Here is my final evaluation of the 121 test drive:
Chinese Monster: The 121
So being a kind of semi proffessional tank driver, I was invited to a private showroom to view the soon-to-be-released line of Chinese vehicles. I drive a Chinese knock-off T-54 already, and am very happy with it, although I think it was too expensive.
I spent most of the time looking at the top of the line tank: the tier X 121 Medium. It’s not just because of Elitism; I’ve actually been curious about this Chinese monster for a long time.
And when I say “monster”, I mean of course the 122 mm 60-122TG.
I am not a huge fan of HEAT rounds; I think they are finnicky and they often let me down. Unreliable, I feel like. But I kind of don’t mind the AP/HEAT/HE setup on higher caliber guns. It makes sense; I just think it’s slightly boring.
The Chuan bei-472 AP has 245 mm of penetration; that’s not stellar for a Medium tank, but it gets the job done, and you can max roll for 500 damage. 400 will be your average, and the Sha bao-472 HE rounds can slam people for over 600 on a good day with almost 70 pen. The cheater HEAT rounds have almost the same alpha as a regular Medium tank 10.5, and will average 290 penetration. Again, workable but not stellar.
So yeah. The gun is awe-inspiring. It doesn’t point down a lot, but it sure packs a punch. What about the rest of the tank?
I guess to house the massive gun they just built a T-54, only bigger. Or rather a Type 59, only bigger. The hull is the same thickness as the tier IX Russian except the rear armour which has been strengthened, but it’s one size larger and has bigger tracks and road wheels. The turret is the classic T-54 shape with the two scallops on top, but more rounded, and the front is 240 mm thick.
I have to say it looks very impressive. It’s not a very complicated desigh; it has relatively clean lines, and it just looks heavy-duty. Imposing. Powerful. Beautiful? Maybe. In that utilitarian way, perhaps.
Surprisingly, the thing doesn’t have a lot of horsepower; just under 700. Even more surprisingly, it feels like it has a lot more; the ground resistance is fantastic and the thing literally turns on a dime.
The big turret turns faster than I expected too, and overall the thing feels really agile for such a big tank. The gun depression is terrible, but I didn’t really mind all that much. Getting the controls just right on the unfamiliar test account was a bigger problem; I kept missing the buttons!
The more I drove around in the 121, the more comfortable I felt in it. Sure, it’s big, and it feels a bit sluggish. If I just wanted a tier X Medium tank, I should prolly get an Object 140 instead. But it’s a great drive, I really like it. It’s a heavy Medium tank; a hull down high alpha beast. And it’s pretty quick once it gets going, mine did 67 km/h down a slope and cruised at 50 no problem.
What made me interested in the 121 in the first place is the fact it’s different from all the other tier X Medium tanks in the game, and I have to say in that respect I’m not disappointed. I thought it was going to be a T-62A with a bigger gun, but it’s not. It’s something else. It’s a huge T-54 with a massive turret and a long barrel 122 mm that’s made for shooting at Heavy tanks.
So it’s not a Sports tank. It’s more of a sports utility vehicle. A massive touring tank for people who still suspect bigger might be better after all. What kind of person might want to drive one?
Well, if you are interested in top tier Medium tanks, this one really sticks out. If you like flanking and relocating and fighting at intermediate range, then that is pretty much what the 121 is all about. The higher alpha gives it a different rhythm from all the 10.5 L7 clone carrying Western designs, so if you are into playstyle more than results, look no futher. Nothing else is going to drive like this one.
I think you need to be more aware than skilled to play it successfully. Choosing solid positions and trying to predict your enemies movements so you can maximise your strengths. It’s not going to be rocket science; you just need to go through the motions carefully, time your reloads, use the armour, and build your damage over the whole game.
It’s like a work vehicle you drive for enjoyment. A slightly bigger tank than you, strictly speaking, actually need.
The more I look at it, the more I start feeling like I might be one of those people. It’s not a sinking feeling or vertigo, it’s a sense of anticipation and excitement. It’s a brutal-looking tank, and I have the distinct feeling it’s going to look really, really good in my garage next to my sunday-driver sports tanks and hotrod TDs.
Okay, but what about actually owning one? One thing that strikes me is the thing is really expensive to maintain. I guess it burns a lot of fuel lugging around that big gun, and as I tend to blow adrenaline and both kits every game, I’m not exactly being economical.
But it’s a tier X. It’s not supposed to be making credits anyway, that’s not why you would drive it. It burns through credits pretty fast though, that may be a concern for you if you’re on a budget.
