Knights of the Old Republic II. Fallout: New Vegas. South Park: The Stick of Truth. Obsidian Entertainment’s pedigree is well-known, stocked with standout single-player RPGs. This, of course, makes it the perfect company to take on a giant in the field of PvP tank warfare.
Two things were apparent to me during my recent press trip out to California to meet with the Obsidian staff and get an in-depth look at Armored Warfare. One, they’re definitely cognizant of World of Tanks, and while they didn’t say so directly, with arrogant statements like “We want to be #1,” they’re also not going to be content with making a critically acclaimed title with a small but devoted following. And second, it is the right studio for the job, and will use its RPG expertise to go above and beyond simple tank-on-tank warfare.
Taking on the World
So let’s start with the basics: Why is Obsidian doing this? With all due respect to War Thunder, World of Tanks owns this space. Even so, “We felt there was room in the genre,” Project Director Richard Taylor told us in his keynote address. Sure, there are obvious differences between AW and WoT: crisper graphics, more modern tanks, and so on. But, to take an obvious example, shinier and more sophisticated MMORPGs have emerged since World of Warcraft, and none of them have come close to approaching Blizzard’s juggernaut.
Obsidian’s not just looking to dazzle people with pretty graphics. There’s a team of a hundred people, the largest under the developer’s roof, working on tuning and refining the game and making it something that can turn this thing into a two-tank race.
And if racing is the key, then Obsidian’s got the edge. Vehicles in Armored Warfare are understandably swifter than their WWII-era equivalents, and that’s one way the gameplay is made to feel different from WoT. Obsidian doesn’t want players sitting around, camping spots behind rocks and occasionally poking their heads out to take a shot. You’ll do some of that in AW, sure, but increased mobility leads to more strategic and unpredictable combat. There’s nothing quite like maneuvering your light tank in behind a big bruiser, firing a few shells into their rear, and then absconding before they even know you’re there. Well, apart from the sore butt.
It’s not unfair to compare Armored Warfare to World of Tanks; that’s the impression you’ll get if all you do is play a few PvP battles. The controls are meant to feel familiar, and several employees I spoke to weren’t shy about admitting the similarities. As they generally put it, they’re taking the core experience of World of Tanks and improving upon it.
Admittedly, I’m no expert in either game, and my First Look makes many of those same, simplistic comparisons. It’s also based on an early build of the game, but the game has apparently changed a lot since then. I shared a ride from the airport with, and spent much of the trip picking the brain of, YouTuber Captain Canada, who has over 13,000 battles logged in WoT, and he was suitably impressed by the changes Obsidian’s made in the game since its early stages. He told me that Obsidian’s done more to improve Armored Warfare in four months than Wargaming’s done with World of Tanks in four years. A few examples of things currently in the game or coming in the next update:
I know we hear a lot of promises about what game companies will do, and at least half of them never bear fruit, but, if Captain Canada’s assessment is correct – and even from my relatively untrained eye, it seems to be – Obsidian’s shown that it’s just as good at delivering content, on a timely basis, as it is at promising it.
Several of the employees I talked to had experience with New Vegas or Stick of Truth and loved their new jobs, different as they were from the single-player RPGs they were used to. They’ve found ways to incorporate that experience into Armored Warfare in a number of ways.
The first, as previously mentioned, is PvE matches. This was something else I only got a chance to sample in a beta a few months ago, but it’s proven extremely popular with players who want the tank-battling experience but are intimidated by PvP. Each match has a few objectives but your primary goal is to eliminate the opposition – and, as in any good RPG, there are “boss” tanks that your team will need to approach and deal with carefully. There are over 20 PvE maps in development, and the team is always looking to innovate, such as by having “runs” of three matches with the same five-player team, meant to simulate an MMO dungeon experience.
Another major innovation borrows a little from both single-player games and from MMOs. During development, the team was looking to give smaller tanks an edge against their bigger opponents, so they came up with the idea of designating a target. Scout vehicles could activate a special ability to “mark” an enemy, which would then receive more damage from allied vehicles. It proved so popular that the team decided to implement special abilities for all classes of vehicles, giving you that extra edge in combat and making you feel more like you were… well, playing a role, rather than just being another armored hulk with a big gun.
Obsidian’s also making room for a more complex story, because what RPG would be complete without one? There’s already the barest outline of a story embedded – deeply embedded, and easy to miss – in the game, with players serving as independent mercenaries who purchase their fighting vehicles from totally-trustworthy-and-not-at-all-shady dealers, but Obsidian wants to add more, including an “endgame” of sorts. They promise, however, there will not be any “tank-on-tank romance,” a line that got a good laugh from the assembled crowd. “My, what a big autocannon you have there…”
Then there’s the base system, which gives you a feeling of personalized account progression, similar to what you’ll find in most RPGs. (It’s already something they’re revising and looking to improve upon.) Loot rewards are also something they’d like to add, and there’s a revised new player experience in the works.
A new challenger
More than anything, the Obsidian team believes it can do it. Development on Armored Warfare started in 2012 and, as Obsidian President Feargus Urquhart put it, it “wasn’t so happy” but “we’re in a different place now.” Developers obviously put on a happy face for press, but I didn’t get that sense of uneasy tension lurking just under the surface that I get from a lot of places I visit. They’re working hard, no doubt, but it seems to be a focused team that knows what it’s trying to accomplish and how to get there. Later this week, I’ll clue readers in on some of what makes those goals come to light.
At the evening party near the end of my visit, I overheard a few Obsidian and My.com employees talking about World of Tanks and some of the updates and fixes Wargaming has announced. One of them said with a smirk, “They’re noticing us.” Whether Wargaming is making those changes directly as a result of what they’re hearing about Armored Warfare or not, it’s good for gamers that there is another legitimate entry into the field, and that the innovation brought on by one will spur innovation by the other.