Preview: Armored Warfare
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If you’re anything like me, you’ll have to do a double-take at the next sentence: Obsidian Entertainment, makers of Knights of the Old Republic 2, Alpha Protocol (I love that game, so suck it), South Park: Stick of Truth, and Pillars of Eternity, are making a free-to-play online multiplayer tank shooter. A free-to-play. Online. Multiplayer. Tank. Shooter. But the weirdest part is that this game, Armored Warfare, is actually a lot of fun and one of the most polished things Obsidian has yet produced. And it’s still only in beta.

To set the stage, on October 22, I had the chance to visit Obsidian’s studio in warm, sunny Irvine, California along with 100 or so other press and Youtubers (which I found out are called “Influencers”), where we had the opportunity to get some hands on time with Armored Warfare.  The game was conceived in 2012 but it wasn’t announced until early 2014, and has been through several closed betas and early access tests since then. But on October 8, Armored Warfare went into full open beta. The chunk of game we got to see is what will be releasing with the upcoming v0.11 patch. But before I get into what’s new, let’s talk about what Armored Warfare is.

Armored Warfare, as previously mentioned, is an online multiplayer tank shooter. The core of the game is divided into two game types: PvP and PvE. PvP currently consists of one kind of match: 15-on-15 elimination-style competitive multiplayer; the team with the most players standing wins. PvE, on the other hand, is a five player affair. PvE is not a simple Horde mode where you fight unending waves of enemies; PvE tasks you and your teammates with tackling one main objective (like eliminating an enemy lieutenant or capturing a base) along with a few side objectives (such as destroying generators or missile batteries). In both game types, players only have one life.

If I have any complaints with the current version of Armored Warfare, it’s the lack of choice in match types and variety. You can’t choose what map you want to play on or which objectives you get in PvE. You simply click the PvE or PvP button and you’re thrown into a match. And, as of right now, there are no competitive modes besides elimination. No capture-the-flag. No matches with respawning. No wave-based PvE. While this irks me, I feel it important to remember that the game is in beta and as nice as variety would be right now, solid gameplay must be laid down first, and in this aspect, they've succeeded.

Also, some sort of match customization is coming down the road in patch v0.11. While it won’t affect match makings from what I understand, it will allow you to have more options when playing with a groups of friends.

Despite the meager mode offerings, where there is no lack of variety is in the tanks themselves. Well, technically not all of the vehicles are “tanks.” The list of available vehicles classes includes tank destroyers, armored fighting vehicle, self-propelled guns, light tanks, and main battle tanks. When you first start the game, you only have access to one MBT and one AFV. But as you play matches and gain reputation and cash, you’re able to unlock new classes and tiers. There are five classes and eight available tiers of vehicles. Since most tiers have two of each class, the total number of tanks to purchase is about 70. And this is all before patch v0.11 launches, which will introduce a ninth tier of vehicles.

Though it is a game about tanks shooting other tanks, Armored Warfare is not just about shooting other tanks because there is almost a ridiculous amount of customization to be had. This is an Obsidian game after all. For one, each class of tank has (or will have) its own unique ability. For example, my favorite class is the AFV because its ability is related to spotting. While cruising in an AFV, you can tag enemies so that they both show up on you teammates’ HUDs and receive maximum damage from your team’s attacks. Being that I’m not the world’s best competitive shooter, this goes a long way to making me feel useful on the battlefield. Again, since Armored Warfare is in beta, not all of classes currently have a specific ability.

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Beyond the class-specific abilities are the upgrades. For each tank there seem to be between 5 and 10 upgrades you can purchase. These upgrades vary from stronger armor to better cannons to different ammo types and largely seem to be unique to each class, if not specific vehicle. In addition to these upgrades, there are around 20 different retrofits that can be applied to all tanks. The difference between upgrades and retrofits is that you can purchase and use all the upgrades for a tank but you can only install a few retrofits and that number depends on the tank’s tier.

