Wargaming.net offered us a surprising hands-on with their just-announced tablet adaptation of their flagship title with World of Tanks Blitz.
At the Wargaming.net booth at GDC 2013, here's what I expected:
- Impressive stats about how the online developer/publisher titan has grown in the last 6 months. Check - WG is up to 1,500 employees in 14 offices around the world and added 3 development studios to their stable (BigWorld, Gas Powered Games, and Day One Studios - which is currently developing an "unannounced" console title.
- A glancing look at the World of Warplanes ongoing beta - yes, it's still in beta, yes it still looks graphically impressive, and no, it still won't include War Thunder nifties like carrier landings and torpedo bombers.
- A practice round with World of Tanks Generals, the new browser-based CCG. Check - in a not-so-epic duel between T1s and Leichtraktors, the Americans won. If tactical CCGs are your thing, this might be a fun thing to do while waiting between clan wars rounds.
Here's what I didn't expect - a hands-on with World of Tanks Blitz, the iOS and Android smartphone/tablet adaptation of the incredibly popular online match-based shooter. But that's just what happened when Wargaming.net's Chris Cook handed me and Ten Ton Hammer Editor-in-Chief Reuben Waters an iPad each with Blitz's tank selection screen on the screen.
Chris noted that about 80 of 300+ tanks will appear in Blitz, and we had a smattering of Tier VIIs to choose from. I went with one of my mid-tier favorites - a T29 heavy with a thickly armored turret that looks just like the green army men tanks that maybe your aunt bought you for Christmas instead of GI Joes - and Reuben rolled a base model Panther - a highly respectable tier 7 medium with flanking speed and a devastatingly accurate gun.
I lay these facts out not to try to show off my miniscule knowledge of World of Tanks, but to say that these tanks performed exactly to their expected capabilities in Blitz. And that wasn't the end of the similarities.
Blitz features 7v7 battles on maps that appeared to be about a third of the traditional World of Tanks map. While a map name wasn't revealed and the WG is keeping mum on the exact number of maps available (Chris hinted at somewhere "between 5 and 10"), the map we played on might be recognizable to World of Tanks grognards as the western half of Cliff or Siegfried Line. Green and lush scenery as well as the occasional rock outcropping (acting as good cover) surrounds a center neutral control point, much as you'd find on a World of Tanks Encounter map.
During the abbreviated countdown, Chris outlined the controls. The movement controls (a traditional d-pad) and the fire button were located on the bottom left-hand part of the screen. This is wise placement, since good tankers seldom fire on the move. Under the right thumb was an open circle that allows tankers to independently move their turret and crosshairs, a binoculars icon that puts players in sniping mode, and a button to change ammo.
The graphics were easily "console quality" - in fact I couldn't see a discernible difference between what I saw in Blitz and the PC game. However, aiming was my biggest concern about Blitz. Along with using cover, aiming correctly is much more than half the battle in the PC game, and I've bested tanks two tiers better and one type heavier by maneuvering and choosing my shots wisely (and had it done to me, for that matter).
But once I'd nestled into cover near the cap and zoomed in on a likely enemy location, I found that aiming was actually pretty much pinpoint. Chris, the other half of my 2-person team, swung through the base and lit the two opponents. Reuben's panther was in cover across from me, and we focused fire on the other WG dev's IS, quickly eliminating him.
The only controls hiccup was backing into cover between shots. In the PC game, alternating between the w and s keys to rock and/or back quickly while my crew is reloading is usually necessarily to mid-game survival. In Blitz I found it difficult to aim the crosshairs with steady right thumb pressure while glancing for the left d-pad (since I couldn't feel it). This is far from a deal breaker, but it will take some getting used to.
Reuben scored a final hit on my wingman, however, but a duel between a T-29 and a Panther is a fairly one-sided affair. A well-placed belly shot to the Panther's engine set him aflame, and victory was ours.
The victory screen offered not only temporary bragging rights, but experience and credits just like in World of Tanks. I asked if these rewards will be tossed into your reward pool. Chris explained that Wargaming.net is conscious of a scenario where longtime players of World of Tanks could come in and create challenges with their existing experience and credits. Nonetheless, accounts will be linked - you'll use the same login for World of Tanks and for Blitz and rewards will be linked... somehow. We'll have to wait to see for more details.
World of Tanks Blitz is billed as something that will take the World of Tanks experience to your couch or commute, and from what we saw, it certainly delivered. It's hard to get us excited about tablet games, but when we later asked ourselves what the coolest thing we saw at GDC was, Blitz easily made the top three. Along with Vendetta Online, World of Tanks Blitz appears to be a top-notch tablet adaptation.
As for beta and release dates, Wargaming.net has no timeframe for World of Tanks Blitz at present, but we do expect to see more of the game at E3. Our thanks to Chris Cook and the Wargaming.net team for a highly unexpected look at World of Tanks Blitz at GDC.