lose you credits through repair/ammo costs.

·         Enemy players will only show up on the mini-map, and indeed in your field of vision, if somebody ‘spots’ them first. Players will not show up if they just shoot-this is not CoD! Accordingly, those tanks with a camouflage bonus (such as hiding in a bush) could conceivably pound the foe without anyone being able to retaliate, until someone gets close enough to spot them.

·         Always keep your front to the enemy! All tanks have the most armour on their front-never present your rear to the opposing team.

·         Each tank has a certain number of crew and modules, such as a fuel tank, which can be killed/blown up mid-battle; if this happens, try and retreat until your crew can get the module fixed. Sadly, if your tracks are gone, you’re a sitting duck.

·         The terrain can be, and should be, used to your advantage. Objects such as houses obviously provide good cover as well as blocking line of site, making you that much harder to spot. For some tanks, being ‘hull down’ is a tremendously beneficial tactic. This is where your turret is the only visible target for the enemy; this is usually applied over the crest of a hill and with tanks (such as US Heavies) which have amazing turret armour.

·         Armour thickness and the degree to which armour slopes are important in WoT. Depending on the gun (and the type of shell used), some shells may not penetrate a tank’s armour at all, while depending on the angle others may ricochet off.

Choosing  a Tank



There are 5 different types of tank in World of Tanks, each with their own unique style of play. Depending on the nation’s Tank Tree, certain types of tank, such as Tank Destroyers, will only lead to other TDs. Conversely, Light Tanks generally lead to Mediums, which then either lead to Heavy Tanks or other Mediums. This is worth knowing, as looking up the tank Tree a few tiers and finding an achievable goal could influence your starting choice of tank.


Light Tank: These are primarily the scouts of WoT. They tend to rush ahead of the main battle-group, spotting enemies for their team to see and eradicate. With extremely light armour, if they don’t keep moving then a couple of shells will blow them to smithereens. They work well with SPGs, and can be extremely annoying for the opposing team. Deal with them at the first opportunity, before your whole team is revealed.

Medium Tank: Depending on the tank and nationality their role differs accordingly, but these tanks are essentially the ‘fire-fighters’  of the team; wherever help is needed, they have the speed to get there, and in most cases the armour and firepower to tip the balance of a fight. They won’t survive on their own for too long without support, but they can certainly hold their own. Mediums can even take out Heavy Tanks if they find them alone, as they can circle the foe faster than their opponent’s turret can traverse. A wolf pack of Medium Tanks is a dangerous sight for even the heaviest of tanks.

Heavy Tank: Used as either a hammer or an anvil, these armoured behemoths can tip the balance of any fight, assuming they can reach it in time. Able to plough through the opposing force, or cut off a portion of the map by firmly holding position, these tanks are slow but can take, and dish out, horrendous amounts of damage.

Tank Destroyer: These tanks are effective when used in an ambush situation. With no turrets (apart from the unique American ones) but massive cannons, their low-slung hulls mean that they won’t be spotted before it’s too late. Extremely effective at long range, their lack of turret means they are quite vulnerable to a tank circling them a few metres away. A favourite tactic of the enemy may be to ram your Tank Destroyer in the side, preventing it from turning round and shooting them. Tank Destroyers are feared by many for the amount of damage they can do while not being seen themselves.
Self-Propelled Artillery (SPG): These are unique in that they see the battle from a bird’s-eye view; nowhere is safe from these monsters, being able to plunge shells down on unsuspecting tanks from afar. Relying on Light Tanks to spot the opposing team, SPGs can, with their massive howitzers, rain death on even Heavy Tanks. Rightly feared, they do have a slow reload and miniscule armour, meaning that should the enemy get in close then their reign of terror is effectively over.
The Nations-Which one to Choose?
In World of Tanks there are 3 nations to choose from at the time of writing, each with their own Tank Trees and tanks. While they all now have the same amount of types of tank (i.e they have all the branches of the tree), the stats of these types vary according to the nation. In this section I will, unfortunately, have to generalise somewhat, as detail will be gone into in later parts of this guide.
Germany:  Deutschland! Who wouldn’t want to play as the mighty armoured tanks of Germany? Who wouldn’t want to accurately snipe the enemy from afar in a Jagdpanther, or weather all manner of attack in the mighty Maus? German tanks are generally supremely accurate, able to penetrate thick armour with relative ease. While their guns may not be that large compared to other nations, they can bypass all but the thickest armour. Suited to sniping effectively, their TDs may not be that camouflaged in higher tiers but they are extremely accurate with good armour. German Heavies, while gained at a later tier than everyone else, are very difficult to get rid of.
Russia: Urraa! Russian tanks are known to have quite massive guns attached to their tanks compared to everyone else. A 122mm, for instance, will pack one hell of a punch in close quarters, and even at medium distances. What the Russians do find difficult however is sniping; said 122mm won’t be that accurate at distant targets. Sometimes seen as being the ‘easy’ nation, Russian tanks do tend to dominate in the early tiers, where their large cannon and often thick armour allow them to carve through an incompetent enemy team. The lack of accuracy and slow reload times somewhat negate these bonuses however, and being perceived (quite wrongly in my opinion) as the easy option shouldn’t be a reason not to play Russian.
US: It seems to me that American tanks are good all-rounders. Their guns are often a balance between penetration and damage, with a good speed even gracing their Heavy Tanks. Their armour distribution across the whole tree, on the other hand, is all over the place. Their Medium Tanks have paper thin armour, their SPGs  can have amour that seems to bounce a lot of shots, while their Heavies have a massive amount on their turret (279mm for the tier 7 T29), but relatively little on their hull. US tanks, therefore, require a good amount of skill to use properly, but when used properly they can kick some ass!


