Although it has become the accepted term to describe games like World of Tanks, the phrase “free to play” isn’t entirely accurate. You may have heard us say that before, and you will likely hear us say it again, because there is an important distinction between a game that doesn’t cost you anything to play and one that allows you to pay what you want. For games like World of Tanks, a better description would be the latter option: “choose what you want to pay.” It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but it is more apt.
Wargaming.net’s popular PC title makes the transition to the console market via the Xbox 360, bringing along the philosophy that has earned the game 65 million registered users around the world. It remains to be seen if Xbox audiences will embrace World of Tanks with the same gusto as their PC counterparts, but we’ll find out later this year when the game becomes available on Microsoft’s current-gen system. For now though, we put some time into the beta and left with an idea of what to expect.
Roll out. World of Tanks is built around getting you into the action quickly. There is no narrative or storyline; instead it is a series of PvP combat experiences. More game modes will be available at launch, but for the beta you can jump right into a 15v15 battle with other players. There are 10 tiers of tanks to choose from, although you need to unlock them as you play. The game looks at the class of your chosen tank – from the lowly WWI era tanks that would probably lose in a head-to-head matchup against a Humvee, to the top of the line tanks (at the time) introduced shortly after WWII – and pairs tiers to make the competition as balanced as possible.
A tier one tank has no chance against a tier 10 tank. None at all. In the final release you probably won’t see a game that allows such a matchup to happen, but your tier one may encounter may offer multiple tier 5-7 tanks, then just a few tier 8-10. A tier five tank has an extremely tough time against a 10, but two tier five tanks stand a good chance of winning. Three, and the top-tier tank becomes the underdog. Knowing the competition and your own team’s makeup is just as important as having a fully upgraded tank.
Total annihilation. There are two ways to win a World of Tanks match: Destroy the opposing team down to the last person, or capture their base by occupying a pre-determined region and remaining there while a bar fills up. When you destroy a tank, that player has the choice to back out of the game and lose the end of match points they would earn for staying until the end, or staying and observing in a spectator mode. If you do choose to back out, you have the option of joining a different game right away, but you won’t be able to use the recently destroyed tank until after your previous match is finished. Matches can last 15 minutes, so it is often worth the sacrifice if you are destroyed early. It also means you may want to have a few tanks ready to switch to.
The cost. While it’s technically true that World of Tanks allows you to upgrade tanks and purchase new ones without paying a thing, to do so requires an almost pathological aversion to spending money. As you play you earn experience, which is needed to unlock upgrades and tanks for purchase. As you level up you also earn gold and silver, which are different forms of currency. Purchasing gold is not currently an option in the beta, but it will play a significant role in the final version.
You earn silver at a much faster rate than gold, which is a tacit encouragement to consider buying gold with real money when you see items for purchase that only accept gold. There are upgrades and tanks you can purchase easily enough with silver alone, but using gold to purchase a more powerful tank is a shortcut that competitive players will be hard pressed to ignore. With gold you can also purchase limited time experience bonuses that level you up and earn you currency at a faster rate. It is a different way to approach gaming than most console gamers are used to. In the end though, you still end up paying for your gaming, but you choose how and where to allot that money, and it will still likely cost you less than most.
Tank nation. World of Tanks 40 tanks, and 60 will be available in the final edition. The beta features tanks from the U.S. and Germany, and more will be available at launch and after. Each nation has multiple tanks in each of the 10 tiers, and each tank has its own quirks, but a tier one tank in one nation is going to be equivalent to a tier one tank in another. Once you have your tank and begin the match, the game is straightforward enough to control.
You use the left trigger to enter a sniper mode and the right to fire. The right analog controls the turret while the left controls movement; once you have an enemy in your sights you can hit right bumper to lock the turret on them, allowing you to stay mobile. There is a brief cooldown period between each shot fires, and a firing circle will appear when you are locked on to something. Once it contracts completely, your shot will be at its most powerful. Hitting a tank on the front is mostly ineffective, and trading shots head-to-head will simply favor the better armored tank. Flanking opponents and hitting them in the back deals massive damage, while striking them on their side treads can immobilize them. Purchasing more powerful ammo between rounds also makes a difference.
Angry cat and iron mouse. Shells have a physics to consider, and they will sink after being fired. Staying stationary gives opponents time to find their range, which makes it necessary to constantly be on the move – especially in the early levels when you have a weak tank. If you are attacking a tank that is a higher level, your best option is to help other teammates. This is a little counterintuitive to most gamers that typically run headfirst into a firefight, but it adds some depth to the game and forces you to think strategically. Whether or not you can get behind this idea is the difference in whether or not you will enjoy World of Tanks.
Nothing to see here. The 360 version of World of Tanks represents a slight visual downgrade from its PC counterpart, but the game has never been the most graphically impressive to begin with. It’s serviceable, but the majority of environments are basic in their nature by design. Fields with the odd house are a common map element, but neither offer any real strategic advantage. Urban areas use the environment more, but the beta has a limited selection. There is variety in the layout with hills and water hazards, but the graphical fidelity was never a huge emphasis for the series. It doesn’t look bad by any means, but the visuals won’t impress anyone.
World of Tanks offers addicting gameplay that is simple to pick up, but deep enough to keep people playing. There is a reason this game has 65 million registered players around the world. This weekend the beta will open to everyone (you can sign up here), so console gamers will be able to decide if the “free-to-play” model is form them or not.