Hopefully you have an idea of what to expect. You've chosen a "line" of tanks - preferably one with few frustrating lemons in the tier 4-7 bracket you'll spend the most time in. By sticking with only one or two nations (Russia or USA, recommended) you can unlock tanks and gear faster. A recap:
Heavy. Lots of damage. Slow moving, tough. Can take enemies head on. Forgiving for newbies.
Recommended: Russia, USA
Tank Destroyer. Be a sneaky ninja - with a giant cannon. But you're usually as well armoured as a Coke can.
Recommended: USA, Germany, Russia
Medium. Jack of all trades. Decent gun, some armour, speed good for flanking.
Recommended: Britain, Russia
Light. Flimsy, fast. Spends a lot of time birdwatching from bushes. Very unforgiving. Good for hunting arty.
SPG (Artillery). Sit, stare at map, lob shells. Not really a tank.
Recommended: None. Get one (any nation) so you understand how they work/how to avoid them.
However, not every tank follow the rules. An ELC light plays more like a superfast TD. A Matilda is a medium that is really a slow, well-armoured heavy. An AMX is a light - but has good armour and is slow - it's more like a heavy. The AT2 tank destroyer has a tiny gun but is almost invulnerable in a head on assault.
How do you do well? Hurt enemy tanks!Basically, do damage to the enemies. If you do more damage to the enemy than the HP you have on your vehicle, you are doing well. Whilst staying alive for longer helps you do damage (good), hiding in a corner and doing 0 damage hurts your team. Don't yolo out across the middle of the map, but if you're not getting much damage you need to be more aggressive. Damage earns you XP. Damage makes you win.
Useful tip: Download XVMIt's a useful mod that gives useful info. It shows who are good/bad players (which means you can spectate the good ones after you die and learn). It also shows you your view range on the minimap, and the last known location of enemy tanks. Very useful. Simply download it and drop it in the WoT folder in your C Drive.
OptionsTurn off grass and extra effects in sniper mode to make it easier to see. Reduce shadow, water and flora sliders until you have 30+fps. Your CPU not your videocard tends to limit performance.
I turn my overall sound settings right down, so if friends on Teamspeak or Vent don't get drowned out by tank noises. Whilst there is in-game VOIP for platoon-mates, it isn't good quality.
You can play round with reticules and markers. I tend to turn on all enemy icons (tier, model, player, health bar) so I can make more informed decisions.
Tank Weapons & EquipmentI'm not going to talk about guns, and armour etc as it is pretty self explanatory. The lower the dispersion and aim time scores, the more accurate the gun. Basically, you want to avoid using the stock weapons and engines in most cases. In early levels you unlock stuff fast. But in later levels you use free XP to avoid having to "grind" using weak weapons and gear. Save your free XP for weapons/engines etc at Tier 4-5+ - do not spend free XP to unlock tanks!
ConsumablesDefault loadout is: small first aid kit, a first aid kit, and a small fire extinguisher. These will be hotkeyed from buttons 4-6. Learn them, and keep them the same for each tank, so you can quickly repair your tracks or put out a fire in battle.
ModulesThere are very useful modules - a Gun Rammer adds 10% dps (almost mandatory on Tier 5+ tanks); Binocs and Camo nets are great for Light Tanks and TDs, and Repair Kits are useful to Heavies. these three are great as you can freely shift them between tanks. Only buy them on a special. Vents are a great all-round addition. Right now modules are hideously expensive. We'll revisit them later.
AmmoAP is normal ammo. Most of your ammo is AP.
HEAT/APCR ("gold ammo") is very expensive but penetrates more armour. Carry 5 or so rounds for emergencies.
HE rounds rarely penetrate, but damage modules and crew and do massive damage to lightly armoured vehicles. I usually carry a couple for re-setting cap.
Buttons 1-3 swaps ammo types in game.
If you right click on crew, you can set crew skills and perks.
The best commander skill is "Sixth Sense"* - it tells you when you are spotted by enemies.