Right, that rounds off this beginner's guide. Hopefully this will have helped you to at least get started on the path to battlefield-domination. Oh, and here’s the link to the World of Tanks site.











Friday, 12 August 2011

Allods Online review


It’s not difficult to see why playing an MMORPG could be attractive; effectively having another life where you can become a hero and fight all manner of monsters, or maybe the head of a guild or a multi-million corporation (in the case of EVE Online), while showing it all off to other players is certainly an enviable position. What is not so enviable is the monthly subscription fee which many of the best MMOs seem to require; the ever popular World of Warcraft and the aforementioned EVE Online spring to mind. This can lead to many players to turn to the free-to-play selection, one of the best of which is Allods Online.
Although essentially having the same format as other free MMORPGs, wherein you create characters,  gain experience, complete quests, kill things, level up and chatter endlessly, and often aimlessly, to other players in the gaming world, Allods Online differs in two key areas.

One area is the character creation and development aspect in itself. Allods Online boasts a surprising amount of races and classes for a F2P MMO, with six races overall and a myriad of classes to go with each. Some classes, such as the pet-owning Warden, are only available to certain races, so the level of character customisation is at once pleasing and fulfilling. The races in Allods Online have been split up into WoW-like opposition; much like the latter’s Alliance and Horde, this game has the League and the Empire, which at once creates a feeling of belonging (and playing as the Empire automatically makes you assume an evil sense of superiority, mwahaha). The character development is also unique, as each class gains a skill tree to spend points on, meaning no two characters will ever have the same stats (theoretically).

The other completely fantastic aspect of Allods Online is the ability to conduct ship battles! Yes, you heard right, ship battles. Y’see dear readers, there’s this stuff floating around between the Allods (essentially islands) of the game called the Astral, and players are able to build a ship and go off in a party, exploring the different isles and generally fighting demons and other foolhardy players. Each ship has six crew members (other players in your party) in order to operate the ship, some at the helm, others navigating or raining death on the foes with the cannons. Effectively it’s like being part of a naval battle in space, and it is extremely awesome! Of course, building a ship takes a great deal of time and commitment, so it’s not for the fainthearted, and casual gamers may struggle to reach a high enough level for the funds to become available. It’s a nice touch in any case, setting it apart from other similar MMORPGs.

The graphics in this game are lovely, the cartoony style of WoW being replicated and possibly even ramped up a notch (but don’t tell that to a fanatical Night Elf). Players who like to be visually thrilled by a game world while playing will not be disappointed. The interface should be familiar to those who’ve played at least one MMORPG, but if not it’s rather easy to use and shouldn’t provide any trouble to the first-time gamer.

No game is perfect, of course, not even one as polished as this. For one thing, the text chat box in the corner of the screen is a wee bit tiny; if you have to squint to make out what someone is saying to you, there’s probably a large problem on your hands. It could also be said that, although pets for certain classes are a nice touch, it would have been even nicer if you could have chosen which pet you have-as it is they tend to look the same, only changing in appearance as you level up.

These problems certainly aren’t game breaking however, and are certainly not a reason to abstain from downloading it. Allods Online is a fantastic MMORPG for those looking for a deep, vast world to adventure in while socialising with other players. In any case, it’s free, so why not try it?


Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Modding

It seems to me that for many enthusiasts it is a dream to work in the game industry; it's still mine (though a long way off). Perhaps you want to be a programmer, an artist or a developer, maybe even a voice actor?

While getting into the game industry just like that may prove to be a bit of a challenge, it may be a good idea to work on a mod to practice your skills, before getting into creating full-blown games.

The mod job list at www.moddb.com/jobs seems to be a fantastic way to get a feel for making mods with a team of like-minded individuals; just head over there, see what you like and apply!

