Tanks, but no tanks

When I heard that the RPG specialists at Obsidian Entertainment were making another game, I already had images of mana pools and character-progression pages forming in my mind. I couldn’t have been further from the truth, however, as Obsidian wants to show everyone that even a decade-old studio can learn a new trick with Armored Warfare.

I admit that, going into my hands-on session, I didn’t know much about the project, since it had only been announced the day prior. With a name like Armored Warfare, though, I figured I could safely rule out ponies and princesses from the range of possibilities. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was the World of Tanks clone Obsidian had produced. The only discernible difference? Armored Warfare uses modern tanks—instead of those used during the mid-20th century—and a better graphics engine with CryEngine 3.

This isn’t to say Armored Warfare is a bad copy of Wargaming.net’s F2P sensation—but Obsidian scores no points for originality here. Armored Warfare’s PvP modes, multiple tiers of unlockable tanks, customization/upgrade systems, and even their F2P model are already seen in World of Tanks and feature no noticeable distinctions. What’s more, the PvE mode and destructibility in Armored Warfare will be seen in World of Tanks’ upcoming spring update, which will be well before Armored Warfare plans on hitting the market sometime in late 2014.

The PvP side of things includes the options you’d expect from a tank battler like this, highlighted by team deathmatch. There’s also a mode called Territory Wars, which encourages players to join clans. Their performance in battles while representing their respective clan then influences a metagame map as their group tries to conquer entire regions, which ups the stakes of your standard PvP fare in a similar fashion to Call of Duty: Ghosts’ Clan Wars mode.

Some originality does bleed through in PvE, at least, since there’s a loose story based around the idea of players taking on the role of a tank pilot for a massive private military contractor. With new conflicts popping up all over the world, business is good. So good, in fact, that your company has a fleet of war machines always ready for you to ride into battle to help keep your pockets lined with cash. As you earn money, both here and in PvP, you can unlock bigger and better tanks from the fleet and customize them as you see fit. And, although details are currently sparse, you’ll also be able to develop a relationship with your tank crewmembers, giving the tiniest glimpse back to Obsidian’s RPG bread-and-butter.

I tried one of the PvE missions during my hands-on time and confess to being pleasantly surprised by the gameplay. There’s an unexpected amount of balance for a game that hasn’t reached its closed beta yet. The controls felt smooth as I slid from a third-person view to a first-person angle to take careful aim down the sights of my cannon and blow up enemy AI. My tank handled well and felt very responsive as I rolled across various kinds of terrain (as responsive as a lumbering mass of steel and rubber can feel, anyway). The power of CryEngine 3 also really came through: The tiniest details were crystal clear on my PC monitor, and the destructible environments really helped convey the power of my tank as I bulldozed my way through brick buildings in a Western European countryside.

Despite the fact that the demo played really well, though, I don’t know if there’s enough in Armored Warfare, from what I’ve seen so far, to make players jump ship from Wargaming’s offering. If your biggest complaints about World of Tanks is its look and having to use heavy armor from 70 years ago, then Armored Warfare can help with their modern, CryEngine 3–built tanks. Aside from that, I’m at a bit of a loss. No matter what side of the fence you’re on, however, the fact remains that Armored Warfare is going to have a steep hill to climb as Obsidian continues to target a 2014 release for the suddenly crowded action-MMO, tank-battler genre.