Wargaming's World of Tanks is inarguably one of the biggest multiplayer games in existence, and last week it got even bigger when Wargaming launched it on Xbox 360. While World of Tanks is huge among European PC gamers, the largely console-oriented British and American audiences have yet to fully embrace it. The company's main challenge in drawing these gamers in is that traditionally, console and PC gamers are seen as distinctly different groups. With that in mind, moving the PC-centric World of Tanks to console could be seen as a risk. Fortunately, thanks to Wargaming Chicago's non-ported, custom-built-for-360 version of the game, that risk has certainly paid off.
Having played the PC version of World of Tanks, I can say right off that the 360 version is more intuitive. For me, the console interface makes more sense and feels less crowded and the thumbstick controls make steering, targeting and firing more comfortable. (Btw, this is surprising because PC games are my thing.) Denny Thorley, the General Manager of the Chicago Wargaming office asserted at last week's launch event that his team worked hard to make the game friendlier to new players and in that they've succeeded. Aside from a twenty minute tutorial that teaches you the basics (it can be done in five) there are ten training videos that get you quickly up to speed if you're new to tank combat. There's also lots of menu help text that explains how currency, experience and upgrades work.
Upon starting the game, you'll find your garage has only a handful of basic—though rendered in loving detail—tanks. These come from three countries: Germany, Great Britain and the United States. Your tanks start with only the most basic equipment, and in order to upgrade them or customize them, you'll need two things—silver and experience. Both of these are given to you as rewards for taking part in tank battles (you get more of both if you perform well and/or if your team wins). Upgrades give your tanks better turrets, guns and treads and you can augment them even further by buying equipment and consumables such as armor-piercing ammo, improved optical sites and repair kits. In addition to mechanical upgrades, you can also customize the look of your tank with different kinds of camouflage, nicknames and emblems, although these aren't really all that noticeable outside of your garage.
Each battle earns you experience specific to the tank you used. This means if you want to upgrade a certain tank, you have to take it into battle – a lot. Once a tank has been upgraded to Elite status, any additional XP earned with it is considered “free” and can be used to upgrade other tanks. Truthfully, the whole upgrade/purchase thing can be a bit of a grind, especially since your first twenty matches are basically you getting your ass blown off within seconds. Clearly, the grind is Wargaming's way of nudging you toward the World of Tanks store where you can minimize it by buying gold with real money and exchanging it for silver or free XP. The store's also where you research and buy bigger and better tanks.
Tank matches are relatively short at 15 minutes (or as long as it takes one team to obliterate the other or claim that team's base) and are either 7v7 or 15v15. Most maps offer two main paths to the enemy camp and so when the match starts, it's generally a mad rush as players on your team muscle each other aside. This starting method makes for a good amount of repetitiveness, but things can become goofily amusing (or frustrating, depending on your point of view) depending on the tank you're driving. Since the maps are totally random, and the terrain on them variously treacherous, you can find yourself hopelessly stuck down what looked like a gentle incline or trapped, treads spinning, against a small rock formation. It's essential to learn what each tank can do and where the bad areas of the map are, unless you want to end up a sitting duck.
In addition to presenting various pitfalls, the game's realistically rendered maps generally provide enough variation to keep matches from becoming overwhelmingly repetitive. Not only does each map present different navigational challenges, familiarity with each of them gives you important knowledge such as the best places to hide from the enemy, where you can take short cuts by sliding down hills and not take damage, and where deep water will cut your military career short (I learned that last one the hard way).
Although at this time the game contains a bit too much built-in repetition, World of Tanks 360 looks and sounds good and seems overall, well-balanced. It would benefit from the addition of different objectives as well as a few tweaks to the interface. Remember earlier I mentioned the interface was less crowded on the big screen? Well it is, but there are numerous areas where the text appears to be too long for its designated box and Wargaming's answer to this is to make the text scroll—at its own pace, mind you—rather than editing it. Also, there's a noticeable hesitation when navigating among menus (say, between garage, tank listing and stats). Finally, the radial menu used during matches for communicating with other players is a nice idea, but targeting/addressing particular players with it is somewhat clunky.
This last problem can be avoided by using voice chat, but nothing kills my immersion like hearing another player's tinny techno music blaring over the game's sound, or listening to the running commentary given by a match full of ten year olds. The game gives you one of two options: to mute individual players during each match, or to mute the sound completely. Right now, there's no way to mute voice chat all at once, and I for one am not keen on spending precious time in each match muting players one by one.
Still these things aren't that big a deal, and there's some real fun to be had rolling around (and over and through) things, attempting to outsmart your opponents. My personal highlight occurred during one match where two enemy tanks charged straight toward me, forcing me to steer backwards. I continued firing and against all odds, took the two of them out. In your face, opposing team! Moments like that are what World of Tanks players live for (and what earned me a nifty Mastery Badge: Class 1).
Wargaming took a chance with World of Tanks for Xbox 360 and at this point, they should consider the venture a success. The game is fun and fast-paced, perfect for when you only have a few free minutes for gaming. It's intuitive to learn, offers a wide range of good-looking tanks, multiple maps, and a free-to-play setup that skillfully levels the playing field whether players have more time or more money. Best of all, (and despite a few interface issues) with World of Tanks 360, Wargaming's created the kind of all-inclusive game that appeals to competitive gamers regardless of platform.
Gameplay - 9 Aesthetics - 8 Longevity - 8 Social - 7 Innovation - 8 Polish - 9 Value - 9