The grind isn’t likely to be very hard. You will blow through the first six tanks with ease, and then it’s time to learn the specifics of Chinese Medium gameplay. A lot of this you’ll be doing with 100 mm guns, so basic Russian Medium tank playstyles should work fine.
All modules were unlocked already on the showroom tanks, so I don’t know how hard the grind will be; there are a lot of modules, but it’s probably not as complicated as it looks. I’m sure even newer players will be able to go through it without too much trouble.
So yeah. Not a lot to it, really. I think it’s pretty easy to picture what this tank is all about, and if you think that sounds like an interesting proposition, the 121 isn’t going to disappoint you. All you have to do is decide if you want to go Big or go home.
For people of a slightly less philosophical bent, there might be two reasons to consider going Chinese. One is if you like your Medium tanks, but want a slightly bigger stick to beat on your enemies with. You want to lob 122 mm Chuan bei at peoples faces instead of finnicky 105 mm APCR. The other is if you like your Heavy tanks, but feel their limited mobility is holding you back. The heavy Medium will be familiar to you with its Heavy tank gun, and you will be able to trade 400 alpha shots the way you are used to.
I can tell you I walked out of that showroom with the decision already made. I think the 121 is glorious, and I love the way it drives and the playstyle. Also I am a Medium driver at heart, and this one brings a breath of fresh air; a new twist on a familiar concept. Credits and spare parts are lined up. I am completely sold on it.
But the showroom is still open, so I thought I’d make use of the opportunity and drive a few more games against other testers to see if I can learn something else.
I chose one of the standard paintjobs, and ran a few standard battles, mostly 5 v 5 action. I got hit by a few death stars and got completely wrecked, got outtraded when hull down, and blew a few shots in close brawls, but overall the armour feels pretty reliable. I think you will soon pick up where the bounces happen, and as the thing has such straight lines, angling it is going to be a breeze after a while.
Some of my colleagues said the gun depression felt disappointing, but I wonder if that may not be a slight case of failure of imagination. I don’t mean to be disrespectful saying that, I just think the 121 is a pretty straightforward vehicle, and it’s not hard to imagine how you would want to drive it. It has the same gun depression the T-62A does, so things aren’t any worse than that.
Like the Beast from the Steppes, the 121 is a bit more fragile than you think it is; especially the hull. The tiny turning circle means it manouvers extremely well at low speeds and in tight places, and it retains quite a bit of speed in these situations. I never felt like the thing was underpowered or wasn’t able to go where I wanted it to go. Driving around in the mud pit on Canals earlier had really impressed me, and although it’s not as quick as a Russian sports prototype, that’s a big tank to be moving around as fast as it does, and that’s a big gun to be popping up on peoples flanks or at their rear.
It’s kind of hard to judge how competitive a tank is going to be in regular battles, but after running a few games I felt fairly confident. The tank has both armout, mobility and firepower; I don’t really see how it can fail. The loaner was kitted out with all nine slots I think, and it does make a lot of sense to throw everything you have at the 121 in terms of resources, but even so I think the plenty strong. It does have a few distinct limitations; longer reload and bad gun depression most noticeably, but I found these fairly easy to work around. On the flip side, when I was able to dictate the terms of the engagement, its strengths didn’t let me down.
Most of all, bombing around in a huge Type 59 with a Heavy tank turret is just about the most fun I’ve had in a Medium tank in a long while. That, really, is my big takeaway.
I was sad to leave the big panther-pink 121 behind, but I’ve already ordered one of my very own, in a more muted colourway. Even if the stats are adjusted slightly, I’m not going to be disappointed, because that’s not going to change what the tank is, and it’s the whole idea behind the 121 that sold me on it. It’s a heavy Medium tank. I think that’s a fantastic idea. It’s that simple.
I think if you get the idea behind the high tier Chinese Mediums, you are not going to be disappointed by the 121 either. It is pretty much exactly what it looks like, once you figure out what it is you are looking at. It drives the way you would imagine it does when you hear about it, and whatever expectations that gives you will most likely be met.
If you think Heavy tank firepower on a Medium sounds boring, then yeah; that is pretty much all you are getting. Nothing more to see, really. If you think it sounds kind of cool, then yeah, it is kind of cool. It’s not really that special, but it’s a novel idea, and it is very well executed. The tanks work exactly like you think they will, they’re not hard to learn how to drive, and they are a lot of fun when you pull it off.
Farewell, you beautiful panther-pink Beast!