Wargaming in 2017: a new graphics engine for World of Tanks, better matchmaking, new games

There are not many games that can attract 21,000 visitors to an exhibition centre in Moscow in December. Temperatures drop as low as minus 22 degrees centigrade, fresh snow becomes ice on roads and pavements and strong winds add further to the dominant air of hostility. With 110 million registered users, however, World of Tanks has enough followers to overcome the elements.

The first annual Wargaming Fest, held in the Russian capital, managed not only to entice people out of their beds into an exhibition centre that looks like a Soviet-era testing facility of dubious intent, it racked up over 2 million (warmer) viewers via livestream. Its visibility in the North American and Western European markets might not be as overt as the likes of Counter-Strike, DOTA 2 or Battlefield, but make no mistake: World of Tanks is one of the most successful games of the modern era.

Belarusian publisher Wargaming is using Wargaming Fest as a means to both announce new updates and future plans, as well as an excuse to throw a party. In between information-laden press conferences and interviews were performances by chart-topping Russian acts, ranging from to pop to rock to hip-hop, that would feel more relevant at a music festival than a game convention. The show was also utilised as the staging post for the final of the World of Tanks Champions Rumble and its $80,000 first prize—won by Tornado Energy. The victory qualifies them for the World of Tanks Grand Finals in Moscow later this year.

The biggest announcement promised a new game engine for World of Tanks later in 2017, designed to bring significant visual improvements. All of the currently available maps will benefit from a new lighting model that more accurately represents light reflection and shadows. This is coupled with a redesigned water system that interacts noticeably more precisely with your tank as you drive through shallow rivers and large puddles.

These fine details such as these are accompanied by an overall increase in fidelity, Wargaming wants to make World of Tanks a genuine HD game that can take better advantage of today’s PCs and bring it level with its competition. World of Tanks has taken great strides forwards since it first launched in 2010, but the maps could use a rework. This kind of update has been a long time coming.

Also promised this year is a reworked matchmaking system to make finding games a fairer and faster process. Matchmaking has long been one of the greatest causes of friction between Wargaming and World of Tanks players, the perception being that the formation of teams of individual players doesn’t fairly take into account the power and ability of tanks used by each side. If Wargaming can fix the problem then it should lead to fewer new players quitting the game prematurely due to be being matched against vastly superior opponents.

Attracting new players seems to be a key goal of 2017, embodied in the announcement of third person special forces  game, Caliber. No in-game footage is available at this point, but the Russian live action teaser trailer hints at this being Wargaming’s attempt to muscle in on the SWAT/special forces territory dominated by Counter-Strike.

Weapon customisation features heavily in the trailer, with everything from light machine guns to assault rifles undergoing changes of scope, grips and other accessories. Gadgets shown include special helmet visors and night vision cameras, alongside grenades and knifes. Caliber is going to be free-to-play and is being developed by Russian developer 1C Game Studios, best known for the IL-2 Sturmovik combat flight sim series.

Working alongside other studios is the other big theme of Wargaming’s 2017 plans. Creative Assembly’s Total War: Arena comes under the publisher’s distribution banner—the first game to be released on the new Wagaming Alliance platform. CA publisher Sega has struck a deal, hoping to leverage Wargaming's presence and player base to bring more people into Arena. The partnership with Wargaming makes sense on a technical level, too. Large-scale matchmaking is an important aspect of Arena, a 10 vs. 10 RTS. Arena is currently without a release date. However, closed alpha testing occurs fairly regularly.

The Arena arrangement is perhaps the clearest sign yet that Wargaming is seeking to expand its appeal across the world and looking to cement its presence as firmly across Western Europe as it has done in the East. Wargaming Fest is just the start of an effort to push outwards from World of Tanks, release new games, establish fresh publishing partnerships. If all goes to plan, there could be another huge Wargaming Fest to see out the year at the end of 2017.