Hands-on: World of Tanks: War Stories adds solo and co-op story campaigns

For the last seven years, World of Tanks has been a multiplayer-only game in which players take the titular war machines into battle against each other. But on August 22, players of the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Xbox 360 versions will be able to go it alone when Wargaming.net releases "War Stories," a series of story-driven campaigns that can be played solo or with a friend.

In anticipation of this, the good people at Wargaming.net invited journalists to play the first two campaigns, and gave them a chance to pick the brains of the people making them. What follows is my time with these battles, as well as excerpts from my conversation with Lead Designer Jeff Gregg and Senior Game Designer Chad Steingraber.

Story Time

According to Gregg, "War Stories" are essentially, "a single or co-op mode where you can play through stories, which consist of three chapters, and are influenced by either historical events or alternative history scenarios." Though, as Steingraber clarifies, the initial alt-history ones will be more "What if?" scenarios than fantasy set-ups like Nazi zombies. "For instance, the first, 'Flashpoint Berlin,' is all about what if the Russians took over Berlin after the war," he noted, "and what would the U.K. forces have to do to get rid of them."

"War Stories" will also set-up its stories through motion comics, ones that are not related to the comic book series, World of Tanks: Roll Out, though there is a connection. "Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra {the comic's writer and artist, respectfully} are not involved in these motion comics," Steingraber noted, "though we did love the comic book stuff, which is why we went with the motion comics for our set-ups."

"There's also different writers and artists working on those motion comics," Gregg added, noting that each of the "War Stories" is independent. As a result, "there's nothing stopping us from doing a sequel to one of these missions," Gregg noted. "We've even talked about doing ones that contradict another, or one that shows the other side of a conflict, like if we did 'Flashpoint Berlin' but from the Russian side."

Gregg also confirmed that "War Stories," at least initially, will only be available on the console versions of the game. "The PC development team is a separate team, and if they want to add it to their game, I'd like nothing better, but it's just for console at this point."

As for how many "War Stories" they'll make, they currently have the third and fourth — the London-based "Sealion" and the Cuban Missile Crisis-inspired "Kennedy's War" — on tap, with Gregg noting that adding more, "...will really depend on demand and how quickly we can make them. Don't hold me to this, but one every two or three months sounds reasonable."

Tanks for the memories

The first of these new story missions is "Brothers in Armor," in which an American soldier, Colonel Peters, is sent to Romania to teach some Russians how to use a Sherman M4 tank. Not surprisingly, the first part of this mission, "Live Fire Exercise," is more of a training program than anything else, spurned on by the sudden appearance of German tanks in need of destroying.

Like the multiplayer parts of World of Tanks, "War Stories" use relatively simple controls, albeit ones that are a bit more realistic than the tank parts of such action games as Call of Duty. In other words, the tanks aren't as quick or as nimble as cars, and their main guns take a few seconds to reload. Thankfully I knew this ahead of time, which is why I was able to dispatch the German tanks with efficiency.

I then began the second part, "Forging Ahead," in which I was tasked with capturing a German base. It was here that "War Stories" started to incorporate elements of World of Tanks' multiplayer modes. While I could've headed straight towards the base, it was recommended that I capture three points on the map first. Which, naturally, is done by driving my tank into a circle and waiting for a clock to wind down. Doing this not only completed this section's secondary objectives, it also added an A.I. tank to my party, one I could issue simple commands to. In fact it was only because I had added three tanks to my company that I was able to take the German base.

I then began the third and final part, "Push for Victory." In it, I once again had to capture a German base, but could capture some points on the map beforehand as well. Except this time taking control of them didn't add tanks to my combat group, but instead unlocked power-ups that would replenish my ammo or restore my tank to full health. This came in handy because when I went in to assault the main base I was outnumbered, and it was only because I was able to retreat and then replenish my health that I was able to complete my mission.

Naturally, completing a "War Stories" mission comes with some cool rewards. Most notably, it unlocks the "Challenge Mode" version of that mission. There you get to use any tank from your collection, as opposed to the one assigned to that mission (assuming, of course, you've played World of Tanks multiplayer and have unlocked a tank). These versions of the missions are also tougher, and have different secondary missions. In "Forging Ahead," for instance, your secondary mission is initially to "capture tank checkpoints." But when replaying it in "Challenge Mode," you're also tasked with finishing the mission without using any pick-ups.

The idea of this, of course, is to give people a reason to replay these "War Stories." Especially since none of them are terribly long. It took me maybe an hour to finish "Brothers in Armor," and that includes all the times I stopped to take notes. Though as Gregg notes, if the game's community asks for it, they'll add even more "Challenge Mode" options. "Replayability is at the core of our designs for this," he said, "though what they might be will be up to our community."

The Flashpoint Paradox

After completing "Brothers in Armor," I moved on to the aforementioned post-World War II "What if?" mission, "Flashpoint Berlin." Like the second and third parts of "Brothers in Armor," the three parts of "Flashpoint Berlin" again had me and my fellow tanks capturing points on a map while also destroying any enemy tanks that got in our way. But while the former mission took place on a warm, sunny day in a picturesque place full of trees and rolling hills, the ones in "Flashpoint Berlin" are set on dreary, snowy days, with the third, "Call Sign Strelka," taking place in a blizzard.

But first I had to survive the second part, "Approach," which is set on the outskirts of town, where there are no structures to use as cover. Hence why I was destroyed three times before I even made it into town. Once I did, though, I was destroyed twice more as I played cat and mouse with enemy tanks who seemed to know the layouts of the streets better than I did.

It was during this mission I wished I was playing "War Stories" with a friend. Though as Gregg pointed out, it's not like playing a Gears of War game with an attentive buddy. "You can't revive someone if their tank is destroyed," he said. "It's something we've been looking at, but it won't be included when we launch."

It was also during this mission that I learned "War Stories" doesn't let you pause the action. While you can bring up the main menu by hitting what would be the "pause" button in another game, the game actually keeps going.

This actually ended up being unintentionally helpful. While trying for the third time to beat "Call Sign Strelka," I was pulled away to do my interview with Gregg and Steingraber. So, naturally, I hit what I thought at the time was the pause button. But when I returned to finish the mission, I realized the A.I. tanks had completed the mission without me. Adding insult to injury, they had also gone to a beer hall to celebrate but didn't leave a note telling me which one they'd gone to. Jerks.

No matter, there will be plenty of time for celebrating when "War Stories" is added to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Xbox 360 versions of World of Tanks on August 22.