World of Tanks is already huge on PCs. The title boasts tens of millions of players, a bazaar of options to battle in steel juggernauts, and relentless commercials blasting at late hours on cable. When it was announced as an Xbox 360 exclusive, it was obvious Microsoft wanted something really popular to generate some of the same numbers on its platform even as the Xbox One is ramping up its own appeal.
World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition is the stripped-down version of the PC game with fewer tanks, no clan support, and fewer options to manage your career online. It's free for Xbox Live Gold members, and as far as free MP-only titles go on the Xbox 360, it's like a giant box filled with tank toys that you can occasionally take out and play with when no one's looking.
The client sits at around 2.7 GB. Once downloaded and started, it'll link the email address associated with Xbox Live to Wargaming.net to complete the setup (you can opt out of email notifications). Once that's done, it's time to do some basic training.
The tutorial takes you through the basics in a Sherman tank, but the controls are mostly the same for other vehicles. World of Tanks is a third-person action game that places the camera just behind your tank. However, you can pan it to check out your surroundings, and the controls are intuitive enough to make anyone a natural tank driver in minutes. Driving and turning is a little awkward with the left analog stick. The left trigger scopes, and the right trigger fires your shot. The tutorial doesn't cover the requirements for some of the other tanks, like the artillery or tank destroyer classes. I had to learn those on my own, though they weren't tough to figure out.
Despite missing a lot of the tanks from the PC version (there's no China, France or Japan to pick from, and only one Soviet tank can be purchased with gold, which must be purchased), the title still boasts 100 tanks. WW2-era tanks from Britain, Germany and the United States are present, including a number of rare variants that never saw action, such as the German Jagdpanzer E-100, which is at the end of the country's artillery tree. To satisfy history buffs, each tank also has a tiny vignette that describes what it was, how many were produced, and if it was cut from production.
World of Tanks starts with a smattering of first-tier tanks that fulfill a variety of roles, depending on their types. Light tanks are fast, and although the early versions don't do a ton of damage, they're great at scouting enemies and can race behind enemy lines. Someone can disrupt an entire team by ambushing a group that's unprepared to fend off an assault because all of the heavy hitters are elsewhere.
Medium tanks have better armor and bigger guns, making them a good balance. Heavy tanks are built for battle and, predictably, aren't very fast. With the armor and firepower at their disposal, though, they often don't have to be. Facing one in battle isn't a pleasant experience if you don't have a beefy tank or don't have teammates that can swarm it with fire.
Artillery is fun for those who like long-distance fights and have a lot of patience. As long your team can see an enemy, you can hit it from an overhead view when you scope aim. Then you have to wait until the aiming area (excruciatingly) slowly closes in on target. You can still move your aiming cursor, but the whole aiming sequence usually has to be restarted, so this weapon is definitely for the patient. An artillery gun has massive range and either destroys or heavily damages almost anything with a direct hit. It's a powerful tank, but it takes some practice to use it well. It's also nearly helpless when confronted with a faster tank, though one direct hit from the gun usually kills any light tanks — if you can spin around in time.
Tank destroyers are the "snipers" and boast firepower that can be lethal to most tanks, especially if you have more than one ganging up on the same target. While artillery takes time to aim but has the greatest distance, tank destroyers are like regular tanks and aim down the barrel, but you have the benefit of range and power. The guns are turretless, though, so they're restricted to aiming down a cone in front of them. They're not built to take hits, but for players who love sniping in other games, a tank destroyer might be a fun choice, despite its lack of a scope.
In addition to tank types, there are also ranks ranging from I all the way up to X, which feature top-of-the-line versions depending on the country. They're not all unlocked when you begin, so this is where the grinding comes in. Experience points are pooled into the tank you're using, and silver is earned after every battle, even if you lose.
A small collection of maps (seven, with more promised) sets up battles in river valleys, snowy mountains, villages in a mountain area, and a ruined city on the other side of a mountain. The El Halluf map takes place in a desert area with a small town and plenty of dunes. They're not based on historical battles but are like generalized environments where many of the WW2 battles took place, so if you're hoping for a detailed re-enactment of the Battle of the Bulge, you'll have to keep waiting. On the other hand, the huge and detailed maps make it feel as if you're staring at a huge diorama with remote-controlled tanks blasting each other.
Battles are quick affairs, making it possible to go for a few minutes at a time without feeling as if you need to invest hours. I've been in fights that were over in three minutes because the team seemed to know exactly what to do. I've also been in fights that ran the full 15-minute clock down to the wire before eking out a narrow victory.