For TDs and Lights, "Camo" is a good skill. Most of my crew train this as their first skill.
For Heavies, I like "Repairs" as a good skill for your crew.
Mediums can vary. Snap shot (gunner) and driver skills (smooth ride etc) are as useful as camo.
*Useful tip: It's actually better to train a skill like camo and reset it to 6th Sense when it gets to 100%
Useful ButtonsENTER to chat. Once you type, press TAB to cycle between channels. Highlight an enemy tank and press T to request fire on it. Change the size of your minimap with the = and - keys. Print Screen takes screenshots. With machineguns, C reloads your clip.
Protip: Hold down Right Mouse to freely look around without swivelling your turret or your tank around like a Nigel.
PlatoonsPlay with friends. You can Ctrl+Right Click on a players name in-game to add them as a friend (or block or report them, for that matter). You can create platoons on the fly in-game, or from your contacts/friends list on the Garage screen.
Warning about Tiers: Playing with friends over comms is great and improves your chance of victory. HOWEVER if you pair up the wrong tanks, it can lead to frustration. Most players know not to mix tanks of different Tiers - i.e. a Tier 2 tank in a Tier 5 game is suicide.
However it is not evident to new players: Not all tank classes of a "Tier" are equal.
Lights and Artillery are not "ranked" the same as Mediums, TDs or Heavies, and often face much tougher opponents. A Tier 5 Chaffee and a Tier 5 Sherman are NOT equals. The Chaffee will drag the Sherman into Tier 8 games and almost guarantee both will be bottom tier (i.e. worst tanks in the game). A better match for the Sherman would be the Tier 4 M5 Stuart which sees similar opponents.
Here is a precise list.
Rule of thumb: Count artillery or lights as 1-2 Tiers higher than they say on the box. In any case, as scouts and arty are kinda solo roles, it's best to platoon with heavies, mediums or TDs.
No Auto Aim.Right click is auto aim. DO NOT USE IT*
(-) It is far less accurate
(-) You cannot aim at weak points
(-) It does not "lead" tanks and thus misses deflection shots on moving vehicles
(*) There IS a time to use it. Usually, it's when you are in a fast tank with a rapid fire gun, engaging a slow/stationary target. Right click to lock the target, then you can concentrate on driving behind it/around it as it tries desperately to track you with its turret.
HUD/MiniMapIt's pretty self explanatory. However pressing Ctrl will allow you to mouse over the minimap and click to "flash" a square of the map - to draw your team mates attention to a sneak attack, for example. If you accidentally lose your HUD, V gets it back.
Camouflage or: I'm getting sniped by invisible tanks! Hacks!The view range of a tank depends on its own view range and the camo of the enemy tank.
There are very useful modules (Binocs, Camo Net, Coated Optics) which improve this a lot, but at low tiers you rarely see them. It's pretty commonsense:
Smaller tanks (lights, TDs) have better camo. Big tanks (heavies) are easily spotted. Lights (scouts) have the best spotting range.
Firing your gun massively reduces your camo for several seconds. Sitting still improves it (especially if you have Binocs and Camo Net) - crashing around knocking over trees doesn't help. If your crew have the Camo skill, it helps a lot.
Here's an old but useful video. Watch it.
If you prefer words and pictures, voila.
Armour or: Why Can't I damage the Enemy?!! This is BS!!Your crosshair shows how likely your shell will penetrate (green = yes, yellow = maybe, red = no)but it's more complicated than that.
Sloping armour is much more powerful. So if you point the corner of your tank's hull at the enemy tank, you effectively have about double the armour* than if you face them head on (*because maths.)
This is called angling.
Most times (but not always) tanks have better turret armour. So sitting on a reverse slope (exposing only your tougher turret to shoot) is good. This is called hulldown. American tanks in particular shine at this tactic.
A more advanced skill is called sidescraping. This is when you reverse away from cover, showing your (weaker) side armour at such an extreme angle it almost automatically bounces. Many players never learn this.
