Armored Warfare hands-on: Obsidian's tank war is a lot like World of Tanks

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There’s a certain feeling I get while playing Armored Warfare. It’s impossible to shake: a growing tension, a tightness between my shoulder blades. I feel like I’ve done this all before.

The fact is, I have. I have driven a tank down a snowy road and through a destroyed Eastern European housing project before. I have shot at enemy tanks and seen my shells ricochet or destroy internal components before. I have had my tank destroyed in a free-to-play tank MMO and returned to a garage deployment screen.

Armored Warfare is a new game from Obsidian, and it’s set to be a direct competitor to Wargaming’s very successful tanker game, World of Tanks. I knew all this going in to the multiplayer PvP alpha test last week, but what I was unprepared for was just how similar Obsidian’s prototype is to Wargaming’s growing empire.

In fact, any discussion of Armored Warfare would be incomplete without acknowledging that there is a striking resemblance to World of Tanks. More than striking, really. For example, there was no available control layout or remappable controls in the alpha test I played, but I knew how to do everything because it was the same as World of Tanks. I even started each round in a garage screen, where I could select a tank and use earned in-game credits to upgrade it.

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Borrowing heavily from a competitor isn’t an automatic disqualifier, of course—not at all. What I want to see from Armored Warfare is innovation based off of the foundation that World of Tanks built. When it comes to new ideas, there are only three major differences.

The first difference is that Armored Warfare is focused on modern tanks instead of World War 2 and Korean War-era vehicles. This opens up a lot of possibilities exploring new gadgets like signal jammers, UAV uplinks, thermal sights, and all of the other computer-aided war toys militaries have developed over the last six decades. Each of these upgrades could be a source of emergent tactics and new ways to play that will contribute new experiences to this crowded genre.

Armored Warfare will also introduce new PvE campaigns and co-op multiplayer scenarios, which is a huge departure from the multiplayer-only realm of World of Tanks. Obsidian’s strong history with single-player games like Fallout and Dungeon Siege might be an asset here. Having a tank game that focuses on PvE and co-op missions would be a lot of fun for those of us who get tired of the Counter Strike-style one-death-you're-out team play. Alas, the PvE options weren’t included in the early test build I played, so they remain theoretical.

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The third major difference between the two games is that Armored Warfare looks incredible. It’s running on a modified but powerful version of CryEngine, and it loves showing off great art. Smoke, explosions, dirt, snow, and destructible terrain all look great, not to mention flowing elements like camo nets or gorgeously rendered water. It looks a lot nicer than World of Tanks, and for many players, that might be enough.

Parsing out the similarities leaves me more conflicted than outraged. On one hand, control schemes and genre tropes get recycled to exhaustion all the time in FPS military games: the difference between Medal of Honor and Call of Duty and countless others is a matter of style and speed, but they share the same bones. Having two tank games that are very similar isn't exactly the worst creative crime in the gaming right now.

On the other hand, there are only two games in this space, the free-to-play tank MMO, so it's galling to see them be so close to each other. There’s so much more room to breathe and maneuver in this new genre, so why not spread out? Get some air. Take more risks. Try something new.

Even though I wasn't really impressed with the alpha build that I played, I think there will be a lot of stuff to like in Armored Warfare when it’s ready for release. Moving forward, I suspect that Armored Warfare will shine the best when it uses its new setting and tech level to introduce new ways to play. The closer it sticks to World of Tanks, the less interesting and more forgettable the whole thing will be.