Battlefield Bad Company 2 (Xbox 360)

Imagine if you will that you are crouching next to a wall. You appear to have a light machinegun, some med-packs and defibrillators. The sounds of battle, from the dull thump of distant explosives to the sharp crack of a rifle somewhere on the ridge ahead, surround you and your squad mates. Suddenly, one of your fellows is shot through the face by an errant sniper somewhere in the chaos. Hefting your defibrillators, you rush over to him and, amidst the confusion of flying bullets, revive him and grant him a faster recovery with your medkits. As you are doing this, the wall behind you, along with most of the house attached to it, is blown to smithereens by a high-flying Black Hawk helicopter. Grabbing the Engineer kit of one of your downed teammates, you fire wildly into the sky with an RPG-miraculously, the chopper flies straight into it, spinning down and eventually exploding. That, dear readers, is DICE’s Battlefield Bad Company 2.

It would be hard to compare this to any other First-Person Shooter, let’s say something like the popular CoD, as BFBC2 delivers a grossly more ‘real’ experience of modern warfare; from the fantastic audio quality of the many sounds of battle, to the constant nagging fear that almost no cover will remain standing for long, a blood-pumping sensation is created that hardly anything can compete with. This is, of course, in addition to the large selection of fully drivable vehicles on offer, from helicopters to Abrams tanks, with which to create a desolate wasteland of the battlefield.

Graphically, this game is beautiful. With massive, highly detailed landscapes, incredible explosions and terrific effects when demolishing the environment, such as dust clouds billowing out of holes punched into a house wall, BFBC2 is paradise for that part of the brain which loves pretty pictures. The audio quality is beyond compare too, the distinctive sounds of reloading a gun spelling out ‘lock and load’.

The game’s singleplayer again follows Preston Marlowe and friends from ‘Bad Company’ as they roam from environment to environment, driving and killing things and generally creating mayhem. Haggard, the resident madman and expert on explosives, seems a bit more aggressive and aggravating than in the first game, but in general the characters are as we know them from BFBC 1. Although the story is fun and always action-packed it is rather on the short side, multiplayer being where the game really shines.

Ah multiplayer. What a brilliant day it was when we tapped into the online masterpiece that is Battlefield Bad Company 2 multiplayer. Able to choose from 4 classes, Assault, Engineer, Recon and Medic, the player is assigned a squad (if they wish; it is highly recommended that you join a squad in the match!) and dumped into the battle, either spawning at a base or on top of a squad mate. From there, the player can hop into any nearby vehicles, control a miniature UAV helicopter from a terminal, unlock stuff and generally gain points. Points are gained from killing enemies (obviously), or performing well at your battlefield role as dictated by your class; a Recon class would ideally set up camp with the sniper rifle and ‘spot’ enemies by planting them in their sights and hitting the ‘Back’ button on the controller. Spotted enemies are highlighted for the whole team, and a Spot Assist is gained if someone else kills them. Likewise, a Medic could gain points solely by electrocuting seemingly deceased persons and reviving them. This is a fantastic way of making sure that everyone feels needed on the team, not just some wavering ‘noob’ on the outskirts of the fight.

 The most popular mode of play seems to be Rush, where the attackers must destroy M-Com stations while having a limited respawn, while defenders lose if all stations are lost but have an unlimited respawn count. This is very evocative of classic war films, with the defenders hunkering down in a building somewhere and watching the mortar shells fall past like rain. Of course, a new feature of BFBC2 is that buildings can now completely collapse, so canny defenders won’t spend too long there after all. Other modes are available, such as Conquest where territories must be captured, or the new Squad Deathmatch, where you and your squad face off against 3 other teams. These are enjoyable in their own right, but it’s Rush where you feel the biggest...well, rush.

Such an almost perfect game sadly does have its share of little problems, although these aren’t exactly throw-your-controller-in-a-rage-and-buy-a-new-window kind of annoyances, just minor niggles. One such problem is when you first jump into multiplayer, especially buying the game recently (as I did); almost everyone will have some perk or ‘specialization’ that means that they will be able to kill you far more easily than you would they. Although this can be hard to cope with, running someone over with a tank makes things slightly more bearable.  Another is that the singleplayer can feel a bit shallow at times, with there being just a tad too much non-stop action and not enough tense parts. However, as we said singleplayer isn’t where the most fun is at, so it’s a problem relatively ignorable.

Battlefield Bad Company 2 is a brilliant game, a coveted disk which should adorn any game collection. With an action-orientated singelplayer and an amazing multiplayer where everything from trees to houses can be demolished, BFBC2 is plainly fantastic. After all, this is probably the only situation where scrambling out of a collapsing building can be fun.