World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition review (XBLA)
World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition was developed by Wargaming.net and published by Microsoft Studios. It was released on February 12, 2014 following an initial beta release and is free-to-play. Additional in-game resources were provided for review purposes.
A low sun sets over an open field marked by hedges in autumnal colours of yellow, orange and red. The ground is marked only by the brown furrows of a farmer’s plough and the occasional tuft of unkempt grass. A boggy lake glistens to the left, and the only sound – aside from silence – is that of crickets calling out from the reeds. Suddenly, a red diamond appears on your mini-map. A German light tank speeds across the field, and the shots of your comrades begin to ring out as each takes aim and fires. You lead the target by a few metres and make a final adjustment to the height of your shot. You fire. The German tank explodes in a shower of hot metal. Welcome to World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition.
World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition (WoT) is a rare kind of game for a variety of reasons, many of which will influence players to either love it or hate it. Essentially, it’s a fast-paced, moderately tactical vehicular shooter which features only tanks, anti-tank vehicles and artillery. Outside of battle, there are some fairly light (and usually extremely linear) upgrade options which are driven by an experience system that is not dissimilar to the average RPG. Experience and silver are given for success in battle, and they can be spent on upgrades and eventually new tanks. An additional currency, gold, is also available and provides access to unique tanks, special ammo, additional tank bays and other benefits – but this can only be obtained by spending real money.
Rightly so, it is on the battlefield where most players will decide whether or not WoT is for them. This is one brutal game, and in the first few matches, when light tanks are commonplace and the map layouts are still new, players will find themselves killed over and over again by a single shot from out of nowhere. Stick with it though, and the nuances of combat in WoT start to become more apparent. All vehicles in the game have a huge firing range and the maps are vast, meaning that it soon becomes clear that the limiting factor in hitting an enemy is actually knowing where he is – something which can only be achieved by ‘spotting.’ Battles often fall into tense cat and mouse patterns, with whole minutes of complete silence as one or two adventurous players roam the map spotting enemies before the whole of the team opens fire from their various hiding places. The game is also capable of delivering brutal, close quarters combat via the many choke points that exist across the eight maps (seven available at launch, with one more added on 17/02) currently available.
However the battle pans out, all are equally exhilerating – especially for those who survive. For those who don’t, another unique WoT feature awaits – the fact that there are no respawns. Unless you wish to hang around and spectate, death in WoT means you are instantly transported back to the garage and can jump straight into another battle (although you will have to pick another tank until the battle which you’ve just left ends). This is a great feature because it encourages players to focus on two or three separate vehicles at any given time, helping to break up the grind that sets in once players reach the fourth or fifth tier of vehicles.
On that note, players begin the game with access to three light tanks: one each from Britain, the USA and Germany. Within three or four battles you’ll have amassed enough experience to purchase all of a vehicle’s upgrades and unlock the next tier of vehicles. This process continues as the game goes on, with logical upgrades from one vehicle to the next (maxing out one artillery vehicle will usually lead to another), and cracks on at a fair pace until the fourth tier, when progression begins to slow to a snail’s pace. It’s also worth knowing that experience earned on any given vehicle is linked to it and cannot be used to upgrade any other without converting it using gold, which has to be bought with real money.
This is where WoT microtransactions begin to take centre stage; a premium subscription is available and provides up to one year of ‘premium’ membership. WoT premium accounts receive an additional fifty percent experience from each battle, meaning that although it is still slow, progression is much quicker than it is for those who really wish to play for free. In addition to premium membership, buying gold allows access to unique tanks, better ammo, additional tank slots in the garage and a few other benefits (including the aforementioned experience conversion). Thankfully, neither premium memberships nor anything bought with gold really serve to offer an unfair advantage. Yes, you will meet the occasional special tank, yes, you will sometimes be taken out by a high explosive shell, but chances are, a normal shell would have blown your tank up anyway!
