The arena of free-to-play(F2P) games is a fairly new one for me. I find that I lose interest – the fact that I haven’t had to shell out my hard-earned cash means that I don’t perceive loss of value in walking away from them. I believe it may be this very thing that also lets me carry on with my Steam backlog of shame – but I digress.
I’ve never played World of Tanks, though I shared a flat with several GT contributors during E3 2013 who were very much into the PC version, and they attended their E3 booth. With that much interest involved on the team, I moved on to other things thinking it would simply be something I didn’t need to concern myself with.
All of that changed when I was tapped to play and write up a preview of the upcoming F2P XBL version (which at the time of writing is still in beta), and my appreciation for their efforts have gone up immensely. That isn’t to say they’ve converted me, or that I’ll be spending every waking hour working to build enough experience to unlock the next tier tanks – but I certainly did enjoy my time.
The next big thing, for me, was the strategy. I expect map knowledge to make a real difference in the FPS genre, and this seemed like I was driving an invincible shell of metal and shell-launching death. Yeah, I was, but only to the buildings and shrubs – everyone else also had these war machines. Quickly I learned that hiding and gaining advantage is more about placement and flanking than full-on assaults. This element was punctuated after an artificial inflation of my wealth (so I wasn’t restricted to simply giving impressions of the first step on a very tall ladder).
I had asked several veterans what I should do to really get into the game, and the advice I got time and time again was to simply drive around and learn the maps. Tank warfare is all about having the right ground, the escape routes and placement. There is no bunny-hopping folks – or at least, for those who put the time and effort into the game, it gets weeded out quickly.
There were a couple of minor issues I ran into while playing the game – the beta only includes a random match-making and you can’t even select the type of game. Sometimes I would wait upwards of three-to-four minutes to get into a match. Granted I wasn’t playing at peak hours, and World of Tanks is still in beta, but if the interest in the game is low, the game could become a ghost town. The free aspect should influence that though – I can’t see this happening for a very long time.
The skill tree is deep, complex and key to progressing in World of Tanks. I spent quite some time investigating branching upgrades – what would I need to get an M4, for instance? Well, you progress from left to right on the research section, and the swim lanes interconnect. Just because you own the vehicle to the left does not mean you can buy the next one – no, you will need to go into the current tank and research one or more technologies to the get to the next tier. This uses up experience (represented as a silver star)- and that’s a great idea. You don’t even need to buy the upgrades with your silver – simply knowing them unlocks the next level.
The next issue is the interface – not all vehicles are clearly marked as to which class they belong to, nor are there any glamour shots to appreciate the differences before you buy them. Moreover, the descriptive text is shoved to the side rather than allowing us to put it front-and-center so we can appreciate the research that went into this – and that also goes for the upgrade steps. All cosmetic, and not one of them a deal-breaker, but since we’re talking about a beta product these are elements they could address to make the game more approachable.
Controls and gameplay are rock-solid, and the game looks really good for a free-to-play title. There isn’t a whole lot of competition in either the tank-sim genre or even the F2P arena on Xbox Live, and Wargaming has done a masterful job of creating an approachable and scalable experience to Xbox Live gamers. With a few tweaks to the user interface, along with more content (I believe that British tanks will be available in the final product) they’re right on track for a hit release.