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World of Tanks Beta: On track, treading lightly

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Rolling off after getting an invite to the World of Tanks beta on Xbox Live wasn’t so much an exercise in playing as it was struggling not to wank about levying wanton destruction. Having never tried the tanky online game, I was interested to get the treads moving, seeing what exactly the fuss was about and determining whether or not this would be one of those underlying features that might pull a few more people over to Microsoft’s side of the battle lines.

Initiating the download over the course of the day, I was pleasantly surprised to see it was ready to go the evening I’d sat down to get my initial play out of the way. In no uncertain terms, there is an appreciable chassis of a game here, but it lacks a few features that keep it ready from heading off to war. On the other hand, slightly unsettling is the freemium elements that one can already see in the works, though as of yet unavailable, still raise a few questions.

Namely, the inclusion of elements that strike me more so as a free-to-play game that are closer to pay-to-win. I get it, the game is on Xbox Live and is supposedly offering a F2P experience that is going to be cohesively aligned as an option for players looking for an online game that allows unparalleled amounts of actions as quickly and easily as possible. But, given that it’s already behind Microsoft’s golden-lined paywall, it technically isn’t free. And while the developer is unhappy about that, monetizing a game that touts itself as such doesn’t exactly bode well as the groundwork is being laid.

Granted, following a brief tutorial so the player has a modicum of an idea as to what they’re doing, they’re given the option of two already provided light tanks and tossed to the waiting wolves. Certainly enough, the tutorial provides the fundamentals, but at the same time, I didn’t expect to go into my first battle and feel like Rommel. In fact, I got my aft kicked. Hard.

There are plenty of players already in the beta who have seemingly poured in enough time to grasp the necessities needed to survive when rolling thunder comes over the hill and the shells start flying. And don’t think just because you’re in a tank means invincibility is the order of the day. World of Tanks had me convinced that the first in-game vehicles available were weighted down sheets of tissue paper that had me thrilled if I went faster than a light breeze. Shooting was even worse, making me feel like I was firing spitballs at an incoming fist of metal, treads and invariable destruction.

Regardless, it could have been that never more apropos feeling of momentary nakedness than when you jump into your first online match in a game and Tanks sure holds true to that. First and a handful of the successive matches as well. It was becoming increasingly frustrating and had me contemplating calling it an early night, hoping it was just the beta rather than me.

But as I put the time into the game, finally purchasing my first vehicle – a T57 Self-Propelled Gun – I started finding myself enjoying the game a bit more. Namely because there is a disproportionate amount of fun from raining artillery across the battlefield. Yet, getting into a stable position and finding viable cover, while hoping that the fighting stayed far enough way to avoid some manner of fate is still nerve racking. But, thankfully the maps feel big enough that things aren’t especially cramped for the majority of what was played.

On the contrary, there were sections where driving around solo could illicit few encounters on one of the three maps I encountered. One was comprised of mountain passes, which did feel cramped by design, allowing for some pretty brutal close combat. Another which started both sides in two small villages before rolling off along flat plains with some forest interspersed throughout appeared varied, fun and fantastic for artillery usage. Finally, there was a combination of both which was small mining towns spliced with open and tight passes that made the fighting feel awkward at times. Overall though regardless of the maps, the underlying tactic of driving around, randomly shooting at enemy targets seemed the best course of action if there was any hope of surviving.

That’s where I found myself both frustrated and fascinated with the gameplay therein. A lack of cohesion amongst players never lends Tanks to coordinated actions unless other players just follow each other out of unspoken commitment to camaraderie. Wolf packs of tanks either swarm each other, moving to capture the other team’s flag or it breaks down to individual encounters. Neither of which shows any major delineation apart from currently available online multiplayer titles. It boils down to unbridled chaos with an unpredictable sway of victory.

Teams also appeared to try and offer an even mix of vehicles arrayed between SPGs, light, medium and heavy tanks -- but this again returns to my argument that there may be some pay-to-win elements embedded in the DNA of this title.

When wishing to purchase a new vehicle, which you only get 10 slots for by default after which you must buy additional slots with gold, you are face with spending in-game money to research a tank in the tech tree and then spend gold to buy. While the in-game money is earned at an even pace, following a battle, I noticed Premium Members would get a multiplier for their in-game and gold funs – inherently allowing them to arm up to the teeth a bit faster – leaving those of us who don’t want to do so stuck at the phase lines just behind the front.

Still, it bears repeating that World of Tanks is in beta and there are a few things about it that are worth enjoying. But I don’t see anything quite yet that makes it a must-have title that will have silver members adorning themselves with gold for the sole privilege of living out their long repressed Patton fantasies, screaming into their televisions about going through the enemy like, “crap through a goose.” I may give Tanks another looks if possible, but am interested to see how it’s received by the general Xbox populace when a full version is available to see if victory is assured or immobilized, a sitting duck.

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