World of Tanks War Stories Review

By Andrew Ogley,
World of Tanks has been around for a while, having first hit European shores in 2011. It's won multiple awards, including the 'Still Playing' award in this year's Golden Joystick awards and is clearly still going strong. However, other than a number of training missions, the title has always been purely multiplayer and fans have repeatedly requested some sort of single player mode in which they can hone their skills without having to face online combatants. Publisher Wargaming.net has finally acquiesced this year and has released episodic mini-campaigns for solo or co-op play. With the number of episodes already reaching a total of five and with more already promised for the future, it's time to see if this really provides the single-player experience for which the community was asking.

Runaway Tiger screens

The episodes have been dropping periodically since August this year. Each episode is a standalone story and other than the common theme of tank battles, each is completely independent of the others and they can be played in any order. The storyline in each episode is what makes them intriguing. Currently, all of the stories take place either in the Second World War or the subsequent Cold War period. Whilst all are fictional, they try to explore alternative histories and "what if" scenarios — what if Operation Sealion had succeeded, what if the Berlin Airlift had failed, and what if the Bay of Pigs invasion had gone differently?

Another story starts with a little-known fact — a group of American Sherman tanks are loaned to the Russian Red Army, although from that early premise, the story itself develops into pure war fiction. The final story is also pure fiction, featuring a French resistance heroine, Marianne Durieux, who steals a new prototype Tiger tank from the factory and makes an audacious dash through German-held desert territory towards allied lines. Given the heroic exploits of the French Resistance during the war, I would have dearly loved this to have been true, but sadly, it is comic book fiction.

Appropriately then, each of the stories is introduced and narrated in-game by animated comic panels from the same writer and illustrators that produced the World of Tanks comics. These comic-book cutscenes introduce each of the three chapters that make up each story. An additional vocal narrative is interspersed during the playing of each chapter, usually at a specific checkpoint, to update the player on the battle status and any new objectives, although once the shells start flying, the story gets left behind by the tried and tested combat that is the essence of World of Tanks.

War Stories screens

The gameplay experience remains unaltered from the base game; "War Stories" is, after all, an expansion. The battles retain all of the core mechanics that we covered in the original review. The lumbering start is followed by intense and often nerve-wracking battles that, whilst not requiring the same twitch response as some other shooters, are as brutal and as tough as any out there. With every encounter, there's always that chance that a well-placed shell will knock out your tracks, or damage the gun turret or ammunition loader, effectively crippling your tank for the remainder of the battle. It's why strategy and clever use of the environment have been so important to combat, and even more so during the "War Stories" campaigns.

Whilst online co-op is available, most of the time you'll be facing the battles on your own with a varying number of AI buddies to support you. When playing through an episode for the first time, you'll be locked into the specific tank for that particular story, which is often one of the better and faster types. Acting as a lone wolf, however, and leaving your AI teammates behind only leads to a speedy demise, as you will soon learn. The levels have been carefully constructed and there are traps and ambushes that await the unwary or foolhardy. Rush off and you can find yourself quickly surrounded and being fired upon from all sides, a potentially fatal mistake. While you might get away with it in certain chapters, there are some severe difficulty spikes in others, and without a good plan of attack, you'll suffer a fiery end.

Strategy becomes a key component and you end up relying on both the characteristics of the landscape and environment, and more than ever, the command wheel for controlling your AI team. It's a good idea to move your squadmates forward ahead of you, before catching them up. When attacking either the primary or secondary goals, you might want to position them to attack from one side whilst you outflank the enemy on the other. It pays, too, to learn the landscape and use it to your advantage.

Runaway Tiger screens

In some of the more difficult battles, you'll need to use every little trick you can. You'll be playing the role of tank commander more than you ever have during the normal online multiplayer battles. It's a subtle yet significant change, and as a commander, you have to balance the risk of taking on secondary targets that may provide repair or ammunition resupplies — useful for your own tank — against the cost of precious tanks that could be needed for the assault on the primary targets and the bosses hiding out there.

Completing each chapter within an episode will unlock the next and reward the player with the familiar XP and credits, which vary depending on the player's actions during the mission. These rewards can be used to upgrade those new tanks only available in the War Stories campaign, or used for any other tanks and crews in the player's garage. Essentially, "War Stories" works within the already established and very successful freemium model used by the game.

Completing all three chapters within a War Story will unlock the Challenge Mode, which allows the player to replay any of the chapters within the story using any of the tanks in their garage. There are additional challenges included, such as completing the chapter within a stricter time limit, or complete without using any pickups. There are also specific 'Ops' challenges that will reap additional bonuses similar to those in the base game.

Runaway Tiger screens

All-in-all, it will take around 4-5 hours to complete all of the current stories. There are unique tanks that can be bought and added to your garage for use in other battles, and six new achievements that can be unlocked in the process. More importantly, playing through War Stories will teach players a little more about strategy and tactics than would be picked up by just playing online. Replaying the stories is a good way to experiment with different tanks, tactics, and earn a few more rewards along the way. Finally, it's worth noting that the title has been enhanced visually for the Xbox One X, which means it is one of the few Xbox titles playing across the Xbox 360, the Xbox One and the Xbox One X.

Summary

Whilst "War Stories" does not bring any changes to the combat or battle mechanics of the game, it introduces a single player element that has been much requested by the community. Each story is short enough to be played in a single sitting and provides a platform for beginners to learn the basics of the game and for veterans to try out new tank builds and tactics. Players can additionally use the scenarios to farm a few more credits and experience points without the necessity of joining online games. It may not be a wealth of content, but there's a good few hours of gameplay, new achievements and the comic-book introductions are a novel new approach for the game. With the combat essentially untouched, it remains as engaging as ever, not forgetting that this is a free update for a free-to-play title without paywalls or loot-crates, so it's a good time to jump in if you already haven't started.
4 / 5
Title Update 4.0: War Stories in World of Tanks: Mercenaries
Positives
  • Adds a single player campaign element to the multiplayer title
  • Good training for new beginners
  • 4K Enhancements for the Xbox One X
  • Free game and free update
Negatives
  • Limited amount of content
Ethics
The reviewer spent around three hours playing through the complete set of War Stories. Five of six achievements were unlocked. The game is free to download but additional credits and a temporary premium account were provided by the publisher for the purpose of review. The Xbox One version was reviewed.
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.