The concept of free-to-play (or “freemium” as the kids like to call it) video games will be alien to those who have primarily been doing their gaming on consoles. It’s an interesting model from PC gaming that has only recently made its way to consoles. With current online trends and the popularity of digital distribution, there’s a new direction for console gaming, and we may soon be seeing more games adapt to the free-to-play model. It’s already happening with console games like Tekken Revolution and the recently launched free-to-play Steel Diver sequel.
One of the more popular free-to-play massively multiplayer online games in recent times has been World of Tanks. The game has been making waves on the Master Race gaming scene for quite some time now, and most accounts of it have been rather positive. The game is now available on the Xbox 360 as World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition. It follows the same free-to-play model — of course, you’ll need an Xbox Live Gold subscription to play, but surely you’re used to that by now — with the game fully optimized for the Xbox 360.
When you first get into the main menu of World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition, chances are you’re going to feel mighty overwhelmed, despite its clean and organized presentation. The first thing you’ll want to do is head on over to the training tab which will elaborate on the ins and outs. That’s partly why World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition is such a cool console conversion: it has all these in-depth training tutorials and manuals to really help you ease into the game. The core training exercise simply involves getting you comfortable with the controls. Mechanically, the game is surprisingly easy to get into thanks to the nicely mapped controls, but mastering the intricate gameplay is an entirely different odyssey. The other training options are video tutorials that run through all the tank classes, as well as all the menus and game systems. You’ll probably want to find a good resource on the web, but what comes with the game is enough to get you started comfortably.
Now, before I continue I need to get one thing out of the way even though it should be abundantly obvious: World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition is an online multiplayer game only. No single player content, no offline multiplayer, and the moment you start the game you are immediately signed into the main server. That said, the game performs admirably online and at the time of writing this review there were no connection or performance issues encountered during any of the matches. Also, at this point you will have no trouble finding the right amount of people for a good session at any given time. In fact, you’re probably going to find yourself waiting in a queue for your turn.
However, it’s worth considering that most online multiplayer titles on XBLA have a brief honeymoon period where everyone seems to be into them and then it just… stops. Considering that the Xbox 360 is now a dying platform, chances are that the community support for World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition is going to abruptly end in a couple months. Then again maybe it won’t, but the point I’m trying to make here is that if you’re even remotely contemplating getting into this game then just take the plunge right now. It’s free after all… well, not entirely.
World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition is free where it counts the most, meaning that the content that you are given complete non-monetary access to is abundant and generous, so much so that it’s possible to experience the game without ever feeling like you’re missing out on crucial elements. The premium content, which involves the use of real money, includes things that are essentially luxuries — that can help you overcome some of the challenges with relative ease; not that the challenges are unreasonable. In fact, playing with those challenges and restrictions makes for a more strategic and absorbing experience.
Real currency is used to obtain things like additional slots for tanks (fair game, as MMORPGs have been doing that with character slots for years now), special multipliers that allow you to earn more experience points and in-game currency, special upgrades and equipment, and some exclusive tanks that are fully maxed out and loaded. You may miss out on some cool stuff if you’re not willing to fork out some dough, but as far as the overall experience goes you’re not really going to miss out on anything crucial. Besides, a slow and methodological climb to the top will be far more satisfying than impatiently jumping in on the premium goodies. The only peculiarity is that you need to spend real money to permanently own tank camouflage skins, which are essential, as well as emblems, otherwise you have to rent them for a ridiculous amount of in-game currency.
World of Tanks feels like a classic Armored Core game with a stronger emphasis on team-play and a less complicated set-up, and of course, the game has real world mechs as you’ve probably already guessed. The selection of tanks is impressive, spread across three different nations, Great Britain, United States, and Germany, and five vastly different classes.
There’s three main weight categories: Light, Medium, and Heavy. Each category has a very unique and crucial role in the battlefield. Light tanks serve well in terms of scouting the area and are the fastest tanks, the Medium tanks are a jack-of-all-trades sort of deal, and the Heavy tanks are all about pure offence and titanium defense.
Then you have two classes that have much weaker mobility but specialize as snipers (to put it in layman terms). Tank Destroyers carry devastating long-range cannons that can really pierce through armor, and the Artillery tanks are like the mother of all snipers as they can get a bird’s eye view of the entire battlefield and bombard enemies as they appear on the radar map. Of course, their extremely limited mobility makes them sitting duck. Couple that with the delayed cannon shot and extra long reload time, and they’re a class suitable for the patient and calculated.
If the tank variety wasn’t already impressive, they’re also highly customizable. The experience points you gain from battles can be used to research significant new upgrades in a nice skill tree system, and you can also equip your attack with some really useful weaponry and equipment, which can do things like improve your camouflage. There’s a lot you can do here, and after a few hours of tinkering with the menus things will start to fall into place.
While there’s a pretty dense and detailed foundation, the gameplay in World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition isn’t lacking in depth or intricacy, either. It’s a deceptively simple game, because if you go in guns blazing, you’ll lose almost instantly. As awesome and blood pumping the action in World of Tanks can be, the game really is a tacticians dream as it demands a methodological approach with the pace of the battles being quite intense. The game types essentially involve either destroying all the enemy tanks, or tactfully conquering their base. Battles feel more like a clever game of chess and not the tank frag-fest it appears to be at first.
It’s all about exploring your surroundings and scouting your enemies, staying hidden using clever camouflage tactics, and landing powerful and precise blows. It needs to be played to be appreciated, and you immediately sense how deep and well thought out the gameplay is. Even landing damage on a tank requires thought because they each vary considerably when it comes to weak points, which are determined not just by their class, but also their nation of origin. The game is so precise and polished that you’ll be shocked at how accurate the hit detection is and how well it works in conjunction with the huge draw distance.
If you choose to slowly but surely learn the game the hard way, you’ll be much better off than those who decide to take the easy way out by purchasing juiced-up tanks with real money. It all comes down to skill and tact in the end, and those intangibles shine in both the mechanics and design.
As far as free-to-play games with premium add-ons go, World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition does very little wrong. It’s a well made game with tremendous depth, complemented by highly satisfying and engrossing gameplay. The only downer is the uncertainty regarding future community support, as it’s a solely online gaming experience on a dying console. That said, if you’re even a little bit curious then World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition is an experience that won’t demand your money and is most certainly worth your time as it stands right now.
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360