Here’s what we liked:
The perfect match – WoT features one of the best matchmaking systems that we have ever seen on the Xbox 360, let alone in an XBLA game. Each battle features up to thirty players and the game automatically matches teams based on both vehicle type and tier. Effectively what this means is that all players will be using tanks from within the same one or two tiers and that both teams will feature roughly the same number of tanks, anti-tank guns and artillery. This mechanic gives WoT beautiful balance and ensures that new players will never end up leading their Leichttraktor out on to the battlefield against Tiger or Churchill heavy tanks. This also ensures that whilst premium account holders feel the benefit of their extra experience by unlocking better tanks, they rarely find themselves with an unfair advantage against those who progress more slowly, because they simply won’t often be matched together.
A room with a view – Considering that WoT is a free-to-play game delivered on last generation hardware, we think that the eight maps currently on offer are all excellent and feature a wide range of spectacular vistas. Most are based in Western Europe and feature rolling hills and valleys as well as fields and towns, whilst more rare are desert and snow based maps. There is a good mix of both very open and quite enclosed maps; the former feature lots of opportunity for both direct combat and flanking, whilst the latter usually involve a few key choke points. Because the levels are almost all fairly vast, there is actually a lot of replayability in the existing maps just because of spawn location and vehicle choice. As you learn the maps, you’ll find that some routes favour fast, flanking vehicles, whilst choosing a heavy tank might otherwise enable you to crash through the middle of a village for some close quarters combat. You’ll choose your tank before knowing which location you’ll be batting in however, and you can’t choose spawn points either, but more on that later.
The best things in life are free – Our overarching opinion of WoT is that this is exactly the kind of game that will prolong the lifespan of the aging Xbox 360 by at least another year or two. WoT has a strong community on the PC already, and if Microsoft’s commitment to publishing similar PC hits (we’re thinking of you, Minecraft) is anything to go by, this game is going to receive a number of worthwhile updates throughout its lifetime. Having a premium account adds a little value, but you can still get the most out of WoT without upgrading due to the extremely smart matchmaking system.
Here’s what we didn’t like:
Tactically inept – Although it’s not completely without depth, WoT is basically an arcade-style vehicular shooter wrapped up in the slow-moving, sturdy exterior of its featured antagonists! Battles often settle to a slow burn as tanks position themselves behind bushes and treelines and wait for movement, but in reality that’s because of the long range the game affords alongside the danger associated with being spotted in the open. Whether a tank is properly hidden in cover or not is somewhat hit and miss (the tutorial mentions it, but it’s hard to tell if you are benefiting or not) until you are actually spotted by an enemy and the ‘Detected’ warning appears. Only hard cover (rocks, buildings) are of any use in terms of a tactical advantage. Even then, if you can’t see through it, then you will need to expose yourself to fire around it.
WoT only features three game modes and all are essentially the same. The ‘Standard’ battle mode is a simple one – destroy the enemy team, or capture their base by holding it for a certain time. ‘Encounter’ is similar, but there is only one base, and teams must either race to capture it or defeat the enemy team. The final mode is ‘Assault’, which basically involves one team defending a base and the other attacking it – or destroying the other team, again. In all of these modes, the most common outcome is the annihilation of one team or the other – remember there are no respawns. Perhaps more concerning is the fact that when you hit the ‘Lets Battle’ button, you have no control over what happens next – players choose their vehicle, and from there on the (admittedly superb) matchmaking system chooses the game mode, the map and the spawn location. This restriction renders tactical preparation completely invalid, albeit at the cost of balance. On the plus side, WoT has no real bad maps. Moreover, there are no maps which really cripple one vehicle choice over another, so it’s a relatively minor concern.
It’s hard not to recommend that players download a game which stands up completely as a free-to-play title, let alone when it is as good as WoT is. Our reviewer spent five days solid playing it without touching another game and has already purchased a range of the costed features (including sixty days of premium membership), which suggests that WoT has a promising future ahead of it. This is a game with excellent graphics, sound and a solid feel, as well as a high level of polish and a lot of attention to detail where it really matters. There is both pick up and play accessibility and the long term prospect of unlocking all the vehicles to contend with, making WoT a game that everyone who has even a passing interest in vehicular combat should at least try, if not dedicate a fair bit of time to.
Score: Buy It! (for free!)