While this may sound like a lot of customization, there are still two further areas: commanders and your base. After all, every tank must come from somewhere and have someone leading it. With that in mind, each of your tanks can have one of three different commanders. Commanders have their own starting perk and can be upgraded from there. Much like an RPG, your commanders level up with use and you get to choose additional perks with each level. Oh, I almost forgot, you have a crew for each tank and they level up as well, though not as in depth as the commanders. Finally, your base allows you to assist your own leveling up in the rest of the game by building… err, buildings. One building may increase the rate at which your crew gains XP while another will reduce the cost of retrofits. Each building can then be further upgraded to increase its effectiveness.

Speaking of upgrades, it’s time to address the elephant in the room: the fact that Armored Warfare is free-to-play. While talking to the developers, it was stressed repeatedly that the game is not set up to be “pay-to-win.” The key to this is that any money you put into the game will make you progress and earn money faster, but it won’t make you better than everyone else. The idea is that, if you earn money and reputation faster, then you will get to higher tiers of vehicles faster. But once you're in a higher tier, you’ll only be playing against vehicles of that higher tier. So it’s not like you can drop a mound of cash on the game, purchase a Tier 8 tank immediately and the proceed to mop the floor with a bunch of Tier 1 tanks, because you’ll only be fighting other Tier 8 tanks (and maybe some 7s depending on the server population).

The way that monetization currently works in Armored Warfare is two-fold. It adopts both a subscription-like model and the common dual-currency model seen in mobile games. To further explain it: you earn cash by playing both PvP and PvE matches. Cash is what allows you to purchase new tanks, upgrades, ammo, etc. The game also allows you to buy in-game gold with real-world money. Gold can then be transferred into cash, currency or what the game calls “Premium Time.” This is where the subscription-ish part comes in. Premium Time can be purchased in increments as little as 1 day to ones as large as 365. What Premium Time gives you is 50% more cash and reputation for each match played. So if you were earning $500, with Premium Time you would earn $750. And to further break it down, 1 day of Premium Time costs 200 gold. Gold is purchased in no less than 1,000 allotments for $4.99 in actual dollars. 365 days of Premium Time costs 22,000 gold and you can buy 30,000 gold for $99 in reality. It roughly equals how much you would spend on a subscription-based MMO. Is it convoluted? Yes. But, from my time with it, it hasn’t felt evil. And that’s probably the best thing I can say about it.

Now on to happier news. Since we’ve thoroughly discussed what Armored Warfare is, it's time to talk about what’s to come. Patch v0.11 of Armored Warfare will be dropping sometime soon. When, I don’t know, since v0.10.1529 came out on October 26. I’ve already mentioned that v0.11 will introduce Tier 9 tanks, which will include 8 new, totally modern vehicles. There are also the custom matches that will launch with v0.11, as well as 3 new maps in the pipeline, 1 PvP and 2 PvE. But the thing that excites me most is a new Observer Mode. Observer Mode is not simple spectator mode; you’re part of the game and part of a team. In Observer Mode you’ll be able to get a high-level view of the battlefield and give your teammates valuable info. It’s like taking spotting to the next level.

Further down the road we were told that there are plans to overhaul the base building systems. There will be a loot system that will allow you to pick up upgrades and retrofits in the battlefield. Though I have to wonder how good a combat scanner is if it’s laying on the ground in the middle of a world at war. But hey, it works in Fallout. There will also be an increase in narrative and backstory, but sadly no tank-romance side-quests. And then of course, as with any multiplayer game, you’ll eventually be able to record and watch replays.

There is so much going on in Armored Warfare and so much to talk about that it’s a little mind boggling, especially for a game that, on its surface, appears to be just another arcade shooter. I could talk about how Obsidian has spent an incredible amount of time creating realistic tank armor and damage dispersion, making flanking your enemies not only a good idea, but vital to success. I could discuss cool little game mechanics like the ability to leave a match after you die, pick another one of your owned tanks (because the one you died in is still in that match), and join another game without penalty. I could talk about just how great the game looks being rendered in CryEngine 3. But I don’t think there’s a way I can even begin to discuss all of it without it being shoehorned in, like this paragraph is.

While there is a lot to say and I definitely haven't said it all, I think the most important thing I can say about Armored Warfare is that it is a polished good time. No, it’s not complete, but it’s solid enough that, if you have any interest in this brand of multiplayer shooter, there’s really no reason not to give it a shot. In all honesty, I’ve been playing Armored Warfare every day since the preview event and have been really enjoying it. What more do you need?

Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.