Earlier this month, TheXboxHub were invited to attend a press event to find out more about World Of Tanks’ most ambitious content injection yet: ‘Mercenaries’.
As part of update 4.5 releasing on the 26th June 2018, the largest since WOTs’ inception and exclusive to consoles, the team at Wargaming West (formerly Day One Studios, acquired in 2013) took the lead in reinvigorating the formula, whilst keeping everything that veterans love.
Leaning further into the alternate history found in ‘War Stories’, and with clear inspiration from the likes of ‘Man In the High Castle’ and ‘Fatherland’, Mercenaries poses the question of ‘What if?’
What if WW2 had raged on into the late 1940s? What if the Cuban Missile Crisis had gone sideways? What if the Russians had a fully fledged nuclear programme far earlier in the 20th century? Everything in Wargamings’ alternate lore has had a knock on effect.
It’s the setup to Mercenaries; a desperate world ravaged by sporadic nuclear war. In such dire straits, formal alliances no longer exist between nations. It’s about recruiting the best guns (tanks) for hire. That’s where you come in.
It boasts ten distinctly ravaged maps at launch, new ‘Mercenary’ tanks and crews, a brand new tech tree for the acquisition of said tanks and the first of Mercenaries’ episodic missions; ‘Heist’. A daring raid on a secret facility, in the employ of a shadowy client.
As an initial disclaimer, we were meant to have some extended hands-on time with the new update, but due to technical difficulties at the venue, this never came to fruition.
Luckily I got to speak to two senior members of Wargaming.net: Ingo Horn, Communications Director for Consoles and Darold Higa, Senior Game Designer (‘Narrative Designer’) at the Chicago-Baltimore office. I inquired as to what we can expect from Mercenaries, how the team arrived at the idea and what it means for WOT going forward.
War Never Changes, Except When it Does:
World of Tanks is, in many ways, a purist’s dream. Working closely with a bevy of military advisors from various armed forces around the world, Wargaming know their tanks. The strategic meta-game is incredibly involved. Turning speed, reload speed, rotation speed, glancing hits, angle of positioning etc. the list goes on and on for those who wish to delve.
Tank models too are all historically accurate. That may mean a certain model only reached the stage of initial blueprints, but somewhere in someone’s mind, this was how that tank would’ve looked and performed.
Mercenaries changes all of that.
Described as the ‘fantasy football’ of World of Tanks, the new additions to your armory are entirely conceptual but make sense within the setting of Mercenaries.
The characters in this alternate timeline have had to scrounge, scavenge and build on the fly. The cannon of an American made tank placed on the chassis of a Russian model etc. The brand new ‘Trinity’ model is an amalgamation of a few different tanks and some dramatic license on the part of Wargaming. It’s a fresh take, offering a different direction for those who want a little more from the experience. But for players who aren’t necessarily interested, no one is being forgotten.
Ingo Horn: ‘It’s an addition, we do not leave behind our traditional military fans, who are eager to have their -Tiger Tank- where they know exactly where the weak spots are etc. We are continuing the traditional World of Tanks experience. Always updating and giving new content in the military accurate setting. Tanks that were specifically used or at least at a blueprint stage in real life. Mercenaries is an addition. It’s another layer, and it’s a pretty extreme change, obviously only happening on console. Not on PC or Mobile. But we’re not leaving them behind. It’s just about giving players a larger selection of content.’
Darold Higa: ‘Mercenaries is meant to be a new way of experiencing World Of Tanks on consoles. But we’re conscious of the fact that a lot of long time players won’t be interested in that side of the experience. So we don’t want to alienate them by changing the core experience to something unrecognisable. Mercenaries is an added layer on top. And the mercenaries maps, tanks for example; whilst they have their own identity, they’re not beyond the realms of possibility within our already established world. We’re not getting too crazy, fighting with tanks on Mars or anything.’
‘Single Player is Dead’, Said No One:
Darold Higa: ‘It’s funny whenever ‘they’ announce those broad statements. When you look at what our players are doing, it suggests single player is definitely not dead.
As a console player, I’m sorry but I want a single player portion and multiplayer portion to any game. I don’t see it as either/or.’
Mercenaries is a more narrative focused experience.
A response to the overwhelmingly positive community feedback from ‘War Stories’, the single player (or co-op), episodic portions introduced in August of last year, War Stories itself was born out of a clear desire, from players, for a more solo experience and Mercenaries goes even further.
