After years of rolling out new multiplayer maps, tanks and special modes for events and anniversaries, World of Tanks is finally adding something that might appeal to non-World of Tanks fans: a story mode.
Called War Stories, the mode will be rolled out on August 22 as a free update across PS4 and Xbox One. Much in the same vein as the Battlefield 1 campaign, War Stories will showcase a series of small, three chapter vigenettes highlighting historical, fantasy and alternate history scenarios.
In a presentation held at Wargaming's offices near Shibuya, Wargaming unveiled a singleplayer campaign for World of Tanks. Darold Higa, a senior producer and designer from Wargaming's Chicago-Baltimore studio, revealed that more players on console wanted singleplayer and co-operative experiences, and War Stories would help them do that.
"What we really need to do is look at how we can bring a rich singleplayer experience into the World of Tanks console," Higa explained. But he added that it wasn't a mode borne out of looking at the analytics from existing World of Tanks players, but by analysing similar games to World of Tanks, and finding out what those players would respond to.
"We looked at people who were already playing our game, people who were playing games similar to our game, and see what they would respond to. And [War Stories] was something they responded to. One of the things they said was, 'We've seen X battle how many times. But hey, this looks new, this looks fresh and interesting."
The mode will launch with two campaigns initially: Brothers in Armour, which will function as a proper tutorial of sorts where the player controls a unit in an Russian armoured division consisting entirely of American Sherman tanks, and Flashpoint Berlin, an alternative history scenario where the Allies are trying to deliver supplies through East Germany.
Higa was quite open about tackling alternative and fantastical scenarios as well, mentioning multiple times that "tanks on the moon" - referencing the timed Tanks on the Moon event from a couple of years ago - could be spun off into its own singleplayer campaign.
Image: World of Tanks
Some of the missions will have you leading a small squad, with the player able to issue priorities to the AI through a radial chat system. The AI won't necessarily respond all the time if they're not capable of doing so, but Higa explained that it was a system designed to "indoctrinate" good teamplay into players.
"Sometimes if they don't think they can respond, they won't, it's not like you're issuing orders to them but you're calling out needs and then the guys who can respond will respond. And we're really trying to make it like you're playing a multiplayer game and these are a bunch of players. When you're playing a multiplayer game and you say, "Hey guys we're getting flanked", some will respond and some won't. And this is the idea - we're trying to make our AI good players. Online players, we know in games that it's very possible that you're playing a game and multiplayer players less cooperative."
While the idea is to keep the vignettes separate, Higa explained that the structure would allow Wargaming to explore a range of different scenarios without having to maintain an overarching narrative connecting every single chapter. There's already two more chapters in production, although there's no release date on those.
Each campaign will support two players in co-op, too. And while War Stories isn't the same as a fully fledged singleplayer campaign, it will function as a better entry point into the game than what World of Tanks has traditionally offered.
Every campaign will open with a comic-book style intro, with cutscenes between chapters, and Higa explained that the structure would allow Wargaming to play with different mission types ranging from zone captures, objectives and boss battles. Once players complete each of the campaigns, they'll be able to replay them in a "challenge" mode with any tank or crew that they've unlocked so far.
Image: World of Tanks
War Stories will still have to operate under a lot of the existing World of Tanks framework, however. On consoles, the maximum amount of tanks in any one battle is 30. That's the limit for the singleplayer campaigns as well, so the likelihood of venturing onto a battlefield with armour from one horizon to the other isn't technically possible.
Higa explained that pickup items would be implemented into the campaign, something Wargaming has toyed around with in the past for their fun modes, and he added that War Stories would also give the developers options for content that's a lot easier than having to introduce a new tank, or a new mode. Higa couldn't expand on whether Australian-specific content or tanks was in the works, although as is always the case he mentioned that "a lot of that is always being decided".
"That's the nice thing about it - we have a clean slate to pursue the stories that we find interesting. For instance, people might end up saying we want to see some of these characters you've introduced, we want to see more of their stories. The nice thing is about this format is that we'll definitely be able to travel to different regions. Even if there's no dedicated tank line, there are tanks that Australians have used in history before, and those are available to us for this slate."
Whether it would be a historical or alternative fiction scenario is another matter. But given that Wargaming has done a lot of work with tanks and veterans locally in the past, and considering Australia's contributions to engagements over the last century, there's a good chance we'll see an Aussie vignette in World of Tanks one day.
For Higa, he hopes that War Stories encourages people to look into some of the overlooked battles of the Second World War. "The thing that you'll find is that people start looking up stuff that they were never interested in before - because they played it in a game. And then that will, by sparking their interest, they will then now look at the real history."
"And that's what I'm hoping War Stories will do too, because a lot of American game developers focus on a handful of battles. But WW2 was a global conflict, and there were a lot of stories that were told and in terms of the gaming side, a lot of that is untapped."
The author travelled to Japan as a guest of Wargaming.