With Armored Warfare, Obsidian Takes Aim at World of Tanks
War. War sometimes changes.
When I recently saw Armored Warfare, Obsidian Entertainment’s upcoming online tank action game, it was hard not to think the obvious: “Isn’t this just World of Tanks?”
Later on, when I played a team-versus-AI match using a Soviet T-80 (coincidentally, everyone on my team chose the same offensive powerhouse), it was still hard not to think it. Tank shoot-em-ups are hardly new to video games, but World of Tanks’ mix of vehicular warfare, persistent progression, and customization is very much its own. I really enjoyed the Armored Warfare match, during which programmer Anthony Davis offered real-time hints, having driven plenty of tanks during his own days in the United States Army. He also entertained me with an anecdote of a buddy who was court martialed for driving his tank at 80-odd miles per hour. But I wasn’t convinced that Armored Warfare could escape World of Tanks’ looming shadow.
Rich Taylor, Armored Warfare’s project director, begs to differ, and he’s ready to show the world that the game is not just a clone of another highly successful game. “The time period really is something that makes Armored Warfare special,” Taylor tells me. “Technology in the battlefield has continued to evolve over the last several decades, and by placing our game within the modern era, we can integrate new mechanics, weapons, and ideas that build off of these advancements. In addition to the time period, we are also hard at work bringing cooperative scenarios to players that allow those less interested in the competitive player-versus-player environment to still enjoy the thrill of collecting, customizing, and commanding modern military vehicles.”
Taylor also rightfully points out that team-oriented vehicle-centric games have a storied history, going all the way back to games like MechWarrior, so World of Tanks is hardly the be-all and end-all of the genre. Nevertheless, it’s hard to differentiate yourself when the competition is so similar. Obsidian, however, has a history of crafting standout worlds that inspire a player’s investment. And Taylor thinks the developer can do so, even in a game as seemingly straightforward as this.
“There are ways of creating a compelling narrative without spelling things out directly for players,” says Taylor. “There are characters that players will interact with in the course of managing their base and vehicles. Things these characters say or data contained in their profiles can reveal aspects about the narrative that have not been written out explicitly. Expect to see a lot of references and hints to the larger story scattered throughout the various interactions users will have with the game. Details in the maps as well will reveal aspects of what is taking place in the world in our setting as we take advantage of visual storytelling techniques. We feel like we can implement and reveal the narrative in a way that it is unobtrusive to players who aren't interested in it while being there to discover for players who are.”
What impressed me most while I played was how beautiful the CryEngine-driven game looks. World of Tanks certainly can’t compete with Armored Warfare on a visual level; every detail begs to be admired, from the tanks’ dirty treads to the rivets that dot its chassis. I can’t speak to whether the machines handle like their real-life counterparts, but Army veteran Davis assures me that the developer is nailing the feel while still keeping the action as snappy as it can. Taylor concurs: “Anthony has been with Obsidian for a lot of years and it's been great to have him aboard for this project. Having Anthony's insight from his time in the service has been a great asset in helping us build authenticity into the experience. He regularly shares with us comments about what tank crew members would see, say, and based on his experiences of serving in the M1 Abrams and the M1A1.”
I’ve never been in an M1 Abrams, and I suspect that most people that play Armored Warfare will never have been in one either. But I bet that many of them will have played World of Tanks, and I’m anxious to see whether those players think this apple fell far enough from the tree. I’ll at least have an inkling when Armored Warfare enters its closed beta period later this year.