World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition has all the right ingredients to become the next Minecraft, umm, Xbox 360 Edition. Microsoft assumes the helm publishing a PC mega-hit exclusively on its now out-dated console that has immediately become the biggest free-to-play game on Xbox 360, or as Wargaming calls it, “free-to-win”.
With 75 million registered, and 1.1 million concurrent, PC players in December, World of Tanks is unequivocally one of the most popular games in the world, but it’s also incredibly niche, narrowing its focus to a singular element of the World War II era. Much of World of Tanks’ success derives from taking a genre normally reserved for hardcore tactical simulations and applying it to a more accessible multiplayer model built around mainstream tropes established by the most popular first and third person shooters, without losing any of the strategic element. While the Xbox 360 version is a little rough around the edges, a console is in many ways the perfect platform for World of Tanks to flourish.
After a brief tutorial introducing the new control scheme optimised for the Xbox 360 controller, you’re thrust into the thick of the 15 versus 15 action, tasked with zipping across the vast terrain and eliminating all enemy tanks or capturing their base. Initially, it all seems fairly basic. It’s a fast-paced, yet slow-moving, hectic multiplayer romp in which an eerie silence is immediately disrupted by a barrage of exploding shells.
World of Tanks’ success derives from taking a genre normally reserved for hardcore tactical simulations and applying it to a more accessible multiplayer model built around mainstream tropes established by the most popular shooters, without losing any of the strategic element.
The diverse terrain sneaks up on you, offering more scope than the average 20th century shooter. You’ll need to visually spot tanks when they come into your line of sight, and avoid being spotted yourself using buildings and shrubbery to your advantage — but you also need to remember you’re in a ruddy tank. Just as you can plough through the small barn you’re hiding behind, an enemy can fire straight through it.
It’s not as relentlessly chaotic as most wartime shooters, and the longer you play the more you’ll notice well-thought strategy entering your style of play. Barrelling into no man’s land cannons thundering is a recipe for disaster, but with a $0 price tag and plenty of players with Gamertags like xXxBL33TxH3ADSH0TxX69xXx, it’s easy to learn from other newbies’ mistakes before you graduate to the big leagues.
Letting your guard down is brutal, as there are no respawns. Once your tank is destroyed — and it can happen quickly if you’re taken by surprise and unprepared — that’s it; you’re out for the entire round. If you’re not interested in watching your team march to victory without you, there’s an option to return to the Garage, select a new tank and find a new match. All the while your annihilated wreckage will lay where it was destroyed for the duration of the 15 minute match, which means you can’t use it in another game until the first has finished. Wait or pick another tank.
Beginning in a piddly little thing, upgrading tanks is dependent on the convoluted XP system. Tank XP is earned for the standard accomplishments, like spotting and destroying enemies, and can only be spent on the tank that earned it. Free XP, meanwhile, can be spent on any tank, while silver accumulated is what is actually spent on new upgrades, whereas XP is used to unlock the options. Tanks are split across 10 tiers, which are gradually unlocked as you move up a progression tree. Spread across three different countries, the sheer variety of light, medium and heavy tanks will absorb any armoured artillery enthusiast.
Playing World of Tanks as a free game is a slow grind, and you’ll be stuck in the pathetic — wait, I mean cute — tanks for hours. A solid weekend of no sleep and a near overdose of caffeine is required to rise up the ranks to something a little more destructive — that’s where gold comes into play. The secondary currency is bought with real money and used to upgrade much faster.
Before you flip the screen, World of Tanks actually does a commendable job of ensuring paid bonuses don’t disrupt the balance of play. You’ll still need to earn XP before you can make larger purchases with gold or silver; so gold is best spent on the “Premium” boost which inflates XP earned for a set duration. Spending real money will save some time, but those who never lay down a credit card will have an equally, albeit slightly longer, satisfying journey building a battalion.
In the hot seat, controls are simplistic but do the job. The left control stick handles all movement, freeing up the right to control the turret. A cooldown period appears to the side of the health bar after firing with the right trigger, with both forming a ring around the aiming reticule which reduces in size as it identifies a target.
World of Tanks has been designed with balance in mind. Money can save you time, but it won’t win you games. You won’t need to pay to gain an advantage over your opposition and have just as much chance of winning using a free account — all payment endows is an XP multiplier. Microtransactions offer new skins and prettier tanks, but these are purely cosmetic. They don’t have any ascendancy on the outcome of a battle, reaffirming the “free-to-win” mantra. You can’t buy yourself a victory, but you can make it a more comfortable ride.
The bare bones menu will come across shonky to a snobby Xbox gamer who’s never installed a PC game, but getting into a match couldn’t be simpler; just press ‘A’ and you’re in, after a bit of map pack checking. Unfortunately, the inherent side effect is a lack of control over proceedings. The console jump has retained seven maps, but offers you no control over maps or modes, and with a flimsy party system, you’re channeled to play with too many random internet dwellers in a game that demands at least faux teamwork.
World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition is the biggest free-to-play game on the ageing console, and a successful test case proving not only can another PC juggernaut thrive in a console landscape, so can an unfamiliar business model. It’s a bit rough around the edges, compared to other Xbox games and the far more polished PC version, but that could well be a sign of things to come on next-gen platforms. In the meantime, it’s hard to complain about a free game, especially one that balances optional payments against free gameplay as well as World of Tanks. Combine the low price tag with the backbone of an exemplary tactical World War II tank-scale shooter powered by satisfying progression, and it’s easy to see why World of Tanks is Wargaming’s winning formula.