World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition should be a complete failure. This is the console version of popular massively-multiplayer online tactical action game with a long running history on the PC with a free to play model based around, of all the most ridiculous things you could set a game around, tank combat. This is exactly the sort of thing that should fail miserably on a console. That World of Tanks is some of the most straightforward fun you can have on the Xbox 360 is not a small feat by any means, even if under that simple fun veneer are a million issues that hold it back to being merely good.
World of Tanks is a fascinating look into what I assume is a bizarre alternate dimension where the Second World War never ended. Instead, its battlegrounds have been stuck in a time vortex where tank commanders from the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom have been marooned and forced to forgo alliances and go mercenary on each other. Every tank commander gets their own personal hanger and a World War I era tank from each nation for their personal use.
These garages serve as your hub before and after battles, where you nurse your wounds and gear your war machines back up for war. They are also the very first thing you see in the game, so you would think that for all the great importance of this screen, developer Wargaming would put a great deal of effort into making this central hub of information efficient to navigate. It’s not. Perhaps World of Tanks’ laziest sin is its lack of user friendliness in the UI. Its not even like the system this main screen presents is difficult to master. From this screen, one can buy tanks, equipment, packages, consumables, and customizations for your tanks, and then sell them for a quick buck in a pinch.
Not that complicated, except Wargaming just does a piss poor job of explaining any of this to you. Unless you personally go search out the many tutorial videos in the training section, many of the subtleties of the upgrades and supplies system will rocket over your head. And even when you do figure the system out, the UI is obtuse and hard to navigate. Thank heavens they put in an automation system, because otherwise going in to restock is a total shell in the rear.
The one bit of that main menu UI Wargaming gets right is the big glowing A button that calls you onto the battlefield. That is fitting, because on the battlefield is where World of Tanks shines. On the ten maps available right now, you can wield one of five types of tanks. There’s the light tank, that moves like a bolt and does the damage of a bee sting, the heavy tank, a lumbering brute with the power of 10 light tanks, and the medium tank, a healthy cross between them. There’s also two specials; the tank destroyer, which is one big-ass cannon on wheels, and the artillery, which can fire up and over terrain. This is the subtle brilliance of World of Tanks‘ blistering combat, where all five types bounce off each other like the world’s most explosive rock-paper-scissors game. No one truly has the upper hand, and skill and tactics rule the day. There is no other game that has ever captured the pure power and thrill of controlling a tank in battle like World of Tanks successfully has. And during those special times when 15 tanks collide with 15 other tanks, it rivals even Titanfall in its capacity for ludicrous amounts of fun.
Timed usage of special consumables like repair kits is critical and can totally change the flow of the battle, and preparation with your tank’s equipment, which upgrades range and speed among other things, prior to joining can mean life or death. The maps also compliment damn near every strategy you can think of on the fly, and vary in setting and style enough to differentiate from each other. Be warned, though; getting a game mode other than the standard battle, which is deathmatch with a capture base at each side, is practically impossible. It’s a testament to the sheer fun of the combat that this mode remains fun after two dozen games.
However, something that must be spoken of in regards to World of Tanks on the Xbox 360 is that whole Free to Play part. I have to bring it up because World of Tanks manages to more or less stick the landing on this fragile business model on the macro, but kind of flunks it on the micro. The premium system of World of Tanks runs on gold, the third currency of the game economy after silver and XP. You cannot get gold without buying it with real money. Gold allows you to purchase exclusive tanks and upgrades via buying a premium membership. For exclusive tanks, the system is actually incredibly fair and balanced; none of the tanks you can buy as a premium member can outright give you the upper hand in a battle. Even the mightiest premium heavy tank can fall under the fire of a skilled medium tank player, and there are plenty of tanks that can be bought the normal way that outclass the premiums.
The problem is when you get into the nitty-gritty of gold benefits on other items. As defined above, the combat system is finely tuned, but the nature of finely tuned systems is that very small wrenches can totally derail them. One of the items available for purchase in the consumables category only available to those with gold is a special ammunition type that has a massively higher penetration damage than any other type of ammo. This grants anyone with this shell a massive advantage in a battle, and is the great unequalizer. In a three on one fight between two medium tanks and a light that outmaneuver an unskilled enemy heavy, having those special rounds allowed the heavy to simply shoot his way out of the box, and that feels like a colossal cheat to the system.
It is in the micro, in the little details of World of Tanks, that the game unfortunately fails its incredible combat. The whole enterprise screams of the most bare-bones taking of the PC version without thought of what could be improved for consoles. For a game that relies so much on teamwork and cooperation with 15 player teams, it is a baffling decision to only allow you and two other friends to join up together period. For a game with three game modes and multiple maps, to not allow any decision at all into what game type you play is frustrating as hell. To make a hyper-complex upgrade tree for tanks only to make the upgrades a locked set of boxes with fixed upgrades instead of parts and having the end goal be nothing more than unlocking another tank in its class is utterly daft. To include such a ridiculous number of awesome tanks only to lock the number you can own behind a pay-wall actually makes me kind of angry.
But, in the end, there is something I cannot stress enough; World of Tanks is very, very fun. It can be obtuse, and you will see some very bad decisions in the design and UI, but it is great fun to play. And the best part about 90% of the problems I listed above feel like they can be easy fixes to make. And when they are made, World of Tanks will be a force to reckoned with. So, though this 3 out of 5 score may seem middling, I absolutely recommend giving World of Tanks at least a shot. After all, it is free to play.
World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition is available now on Xbox 360 for Gold members.