Obsidian's PC title, Armored Warfare, has been in open beta since October of last year. I haven't actually played the game yet, apart from a couple of quick demos, but as a big World of Tanks fan, it was with interest that I sat down with Richard Taylor, Armored Warfare's game director, to talk to him about the massively multiplayer online tank battle game.
Unlike World of Tanks, which features mostly World War II vehicles, Armored Warfare is set in a dystopian future – 2030 to be exact – where political and economic chaos has resulted in a world where private military companies fight wars for business. It features fighting vehicles that range from tanks from the 50's through to the very latest technology, and they're spread across nine tiers in terms of firepower, with a new, tenth tier coming soon.
The game packs five basic vehicle types: main battle tanks, light tanks, tank destroyers, artillery, and armored fighting vehicles. Richard points out that the latter is unique to Armored Warfare. "Armored fighting vehicles are very lightly armored, and are more like the mobile scout of the team. They provide reconnaissance and targeting. They're not meant to be in the fray," he adds.
Armored Warfare is both a PvP and a PvE game, with the PvP side of the game taking the form of a 15 versus 15 battle in which the objective is to either capture the opposition's base, or completely wipe out the entire enemy team. There are ten different PvP maps currently available, with an eleventh being added in an upcoming content patch.
Playing both PvE and PvP modes earns experience points that are used to upgrade the tanks in your collection by improving pretty much all aspects of their performance, from guns through armor to engines. As you might expect, you can also use your xp to purchase new vehicles.
Tanks are bought from a pair of dealers that each offer their own distinct line of vehicles. Richard explains, "We started with two dealer lines – the vehicle dealers replace nation trees. We realized very early on that in the modern world you have Russia and North America, with their lines of tanks, and everyone else uses manufacturers from around the world. So it didn't make sense to group the vehicles strictly by nation. Especially since there are several nations that have cool one-off vehicles, and we wanted to get those into the game. So we took that different approach. Once we started looking at the setting and concept, providing the vehicles through different arms dealers let us theme the vehicles in a way that makes sense."
"One dealer emphasizes large firepower, lower profile vehicles that have less armor, while the other stocks a lot more of a Western approach to tanks – less focus on big cannons and a little bit more about highly evolved armor, so you have a lot more composite armor on those vehicles. This week we're launching patch 0.13, and that's going to add our third dealer. He'll start off with a line of Chinese main battle tanks."
Players start at tier one, and very quickly branch out into tier two tanks. However, the third tier is unlocked by completing objectives that depend on specific playstyles. Richard explains, "It works out that how you're playing unlocks vehicles that match your playstyle. Once you've been playing long enough, you'll unlock them all anyway, but to start with, the first line you'll unlock will be because of how you play."
Richard adds, "The upgrade trees for vehicles reflect their real-world upgrade history. When you first get a vehicle, it's stock and is pretty much where it first started when it rolled out of the factory, but once you add all the upgrades it's where it evolved to. We've put a lot of work into making that as accurate as possible."
As you progress through the game and obtain new vehicles, you also unlock commanders. Richard reveals, "We have a crew system for Armored Warfare. As an RPG studio, we wanted to get characters into the game. It's a game about vehicles, but there are people behind those vehicles, and that enabled us to make characters with stories, personalities, and combat traits. We have commanders, which are unique characters that we've created that have their own set of skills and playstyles. You're not limited to using them in one vehicle – you can put the same commander in all your vehicles. But more likely, you'll mix and match commanders to take advantages of the strengths and weaknesses of a vehicle."
Another aspect of the game that plays into vehicle customization is retrofit equipment. "As you progress through vehicle lines, you unlock schematics that allow you to retrofit your vehicle with specific upgrades," says Richard. "These range from giving your crew bonuses to more HP, or better aim time. Each different vehicle can equip different retrofits, which means you can customize it in different directions."
Finally, players get to build a base as they play through the game. "This is still a work in progress," says Richard. "We're planning on expanding it a lot from here. Players are able to add buildings to their base that provide them with passive benefits. It's optional – all bonuses are progression-based – but generally you'll want to do it because it'll give you free credits and experience."
