E3 2013: Gameplay and open beta details for World of Tanks, the free Xbox 360 MMO

Microsoft has historically been less than enthusiastic towards free-to-play Xbox 360 games.  They did allow Japanese developer Toylogic to release Happy Wars (a 15-vs-15 multiplayer action game) last year. But here we are one year later and  hardly any free-to-play games have followed it. And yet things are starting to change...

During Microsoft’s E3 Media Briefing, the publisher revealed that popular PC Massively Multiplayer Online game (MMO) World of Tanks would receive an exclusive console version called World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition. Console gamers could be forgiven for not knowing this, but Wargaming.net’s World of Tanks is actually one of the largest and most popular MMOs in the world. The 360 port just might prove to be a big deal.

This week we sat down with Microsoft and Wargaming to learn the ins and outs of World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition and then shot a video with Associate Producer Olga Zinoveva as she played a multiplayer match on the E3 2013 show floor. Watch it after the break!

Tank on tank violence

Another little known fact: much like cats in the wild, tanks don’t like other tanks. Wargaming has captured this intrinsic conflict in a game of multiplayer tank battles. Two teams of tanks enter an map and battle to either complete objectives or destroy all of the other side’s tanks. Objectives vary by game type and can include capturing the enemy flag, taking over the enemy base, or capturing a neutral base before the opposing team.

World of Tanks is a strategic and deliberate game. Tanks move realistically across varying types of terrain and can even run over trees (though the loss of cover can make a tank easier to spot for the enemy). The various tank types have different movement and firing speeds, but generally it takes several seconds to reload between each shot. Getting the jump on another player from a distance, strafing to avoid his or her firing range, and/or ganging up on enemies as a team are all important aspects of combat.

One interesting aspect of the gameplay is that tanks that die during a match can’t be used again until the entire match ends (up to 15 minutes). If you bite the bullet, you can choose to stay and watch the results or return to your garage. Players can actually build their own fleet of tanks, so when one tank is out of commission they can just switch to another and find a new game. The defeated tank will still receive rewards after the match ends.

Tank types

Even though World of Tanks is more approachable than a full-on simulator, its tank designs are certified to be as historically accurate as possible. Players can pilot hundreds of different tanks used by the Soviets, Americans, British, French, Germans, and Chinese (hate to think of what China uses tanks for) during times ranging from WWI through the 1950s. Wargaming plans to add tanks from more nations and new game types in the future.

Tanks come in five types:

  • Light: Fast but with very little armor and firepower, light tanks act as spotters for the team. Once enemies are spotted, the rest of the team can see their positions for a brief time.
  • Medium: General purpose vehicles that can hunt down light tanks or act as support for heavies.
  • Heavy: Strongly equipped and well armored, heavy tanks aim and move much slower than light and medium types.
  • Tank Destroyer: These act as snipers thanks to their strong and extremely long range guns. Weakly armored in the back, they are vulnerable to sneak attacks.
  • Artillery (Self-Propelled Gun): SPGs have the longest range and their shots rain down on targets from above. Their armor is just as weak as light tanks though.

Free to play, not pay to win

Win or lose, players earn credits during matches. These credits can then be spent to unlock many, many new vehicles and upgrades. Tanks come in different tiers, so you’ll have to work your way up before you can get some of them.

Being a free to play game, World of Tanks also allows players to make In-App Purchases with real money. As far as tank purchases go, you can use IAPs to buy high tier tanks and equipment early. Bundles will offer groups of equipment at a discount. Other IAPs include double XP time and various boosts.

All that said, Wargaming is adamant that IAPs don’t give players significant advantages over others. The most important weapons and items have to be earned through gameplay, not bought with money money. I haven’t played the PC version just yet, but I doubt it would be so popular worldwide if it just let players buy their way to the top.

From small screen to large

Xbox 360 Edition comes from Wargaming West, a developer formerly known as Day 1 Studios. You might remember them as the studio who created Mech Assault on the original Xbox. When development started in secret back in March 2012, the team faced two chief adaptation obstacles…

First, console gamers play while sitting much farther from the screen than the PC master race. To make sure everything is readable for couch-bound players, Wargaming adjusted various UI elements. Tank stats are represented by meters instead of numbers on Xbox 360, for instance. That said, I still found some of the text slightly too small as we watched the presentation. An option to toggle between different sizes would help.

Second, the controls needed rethinking in the transition from mouse and keyboard to control pad. Microsoft’s playability lab proved instrumental in achieving natural and efficient controls. One cool new addition is a set of messaging shortcuts. Holding the Left Bumper button brings up a menu of six phrases such as “Attack!” and “Affirmative.” By using these shortcuts, people who play without a headset will be somewhat less useless to the team.

Free to play games and MMOs thrive in part thanks to their frequent updates and additions of new content. Xbox Live is not exactly known for being friendly towards repeated title updates. However, Microsoft sometimes grants eased updating restrictions to specific titles. Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition and Happy Wars both come to mind. World of Tanks gets the same privilege. It won’t be updated quite as frequently as the PC game, but will still get plenty of fresh content as time goes on. Wargaming plans to have double XP weekends and other special promotions as well.

Beta coming soon!

World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition will launch sometime later this year. Wargaming couldn’t say whether an Xbox One Edition would follow, but let’s hope so. The Xbox 360 game will be free to all Xbox Gold members while Silver members get a seven day trial. Free games like this should prove an attractive incentive to pick up a Gold membership – keep them coming, Microsoft!

The Xbox 360 Edition of World of Tanks will have an open beta for residents of the US and Canada soon. You can sign up today by going to WT360E.com. We’ll see you on the battlefield!

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!