Matt Martin plays Wargaming’s strategy-lite tank sim and finds it a stripped back but welcoming free-to-play console game.
World of Tanks
– It’s free and it’s not constantly trying to sell you things.
– Online service is reliable, easy and quick.
– Plenty of scope to improve the game over time.
– It looks rough around the edges.
– This is a stripped-down version of the PC game.
– In-game communication is limited, holding back potential for strategy.
I’m cheap. If Microsoft is offering me a free game I’ll take a look, even if it does fall under the dreaded “free-to-play” umbrella. World of Tanks is the console version of the 70-million strong PC hit from Wargaming, a game I’ve always found fascinating without actually playing it, and it’s pleasing to see that this is a welcome and stripped-down introduction to a game of simplified strategy, tension and brutal destruction.
The game is tough and overwhelming to begin with. That’s partly because I initially approached it like a multiplayer console shooter which it clearly isn’t. I should have known better – before I knew it I was being brutalised by a group of Germans – and not in a good way.
Gameplay in World of Tanks stops dead when your number’s up. There’s no respawning here. Once your tank is reduced to scrap and flames it’s game over. You can stick around and watch the rest of the battle through the eyes of your comrades or sulk back to the garage. Any XP you earn in battle is awarded after the session is complete, so while you may not be able to respawn you can quit back to the garage and start a new battle with one of your other tanks very quickly.
Players are awarded Gold, Silver and XP during the game. XP is used to research upgrades to tanks, which can then be bought with your stock of Silver. Gold is bought with real-world money and can be spent on various upgrades and consumables, some of which are only available for real cash and some which can be bought with your normal Silver.
The currency and reward system appears over-complicated to begin with, but what it’s not is exploitative or aggressive. There are no insulting pop-ups or time gates here. You can buy or not buy. XP is generous for the beginner, even when you’re a clunky tank commander, and you’ll be able to upgrade and buy a new metallic beast quite quickly, allowing for enough experimentation in your play. The three starting tanks are a decent introduction to find a machine that works for you, and it’s clear Wargaming is using its PC knowledge to influence the design of the console game.
“The currency and reward system appears over-complicated to begin with, but what it’s not is exploitative or aggressive.”
I can’t tell you if this is a dumbed down version of World of Tanks but it’s certainly stripped-down, and it’s for the best. Once the simple tutorial is out the way it’s an almost instant online experience with 7 maps, 3 game modes and 15 players on either side.
Each battle can last for 15 minutes but with maps this size it doesn’t take long for a victor to emerge in the first five minutes. Strategically there are two methods that work for me. Find an early sniping position, hidden in the generous foliage, and preferably high up so I can scan the horizon for targets. There’s a lot of open terrain in the maps and it’s suicide to trundle across in a heavy war machine. When you break cover you need to have a back-up plan and a back-up plan for the back-up plan. If you panic in an enemy’s sights you will be be punished. If you stop dead on open ground it’s goodnight Vienna. In World of Tanks, camping is a crucial part of the game.
The other option is to sprint from cover to cover, which isn’t easy when you’re steering a lumbering hunk of metal. But if you can negotiate the terrain and out-maneuver your opponent you stand a good chance of leaving them a flaming wreck. World of Tanks is all about this risk and reward strategy, with players straddling thin lines between caution, bravery, luck and foolhardiness. During these moments it doesn’t feel like the armour-piercing rounds you buy with real money make much of a difference so it falls down and the gamble you’re willing to make.
The front of your tank is hard enough to take direct hits but the sides and back are weak, so you need to think about positioning when you move – shells have a better chance of penetrating when they hit directly and not glance off your armour at an angle. You also have a generous targeting reticule that highlights your chance of penetration, and it’s this that feels overpowered when you’re firing from long distances. Sometimes you can barely make out the shape of the tank you’re targeting let alone its angle. With the reticule taking care of what your eyes can’t see, it’s an unfair advantage.
There are other issues with the game. Visually it looks ugly, although that does suit the style of the game somewhat. I don’t imagine there was much beauty on a World War II battlefield. But elsewhere it seems a little undercooked – hiding in bushes is ridiculous when both ends of your tank is sticking out but the enemy can’t spot you, and the environmental destruction is weak. Being encouraged in the training mode that “tanks don’t go around objects, they go through them” would be a cooler statement if brick walls didn’t just crack open with a few wisps of smoke and a grumble.
Communication with the rest of your team is limited too. You can use in-game quick communication icons but if you’re not close or within eyesight of a comrade there’s little you can do to help out, and the party system only allows three players to work together – it’s not good enough. World of Tanks is about crushing your enemies quickly when a small window of opportunity opens up but you if you can’t talk with the entire division it loses the strength in numbers that 15 players implies.
“World of Tanks is all about this risk and reward strategy, with players straddling thin lines between caution, bravery, luck and foolhardiness.”
As a free game it’s highly recommended. It’s a different, welcome pace to your usual console experience, with slow strategy giving way to tension and an enormous sense of victory as your opponents burst into flames. In the same way I didn’t think I needed a WWII dogfighting game on the Xbox 360 until I played IL2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey, I didn’t think I needed a WWII arcade strategy hybrid until World of Tanks came along. If you’re cheap like me you can get a lot of out if without spending a penny and to be honest I’m happy to spend more time and a little cash in-game too, just as soon as I’ve figured out the best way to spend it. The main issue is whether this is truly free-to-play or not. If you subscribe to Xbox Live Gold you’re fine, but if you don’t you’re only given a 7-day trial. This game alone isn’t enough to make you subscribe to Gold, but it’s a nice extra incentive should you be considering it.
This is all early days for World of Tanks on consoles. If you follow the PC game at all you’ll see it’s updated regularly from a visual, tech, social and content perspective. If Microsoft’s approval process can be a little more lenient for Wargaming there’s every reason to see this basic game improve very quickly, keeping the game feeling fresh and alive. The success of free-to-play games on console has been patchy, but with Wargaming’s market-leading experience World of Tanks is perhaps Microsoft’s best chance yet of convincing us all that it’s a viable business and engaging enough game to come back to on home consoles.