World of Tanks Xbox 360 Edition – MMO Game Review
Passed Inspection: Free to play, destructible terrain, easy to get started, tons of tanks.
Failed Basic: Matchmaking can be uneven, far from photo-realistic graphics, feels like a “lite” version of the PC game
After making a blitzkrieg on the PC, Wargaming.net’s popular free-to-play online game World of Tanks has steamrolled to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console. The two games aren’t compatible and for that reason alone World of Tanks Xbox 360 Edition needs to be judged on its own merits—but, of course, some comparisons are going to be inescapable.
First we need to put the tanks in reverse. World of Tanks has never exactly been a tank simulation, nor is it meant to be one. It is an action game and in some ways bears resemblance to a car-racing franchise along the lines of the Need for Speed or Gran Turismo games. Much like those racing games this one includes the option to start in the garage, tweak and customize and then head out for the fun bits. But instead of players racing high-performance cars against one another, in World of Tanks players blast away at each other with, well … tanks. Thus, this is a wargame in the sense that you’re shooting at other tanks. There is no infantry to pose a threat with bazookas or panzerfausts—just tank-on-tank action.
Wargaming.net took this simple concept and created an online empire from it. Today some 78 million registered users climb into the virtual copula and charge into battle. Microsoft took notice along the way and called in Wargaming.net to roll out a version for the Xbox 360 video game console. This in itself is an interesting move given that Microsoft launched the new Xbox One console back in November, but Microsoft seems committed to the more than 80 million gamers on the aging Xbox 360. That system clearly isn’t going anywhere just yet.
Like its PC predecessor, World of Tanks Xbox 360 Edition is free to play! It is a downloadable game that requires no monthly subscription and only costs as much as the player is willing to spend. See, the key here is that this is a “freemium”-style game. You don’t have to buy anything, but if you want a better tank, better ammo and other improvements you can purchase them through what the industry considers to be “micro-transactions,” which run a couple of dollars. However, Wargming CEO Victor Kislky recently said that he expects that 75 percent of players won’t ever spend anything on the game.
There is a catch, of course. World of Tanks Xbox 360 Edition is free but it is only available for absolutely nothing for just seven days. To continue to play you need to have an Xbox Live Gold subscription, which costs about $60 a year. Microsoft hopes that there will be millions who will pony up roughly $5 a month to play World of Tanks for free.
Preparing for Battle
World of Tanks technically isn’t a shooter, except in the sense that you have a big gun and move around a map shooting at the enemy, but it still plays a bit like a third person shooter. The goal is to hit the other guy before he hits you. The exception is that once you get hit you’re out of that particular match. There is no respawning in World of Tanks, and while you can stick around and watch from the perspective of your burning hulk, most players probably won’t bother to see who wins in the end. Instead you have the option to head back to the garage and jump into another game. This is pretty much how the early games go—spawn, explore, die and try again as you learn the ropes.
The more experienced players dominate the battlefield and you might feel as if you’re going up against Heinz Guderian at times! World of Tanks isn’t as twitch-based as a typical shooter however, and strategy and tactics do play a big part. The mistake most rookies (including this reviewer) make is rushing into combat and hoping for the best. Sure, tanks were part of a blitzkrieg and breakthrough but rushing into action is rushing into certain destruction.
Just as in any shooter, terrain and cover need to be used to your advantage, but armored vehicles are different too. Side armor isn’t as tough as front armor, and rear armor is typically weaker still. Cover is extremely important because high explosive (HE) shells will end the game really fast.
At the start of the game players also begin with basic light tanks. That could turn off some players who have their hearts set on King Tigers, but to keep players coming back for more—and even be willing to pay for it—this game starts with the bare minimum and requires you to earn points to build up that garage of tanks.
The matchmaking is good, but not exceptional. While it is intended to create a level playing field, the truth is that there are times—especially early on—where some players will just have a disadvantage. Fortunately it is easy enough to try again … and again and again.
That determination pays off. In each match you earn XP (experience points) and some in-game currency. You receive these at the end of a match, whether you made it all the way through or not. However, you don’t have to wait around for it. If you get knocked out early you can return to the garage and enter another match. Your XP and money will come to you when the match ends.
To the Points
XP is earned by spotting enemy tanks, damaging (or even better, destroying) said enemy tanks, and by helping take over an enemy base. XP isn’t actually used to purchase upgrades however, but I’ll get to that in a bit. Instead it is used to research and thus unlock potential upgrades. When you max out a tech tree you then “open” a new tank, and this provides all sorts of endless possibilities. There are 10 tiers in each of these tech trees, and unlocking the first few can be fairly easy, but the later ones can be a real challenge and requires some determination. Fortunately, even just rolling forward and seeing an enemy tank will earn some XP—albeit not much.
