Before Christmas, I met with Bandai Namco to see and talk about its new upcoming tank battler, Battleline: Steel Warfare. Expecting the standard half hour demo, I was pleasantly surprised to be treated to an enthusiastic 90 minute discussion of why Battleline is so much fun, and why its potential addictiveness should make World of Tanks worry.
Battleline is being developed by South Korean game company, Creant, and being led by Creant CEO and Producer Dong-Wook Kim. With the help of interpreter Eric Young S. Oh, I discovered within the first few minutes of our meeting, that Dong-Wook Kim is not only a PvP expert, he's a true PvP fan. With 16 years' experience and a real love of games like The Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms and Starcraft, his goal was to make a game that would appeal to a broad range of strategy-loving gamers with varying levels of mental and physical skill. And though Battleline automatically draws comparison with Wargaming's World of Tanks, Mr. Kim said he was inspired by much older games (including sports games) and purposely avoided playing WoT and other current games in order to avoid creating something derivative.
He seems for the most part, to have succeeded. Battleline is really only similar to World of Tanks in that tanks are at the center of it. Other than that, it's a whole 'nother beast. For one thing, its aiming and firing are simple and quick, functioning like a fast-moving FPS. For another thing, each player controls not just one tank, but a squad of them. Most significantly, the goal in Battleline isn't just to rack up kills and capture enemy bases; it's to work cooperatively to push the enemy's (literal) battle line.
According to Mr. Kim learning how to effectively win at Battleline requires moving through several stages: first, you focus on learning how to shoot. Next you learn to employ the game's MOBA-like tactics which involve adopting roles (having your tanks take on roles like dps, tank, healer), teamwork and gear upgrades. Once you have those down, you move on to manipulating the larger metagame map RTS-style, and finally, when you become a seasoned veteran, you take on the social aspect of the game. Called “Divisions,” this aspect functions a bit like like guilds. You can create your own Divisions, recruit members, then use your Divisions to hold regions of the map and collect resources from them.
Mr. Kim said that interesting things have occurred in the beta through the creation of Divisions and because of different levels of expertise, especially in relation to the players' ages. Whereas older players (40 and older) might seem to be at a disadvantage during tank battles due to slower reflexes, younger players (teens to 30-somethings) have gotten themselves into serious trouble on the RTS side of things due to lack of strategic foresight. Divisions can have up to 40 members, and a Nation (a group of Divisions) can have up to 200. (Note: Not being too much of a guildie, I asked if you have to join a Division and was pleased to hear you can avoid joining a Division entirely and just hop into Nation War as a merc.)
Dong-Wook Kim related an anecdote regarding Nation War (the strategic metagame aspect of Battleline) wherein a Division made up of cocky young players banded together and stormed through neighboring regions, sure of victory. Unfortunately, in their hurry to conquer, they left their own regions unguarded, and in their absence, Divisions made up of older players took their regions and crushed them.
In addition to hearing amusing beta anecdotes, I got to witness some random battles, and what struck me most positively about Battleline was that it rewards you for more than just kills. Other games encourage teamwork from the perspective of winning, but on an individual basis, they often neglect to reward players who take the more supportive roles. By contrast, at the end of every match, Battleline rewards players not only for kills and assists, but for their efforts in regard to cooperation and strategy.
What appealed to me second-most were the tank controls. The easy aim/fire (“like Galaga,” Mr. Kim said, laughing) makes it a breeze for new players to jump in. You can even toggle auto-attack with your main gun, which allows you to focus on your skills. After that, the ease with which you can control either individual tanks (four at once) or your entire squad is impressive as Formations make AI auto-follow or hold the line while you actively fight. Each player can have 50 tanks within their pool, and can employ them to earn gold and Valor, the game's special currency that can be exchanged for special tanks. Of course, there will also be premium currency players can buy with real cash, but Namco said cash items will not give players any unfair advantages.
Since eSports is the natural extension of competitive games these days, I asked before leaving whether Battleline would be suitable for eSports. Mr. Kim said that's definitely a possibility once Elite Divisions exist, at least within Nation War mode.
From what I saw during the meeting, Battleline: Steel Warfare looks pretty intriguing. As of this writing though, it's still in beta and will be for an indeterminate amount of time. Dong-Wook Kim and his team seem to be bent on releasing it only when it's as good as it can get. Still, it's playable now, and anyone interested in trying it before it's released can do so by signing up for the beta on the game's official website.