The folks at Wargaming.net have brought their flagship online wargame for the PC over to the XBox 360. The game is free to download and play – but I will warn you now it is utterly addictive. Let me put it this way : this is the kind of game that invades your dreams.
The game has been on general release since February 12 but I was lucky enough to be in on the beta test and have spent far more hours than I care to mention driving World War II era tanks from different countries about several different virtual battlefields as my team of fifteen tankers tries to destroy or seize the objective from another team. As you play, and hopefully win, you accrue Experience and Silver with which you can buy new packages for your tank – new guns, engines etc. – or entirely new tanks. There are ten “Tiers” of vehicle in four classes and each Tier is meaner, bigger and more tank than the one before. You can roll out in iconic vehicles like the German Panther or Tiger, the American Sherman and Pershing or the British Matilda as well as experimental prototypes like the late-war German E-75.
It’s a simple concept, but the gameplay offers endless tactical complexity. This isn’t Call Of Duty. There are no re-spawns inside each individual battle, once your tank is destroyed it is out of the battle, so you can’t just charge out to die again and again and there’s also little point in camping at the spawn point and hoping your team-mates will win the battle for you. The best players don’t just have the reflexes of a born gamer and exquisite control over their Xbox paddle, they also have tactical acumen and a view towards the success of their whole team rather than their individual glory.
The tactical complexity is part of what has made the game so addictive, for me. Every game is different, even if they share common elements, and every game is a better one if you try to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your tank, your team-mates’ vehicles, the enemy and the terrain you fight over. I’ve found myself reading World War II era and modern manuals on tank doctrine, learning WWII military history, even watching YouTube instructional videos for the game, all in an effort to be a better team player.
The second part of what makes the game addictive comes when you make the effort to interact with other players. If you have a headset with a microphone, you can talk to the other members of your team to share tactics, call for help or simply celebrate a victory. There is also an in-game feature that allows three friends to create a “Platoon”, meaning they will all be on the same side in the same battle rather than these being randomly allocated. A single tight platoon can turn a whole battle, creating a win where there might have been defeat – and making new gamer friends to platoon with has been half the fun.
At some stage, the PC version’s “Company Battles” will be introduced to the Xbox. That’s where the entire team of 15 is one big platoon, fighting another self-selecting company. Already, gaming Clans are beginning to be formed in anticipation of this. I belong to one myself – the Old Farts & Fogies is a Clan for over-40s gamers who want to play World Of Tanks the way it should be played and not like it is Call Of Duty. At last count there were over 130 in the OFF and plenty older gamers, in their thirties and up, who aren’t. If you’re looking for a shoot-em-up game which isn’t the exclusive territory of prepubescent kids, then World Of Tanks for the XBox 360 is definitely worth a try.
One word of caution. While the game is free to download and play, there is a feature which does cost money. the Gold currency allows you to do things you can’t do otherwise – buy Premium time which adds 50% to all your added Experience and Silver, buy Premium tanks which can be some of the most dangerous in their Tier, and convert Experience earned on those tanks to “free” experience you can use to upgrade any of your other tanks. If you play the game and you enjoy it, you’ll find yourself wanting to buy Gold. I dropped $50 on 12,000 Gold in the first week of the live game, and that’s plenty enough to see you through to the mid-tiers while purchasing one or two Premium tanks.
As World Of Tanks for the Xbox 360 gains in popularity, the developers intend rolling out extra free content. There will be the already-mentioned Company battles, but also new maps to fight over and entire new “tech trees” of other nation’s tanks to research and fight with. The game is damn good now, easily an eight out of ten for me, and it will only get better. Still, you want to have your vehicle already fully upgraded and tested in battle by the time the other guy brings his stock tank over the hill so don’t delay – try the game now.