Most players quickly learn to "peek-a-boom" - rolling out of cover, taking a shot, then rolling back. However, there are two things to consider (a) do you have a bigger gun/more HP (so you can win if you "trade" shots and (b) if you are side on, and they are angled head on, you may bounce your shot.Russian heavies are usually good at this.
Another video guide. This time on armour.
Here's the word-and-pics version.
Moving On: When do I move up the tiers?Many people say "only when you have totally mastered every component, and played hundreds of games in a tank etc, etc." Screw them. You move on when you want.
Tier 1, pretty much all guns penetrate, so you don't learn much about armour. After about 20 games, you lose your "preferential matchmaking" and get tossed into harder games. Maps are boring.
Tier 2 is where the beginner tanks branch out. You get your first artillery (SPG) and tank destroyers. It's a good transition tier to hang out in, and try out different tank styles.
Tier 3 is pretty awful. You can feel helpless when you face Tier 5s which you may only penetrate from the side or behind. I'd zip through this tier as fast as possible.
Tier 4 is where you first notice the grind. The Matilda, T28, tank destroyers and lights are OK, but the rest are pretty bad for the Tier 5 games you'll inevitably find yourself in.
Tier 5+ hooray, you've arrived! A decent range of good tanks and lots of maps.
Free XPDo not use this to unlock tanks. Just don't. You use free XP to unlock weapons and modules so you aren't stuck with a stock tank.
It annoys me to see a stock tank in a game (yes, there is a symbol that shows you are stock - we will know). It shows the player is an impatient me-me kid who wanted a new tank right now but was too stupid to realize he has now doomed himself (and his luckless team mates) to dozens of games with a sub-optimal "crippled" tank - with the weakest weapons and a sluggish engine.
Save your XP to unlock modules. Playing a stock tank is painful, you will earn less XP, and you will lose more. And so will your team mates.
Crew & RetrainingYou very nicely get 100% crew for your starter tanks, but any new crew are either 50% or pay 20,000 silver and buy trained crew (75%). Good crew are important - although "50%" crew don't really halve your speed, rate of fire etc - they do reduce it significantly (A 50% crew actually has about 80% of the ability of a fully-trained crew)
If you retrain crew from another tank, you lose a big chunk of that skill. A retained crew is 80%, 90% or 100% as good as he was on the last tank, depending on what you are willing to pay.
Crew training is exponential (diminishing returns) - it's easy to train from 50% to 75% = but takes ages to train from 90% to 100%. 85% is about half-way to 100%. 90% skill is only about 2/3rds the way to 100%.
Personally, I wouldn't retrain a 100% crew for another tank until you have Tier 5 or higher tanks. The crew from Tiers 1-4 simply aren't in the vehicle long enough to make it worthwhile.
I'd just stick your Tier 1 crews into your Tier 2s without retraining them (they're still 75% - better than the 50% freebies you'd get ).
Where possible, I'd tend to save money and use free 50% "Rapid Courses" crews. The only time I'd buy a 75% Regimental Training crew for 20k is for the Commander - he adds a percentage of his skill to all crew members. I'd also consider buying a 75% trained gunner for some tanks - as doing more damage gains you XP faster.
Spending Real MoneyNo "free to play" game is truly free. You need it for Garage Slots beyond the 6 or so tanks slots you start with. The smallest amount of gold you buy ($8) buys about 4 garage slots - or 8 if you were patient and got them on special.
I want to learn more! I want to get guid!This is a great place to start. It explains the mechanics (especially camo and armour) in more detail.
For advanced gameplay, I recommend Quickbaby. I also enjoy The Mighty Jingles.
I used Lert's Guide to learn a lot about a range of topics covered in this post. His list of "Donts" for beginners is very useful and should be mandatory reading. Lert's Guide => Recommended Reading.
I also like stats. WoT has lots of stats. Some useful, some not. Some make your electronic penis bigger. A few useful sites are WoTLabs, Noobmeter, Want to know what the best tank is? vbAddict has the answers. There is the official wiki but like all wikis I'm not 100% sure how accurate everything is.