Your tank can smash through destructible obstacles ranging from fencing and brick walls to small houses, trees and telephone poles. "Hiding" in cover requires you to drive your tank behind something or into enough foliage to obscure it so it'll be harder for players to spot you. If you're spotted, your location is transmitted to everyone on their side, and they can your location on the map until you manage to hide yourself again.
World of Tanks really makes it clear from the outset that you're part of a team driving a tank, not just some third-person action hero on tank treads in its 15vs15 battles (or a little less, in some instances). The dips and rises on a map, angle of fire, and how you angle your tank to deflect incoming fire (armor doesn't regen, but certain tank parts can be repaired) are all vital to being one with a tank.
It can be easy to think you can get a bead on someone highlighted in your view until you realize your cannon can't traverse low enough to shoot them because your tank is angled too high. You might realize the smaller, faster tank is getting away because you need to turn your tank destroyer vehicle to shoot them since your gun can only fire in a forward cone. Even though you don't need a novel-sized manual to start your tank, surviving is another story.
The game allows you to exit a battle in which you died by going back to your garage, picking another tank, and jumping into another battle right away. At the completion of the last fight, you gain experience and the silver points owed to you without any penalties. It's a great system that encourages you to keep playing without waiting for a match to end. At one point, I had three fights going on at the same time. The only downside is that you can't go back to watch what might be occurring if you change your mind. Once you leave a battle, that's it.
One thing that isn't predictable is the game modes. For most of my experience, I took part in 15vs15 battles in a base defense mode, where both sides have flags to protect or capture. Later, I was in battles where the base flags were hidden and both sides had to find them and protect or capture them. There could be more, but there was no way to tell what the total listing of modes — or how to tell the game which ones I preferred — were in the client. There's a lot of information on tank trees, but not a lot on some of the other aspects.
Experience is used to "research" and unlock upgrade packages, which include tread upgrades, a better cannon, more powerful engine, and armor. Silver is then used to buy the unlocked package. New tanks are also unlocked in this way but only after all of the upgrades leading to them have been unlocked. Of course, the cost increases as you go up the tank tiers.
Silver can also be used to buy equipment or temporary customizations, like camouflage prints, logos, or other things to personalize your tank. Gold is required to keep some of the mods or unlock certain tanks, and that's a commodity that's not earned in battle. The only way to get gold is to buy it, and it's how World of Tanks makes money.
Anyone can play the game without buying anything. During matchmaking, the title does a decent job of grouping players with tanks that are relatively close in terms of power. That's probably why I've never seen someone with a Leichtraktor on the battlefield go up against a Panther. At the same time, for players who don't want to spend the estimated 100 hours to get to that dreamy X tank, they can buy enough gold to unlock premium benefits, such as a 50% boost to experience and silver gain for specific periods of time. You can pay gold for a single day (a week costs $6.99 USD in gold) to an entire year (24,000 gold, or roughly $99.99 with 1,000 gold left over for anything else). There are also special packages that include tanks, equipment, and tons of silver.
Gold also unlocks extra garage slots to store new tanks. If you don't have an open slot and want a new tank, you'll need to sell a tank to make room, and you'll need to buy it back at an extremely inflated price if you want it again. Experience earned is also restricted to the tank you've used, though silver is in a single pool. If you've researched everything for a tank and want to move on, but it still has a big chunk of experience attached to it, you'll need gold to transfer that experience to another tank, or you can kiss the experience goodbye if you sell it.
World of Tanks isn't particularly invasive in its microtransactions, but when it rears its head, it's very noticeable. Apparently what's purchased for one tank can't be used for any others, a policy that encourages players to spend their hard-earned silver. The grind is the most obvious nag the game uses to encourage players to break out their virtual pennies, and it can be safely ignored. On the other hand, it begins to get obnoxious as you ascend any tank branch. End-of-mission results constantly compare what you're earning with the potential earnings of a premium account.
If all you want to do is smash things in a virtual toy box full of hyper-detailed tanks, World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition is the kind of game that you can pick up and play for a few minutes before putting it back down. It's free (with an Xbox Live Gold subscription, but everyone else can get a seven-day trial), it can be fun on a lazy afternoon, and the microtransactions are purely optional. Just keep in mind that to get — and keep — some of the good stuff, it might take as much work as it did to save up for your favorite toys when you were a kid.
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