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'World of Tanks:' Free-to-play done right on Xbox

In the wake of free-to-play disasters like “Dungeon Keeper,” it’s refreshing to find an experience that doesn’t feel cheap, either in gameplay or implementation of paywalls. “World of Tanks: 360 Edition” does a lot right, and very little wrong.

“World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition” is the follow-up to the 2011 cult favorite that has a fairly sizable community active on the PC.

As you might have surmised, this version is for the Xbox 360, with all that Xbox Live has to offer to boost the experience — voice chat, quick matchmaking and a solid infrastructure that allowed me flawless, lag-free play, even on my woefully slow internet connection.

It is a free-to-play game, but while that moniker might bring to mind recent missteps like EA’s “Dungeon Keeper,” “WoT” holds world records for number of players on a single server. You don’t get that popular by cheating customers. This game is firmly in the “does free-to-play right” camp.

As players engage in matches, they earn “silver,” as well as experience, which can be used to unlock other tanks, tank upgrades and paint jobs that last seven to 30 days. That silver can’t be turned into gold, though. Real-world money can buy gold, which will get you unlocks that you can’t earn through gameplay, but they’re mostly tanks that are on par with versions that are unlockable through gameplay. So folks who believe they can buy their way to victory here will be sadly mistaken.

When reviewing this game, I played half the time seeing how far I could go without spending a dime. The other half I used gold that we were provided for review purposes. By the time I hit a grind wall, I had a tank that was doing pretty well in combat. The more I played, the better the tanks I unlocked. It does take time to get to the best tier, and yes, you can buy your way there, if you choose to. However, my win ratio didn’t magically go up because I bought a tank, and I was teamed with players with equal tanks that I could eventually unlock through play alone. The system isn’t perfect, as some of the unlocks would take a ton of play to see, but, hey, the game is free and offers a full-fledged experience for zero dollars.

The game’s philosophy is easy to discern from the first half of its name. “World of Tanks,” in this case, means players can progress through a tiered set of 100 different World War II-era tanks, each with its own handling, speed, firepower and aiming mechanics. There are heavy, medium and light tanks, as well as artillery and tank-destroyer classes. Each vehicle has a different role. Some are made for assault, some are long-range fire and some are made to zip around the battlefield spotting enemies for the rest of the team, which nets them experience points. Each of them feels suitably tank-like, with ponderous turning speed and a heavy feel to the controls.

Tank combat here is fairly basic; swing your turret around and fire on the enemy before they do the same. There is some depth to battles, though. Firing at the front of a heavily armored opponent will do some damage, but hitting the broadside usually deals armor-piercing damage that takes off a larger chunk of health. In addition, hitting a tank’s tread can immobilize an enemy, and taking out their gunner can decrease accuracy. It’s not the most complex combat you’ll find in a multiplayer shooter, but it’s easy to pick-up and learn.

History buffs will get a kick out of playing with the selection of American, British or German tanks, some of which never saw battle, like the T92 or the British Tortoise.

I was partial to the faster-moving tanks — mostly because I am a terrible shot and gained more points by spotting enemies for my teammates than I ever did engaging in direct combat.

What’s best about driving the tanks is the fact that you make your own lanes in combat. A tree is in your way? Drive over it. An enemy ducks behind a building to escape your righteous wrath? Blow up the wall. Not all objects on the maps are destructible, which is sort of a shame, but there is enough carnage to be wrought to appease most.

The matches themselves aren’t complicated. You choose your tank and roll into a battle that combines aspects of traditional deathmatch and capture-the-flag matches with up to 14 other players. The object is to either destroy the other team, or to capture the other team’s flag by forging over their defenses and holding position on their base for a count of 100 (the count ticks down faster the more tanks there are holding the base).

The maps are spacious enough that what ends up being the most successful tactic is to charge the enemy’s base and try to fend off their counterattacks.

Sadly, you can’t choose the map you play on or the number of players in each match. Those are selected for you automatically. This makes a negligible difference in gameplay, and players might get a little sick of playing on the same couple of maps that seem to be in rotation more than the others. The best map is an expansive desert area that features rolling hills and a mostly destructible town that allow for mini ambushes, quick engagements and awesome cat-and-mouse games.

In the wake of free-to-play disasters like “Dungeon Keeper,” it’s refreshing to find an experience that doesn’t feel cheap, either in gameplay or implementation of paywalls. “World of Tanks: 360 Edition” does a lot right, and very little wrong.

It’s not the most complex game out there, but it is the very definition of “a great little game.” It does exactly what the title suggests by giving players a world of tanks to play with, and engaging gameplay to keep them entertained.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a great pick-up-and-play title that won’t dig into your bank account, you’re really not going to find much better than “World of Tanks.”

darnell.michael@stripes.com

Platform: Xbox 360
Online: worldoftanks.com

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