Armored Warfare's PvE mode is quite comprehensive, and currently spans 30 missions – with more being added via content updates. Up to four players can tackle a PvE mission together as a team, giving the game an interesting co-op twist. Richard continues, "Early on, we recognized that there wasn't much in the way of co-op gameplay in the genre, and we thought that there were a lot of players that would probably enjoy collecting vehicles and upgrading them that weren't necessarily into competitive PvP. So we made the decision to add PvE to the game from the very beginning. Our goal was to make it a mode in which you can play and progress just as much as you can in PvP."
"The mission structure varies – sometimes it's capture and hold, sometimes it's defend a location. There are different mechanics for PvE missions, and they rotate every 15 minutes, so there are always new missions coming in. There are three levels of missions, easy, medium and hard. On higher-level missions there's the chance that mini-bosses will spawn. They have more health than normal vehicles, and you have to work as a team to destroy them."
Something that Richard stresses is really important to Armored Warfare is making the ammunition modeling as accurate as possible. He explains, "Ammunition has evolved a long way since the World War 2 era, and we wanted to simulate that with our mechanics. There are three categories of explosives: armor piercing, high explosive, and shape charges. Each of those is modeled differently, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Armor piercing is high penetration and average damage. It also has high shell velocity and flies straight, so it's easy to hit targets. Shape charges are slower in the air, so it's harder to lead a target. They have lower penetration, but do more damage. They're good if you're close to a target or have a good angle on a weak point."
Balance is also very important in a game like Armored Warfare, and I ask Richard how his team keeps the gameplay equitable. He responds, "We spend a lot of time looking at game metrics. When we launched in October, it was with baited breath. We'd done the best we could, and we just had to see how the game turned out. There were a few outliers early on, but we patched them, and since then we've been happy with the balance figures that have been coming out of the game, especially through the early to mid tiers. The higher tiers still need some balance work. They're the newest addition to the game, so they've seen the least amount of testing."
"There's a lot of discussion," he continues. "Some of the game mechanics don't lend themselves to a formula that can answer a problem, such as how different guns compare to one another. But leaning on our pedigree as an RPG studio, we've dealt with this sort of thing in the past, so it's really a case of using large number systems and translating that to this game. We want to keep everything viable on a tier, and facilitate different playstyles. That's really important. We want everything to feel balanced, and for everything to feel different, and not homogenized."
Armored Warfare is a free-to-play game. I ask Richard to comment on the business model. He explains, "From the very beginning, it was important to us to not have any pay-to-win elements. So anything that affects match performance is available without having to pay money. There's no gold ammo in the game."
"We sell premium time for accelerating your progress, and we sell premium vehicles that have enhanced progression. You can also buy decals. We also have xp conversion so that you can convert experience from one vehicle and use it on another. Something that we introduced in December that players really like is the option to upgrade any vehicle you own to a battle-hardened one. It basically turns any standard vehicle you own into a premium vehicle lite. It costs about 40% of the price of buying a premium vehicle, and gives you a 50% experience bonus of a premium vehicle. So that means you can convert a vehicle that you really enjoy playing into a money-earner."
Obsidian hasn't yet announced an official release date for Armored Warfare, but Richard noted that it would be "sometime this year." I walked away from the demo wanting to play more. While it looks and plays very similarly to World of Tanks, Armored Warfare does have some subtle differences that set it apart from Wargaming's popular title. One of the main differences I noted is that the overall gameplay seems faster and more immediate than that of World of Tanks. Players confront one another soon after they start moving forward – very likely because the average speed of most vehicles is higher than those in World of Tanks – and this helps games move along a little quicker.
The RPG elements also help separate Armored Warfare from its competition, with the commanders and retrofit schematics enabling you to customize your tanks to match your playstyle. That definitely adds an extra layer of personalization to the game, and one that seems to get increasingly complex as you progress through the vehicle tiers.
But really, it's the PvE side of the game that's the most interesting aspect of Armored Warfare. It stands out as something that's unique, and being able to play with up to three other players in co-op mode is a neat option. I'll be putting some time into the game over the following weeks, and will report back with more in-depth impressions.