Darold Higa: ‘War Stories was our foray into a single player experience. We were building up to that for a year or two. With the proving grounds and training rooms, these were self contained maps where you fight against the AI. Being a multiplayer game, robust AI and infrastructure had to be built from the ground up. We went some ways with that and released them incrementally in free to play fashion. They were released as featured content, and we found people were playing the heck out of it, so we saw that there was clearly a demand for it. We built upon that, ultimately coming out with War Stories.’
Ingo Horn: ‘Listening to the community is incredibly important to us. Over the course of this year in around 3 months we gained an extra million players. We believe War Stories had a hand in that and the overall positive direction we seem to be headed in. At least for consoles, the War Stories and the narrative aspect will continue to play a big role. We will continue to release War Stories based in this Mercenaries scenario. New tanks, characters and we will see whether it works.’
One of the bigger changes in update 4.5 is how you acquire the new mercenary tanks. Revamped from the original step by step grind, there are now a selection of ‘contracts’ for each tank. In this way you can set your sights on a specific model and then complete pre-requisite challenges to slowly build up your tank of choice. Note that this new tech tree only applies to the new additions, and as previously mentioned, it’s simply an added layer.
Darold Higa: ‘It won’t suddenly be much easier than the old system, effectively screwing over that side of our player base. It’s just a different interface, you’re working towards satisfying specific challenges for a specific tank. The mercenary tanks are a different, fun way to expand your arsenal. You’re not progressing up a line of incrementally improving tanks. I’m gonna go from the M2 to 3 to 4 etc. There’s a logical progression there if you’re a tank fanatic, to see the evolution of that tank within history.’
But if you’re not a tank buff, but you still want to fight, then our new Contracts system is really cool. We’ve tried to scale it appropriately so a lower tier tank will be relatively easy to acquire, but a higher tier tank might be a more significant time investment. It’s a more direct way of unlocking a tank that you like the look of. You can work towards that tank near enough straight away. Maybe one of the pre-requisites of that tank is unlocking a couple of others but it’s different to the previous incremental system.
The Future Of Wargaming:
World of Tanks has always been a fantastic example of free to play gaming implemented correctly. Both Ingo and Darold recognize that a bad business model, the desire for huge monetisation in a significantly short space of time, often goes hand in hand with a lack of confidence in the product. To Wargamings’ credit, the experimentation in Mercenaries looks to be a continuation of their surety in the core experience and, as a primarily multiplayer experience, that it boasts such meat in the single player department can only be a good thing. Real choice for players.
Ingo Horn: ‘It’s about continuing a life cycle. World Of Tanks on console is four years old and we want to keep it going. We’re not a traditional boxed game. We have different needs. ‘Heist’ will be the 9th ‘single player episode’ after 8 war stories, so by the time you get to Heist you may have between 9-12 hours of experience under your belt just from the single player. Play through all of these and you’ll be in a good place to start competing against real players.’
With a constantly expanding player base on consoles, the future is looking bright for Wargaming.net. I was curious as to what that future might look like in slightly finer detail. Darold Higas’ grin, whilst infectious, gives nothing away.
Darold Higa: ‘I’m smiling right now, there’s something I can’t talk about. Let me think of how to phrase this without getting fired when I get back.’
So first of all, narrative is important but we’ve now provided a lot of narrative content in World of Tanks, there’s hours and hours. So narrative won’t necessarily be the primary focus.
In terms of the future, suffice to say we’re not saying “well, we’re done.” We’re looking for the new experiences we can provide and asking, what have we learned from the things we’ve released? Honestly, it’s also a very immediate thing, people’s reactions to Mercenaries will have a huge bearing on where we go from here.
That’s the great thing about our game being a ‘service’, an evolutionary product. We can listen to the community and act on that feedback. We don’t have to build up to this one boxed, on-disc product and then put it out there in the wild as ‘finished’.
I much prefer the way I’m working now. It’s like “well what can we do to the game tomorrow to make it a new and exciting thing?”‘
At time of writing, World Of Tanks boasts 680 tanks from 9 nations and 90 constantly rotating maps. Come June 26th, that selection of content is set to swell even further with ‘Mercenaries’. The entirety of World Of Tanks, and it’s ensuing updates, is completely free.
Now, more than ever, seems the perfect time to jump into the armored battle phenomenon.