In addition there are also two types of XP. One is the Tank XP, which is tied to the tank you were using; the other is Free XP and goes to a general pool for researching other upgrades. Thus, if you rely on one tank for a lot of action you can upgrade it, but still get Free XP, though at a slower rate, for those other upgrades.
Then there are the currencies, which come in gold and silver and these are tied to the XP. During matches you earn silver, which can be used to actually buy the researched upgrades back at the garage.
As previously noted, World of Tanks also falls into the “freemium” category, so the premium goodies come into play only with the gold, which is like silver but can be bought with real-world money. Some upgrades can only be bought with gold but these are designed to be few in number and include ammo with better penetration and some boosts that allow you to gain more XP and silver per match. As Xbox Live doesn’t allow free games to charge a subscription this is essentially a round-about way for more hardcore players to gain a further edge. It unfortunately could unbalance the game, but as it is possible to only take on equally leveled opponents most players shouldn’t even encounter this as a serious problem.
Masses of Tanks
In addition, only a handful of tanks can actually be purchased through gold (i.e., using real money), and the game has so many tanks that can be unlocked through continued gameplay that it seems unnecessary to actually have to buy one. In fact, perhaps the only reason to buy one is if suddenly you have a collection of tanks and just can’t live without what is offered via purchase with gold.
That is a problem most newbies won’t have to worry about.
The three starting light tanks are enough to get you started, but most players will want to move to bigger and arguably much better tanks quickly. As with the PC version, tanks come in three varieties including light, medium and heavy, and the game’s designers have taken a bit of liberty to ensure that the game balances realism with fun. (See “Interview with ‘The Chieftain’ Nicholas Moran, Military Specialist for ‘World of Tanks.’” ) In that regard light tanks tend to have speed, while medium tanks can take a hit or two but are slower, and heavy tanks are slow but heavy hitting. Then there are the Tank Destroyers, which are the game’s lumbering snipers, and the mechanized Artillery that can bombard from a distance.
Using proper strategy can allow a light tank to survive against the heavier tanks, but trying to go up against a heavy tank with a light tank is not what most would call a fair fight—or a good idea.
The game offers tanks from the United States, Great Britain and Germany. We can hope for the same level of slow upgrades that came with the PC version, so those wishing for a French Char-B (Really, someone might want one!) or a Soviet T-34 will likely have the wish fulfilled. Although this is considered a WWII game it will likely follow the course of World of Tanks on the PC and offer tanks from the 1930s through the Korean War era.
World of Tanks currently offers seven maps and three game modes. Matches are timed to last a maximum of 15 minutes with 15 players per side. The most popular of the three game-play modes is the Standard, which is a basic capture-and-hold of key points around the map. Encounter involves a neutral base that must be taken and held, and the Assault mode has one team holding a base and defending it. Even these modes seldom go for 15 minutes. While a match can be won in the Assault mode by taking the enemy base, most matches still end when one team has been annihilated.
The Xbox 360 version of World of Tanks offers seven maps that include a variety of terrain. All are pretty much what tankers would hope for, with a mix of elevation and just enough cover. In this regard the designers created a true perfect-world setting that provides a mix of cover and openness, whether it is the desert setting of Sand River or the snow-covered Mountain Pass. This is, after all, a game, not a military training simulation. The only big complaint is that some cover is simply too good. Tanks hidden in brush can all but disappear from view. You have been warned.
World of Tanks isn’t going to win any prizes for the most realistic-looking game, however. The graphics haven’t improved from the PC version, so on larger screen TVs they look cartoonish at times. Again, this isn’t a simulation, but it hardly compares to some of the visuals you’d see in other console games on an HDTV.
The other major complaint is that from the garage there is no option to choose a game to join. Instead players are just dropped into a battle at random, and the platoon system is limited to just three tanks, which makes teamwork very difficult to nearly impossible. As a result, games can range from organized chaos to downright anarchy at times, but fun nonetheless! Even after repeatedly being blown apart I found myself going back for more.
Armchair General Score: 80%
About the Author
Peter Suciu has been collecting militaria and playing military simulations since he was a child. He’s been reviewing computer games for nearly 20 years, and when he’s not waging battle from his desktop he is a business reporter for several magazines and websites. His work has appeared on CNBC.com, Fortune.com and Forbes. He also collects military helmets and runs the MilitarySunHelmets.com website.