Wargaming has just last week, released the third of its World of Tanks War Stories. Operation Sealion is a single or co-op PvE (player vs environment) mode that follows the first two that were released in August. War Stories are exclusively available for console versions of World of Tanks and feature scenarios based on alternate history.
Operation Sealion is based on the abandoned Nazi invasion plan of the UK of the same name. Operation Sealion has achieved a sort of mythic status as a piece of historical fiction. Many works have featured Operation Sealion including the Philip K. Dick novel, Man in the High Castle.
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Even many years after World War II had concluded, Operation Sealion proved to endure. In 1974 a wargame based on the invasion was carried out and demonstrated that it would likely have failed. A fact that Hitler himself had apparently considered.
Just because something didn’t happen, doesn’t mean we don’t wonder what could or would have happened though. Hence the wealth of material utilising Operation Sealion as a jumping off point.
Speaking to Thor Parker, Wargaming’s Global Creative Coordinator, we learned a lot about the motivations behind the War Stories and what is so fascinating about alternate history.
“Operation Sealion [is] almost a reverse Dunkirk scenario. The Germans have invaded the UK and you start out in London as the last line of defence.
“You have to rally in order push the Germans back and as the War Story goes on, you push harder and harder until there’s a huge battle on the coast to drive them off for good.”
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The three-part campaign drops players right into the centre of London as the last line of defence against the Germans. It’s a hectic and fitting introduction to a world that’s almost been defeated by the Nazis. The subtle shift in the balance of power across the three missions does a great job of showing the determination of the British in fighting back.
The first mission simply requires players to hold a point and defend against the German tanks. The second and third missions put the British on the offensive. The third mission is especially strong as it shows the Germans in full retreat.
Parker says that of the four War Stories released so far, Operation Sealion is his favourite. He’s also excited about the second War Story; Flashpoint Berlin. Parker explains that creating alternate history and ‘what if’ scenarios requires subtlety, finesse and a lot of research.
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“Instead of doing it in a broad stroke, like Germany winning the war, we wanted to focus in on some of the smaller details of the war and see what could happen if things changed a little.
“For example, in our second War Story, Flashpoint Berlin, we see how things could have played out between the UK and Soviets if the Berlin airlift failed and the Allies had to carry supplies Berlin Blockade on the ground.”
Alternate history is something of a hot property in gaming at the moment; Wolfenstein and Assassin’s Creed spring to mind. Wargaming’s approach is more Assassin’s Creed and less Wolfenstein though.
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Rather than entirely rewrite events, the scenarios give players a look at the way events may have played out differently, with the same ultimate result. The difficulty in presenting a believable alternate scenario is something that Parker says Wargaming doesn’t shy away from. He also believes that “Historical authenticity is extremely important.” Not just to Wargaming, but also to its players and fans.
“These types of stories are really interesting to fans of history because they ask the question, ‘What if?’ and stories like that appeal to the core base of history fans as well as more casual players,” Parker tells me.
PvE was first introduced to World of Tanks in 2016. The idea was to let new players get acquainted with the game, without the pressure of playing with 29 others. “The decision to include PvE came from the idea of welcoming new players to the game,” Parker says.
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“Our multiplayer game can be a little intimidating to someone who is new to World of Tanks and we wanted a mode that would allow them to enjoy the game while they learn, instead of being thrown straight into the deep end of the pool.”
Once it was introduced, Parker says that players “kept asking for more.” Wargaming introduced special event and holiday-themed PvE missions, but players were still keen.
“We have players who only play PvE and have over 10,000 battles so we knew that there was a demand for more narrative focused PvE content.” Knowledge is power, especially with an online, title like World of Tanks. Keeping players engaged is the key to success and it’s something Wargaming has clearly mastered.
As long as players keep wanting them, Wargaming will keep releasing War Stories, according to Parker. “We have four War Stories out now, and we have even more being developed. War Stories is a great opportunity for us to create compelling stories and characters that can continue to add depth to World of Tanks.”
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Of the War Stories in development, we know that the nest to be released is Kennedy’s War. Jumping forward in time, Kennedy’s War takes an alternate look at the Cuban Missile Crisis. The full details of the scenario haven’t yet been released, though it’s likely the scenario won’t be handled diplomatically as it was in real-life. Kennedy’s Crisis will become available later this month.
Working with historical fiction and especially fiction set during a conflict, creators have a duty to present stories in a way that honours the sacrifices of the men and women involved. Parker is acutely aware of his responsibility in regard to this.
“We never have and never will take lightly what the men and women of all nations went through during WWII. History is extremely important to us as a company and we strive to present our game in a way that is respectful to all nations.”
Any piece of entertainment based on times of war and conflict inherently has some problematic content. It’s heartening though, to hear Parker speak about Wargaming’s dedication to respect and dignity.
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With three War Stories already released and a fourth coming this month, I was keen to find out what’s next for World of Tanks. Parker wasn’t ready to spill the beans, but he told me that there are several War Stories in development.
“We’ll be exploring Historical stories, Alternative History, and even Fantasy. There’s no telling where inspiration will lead us.”
As long as the inspiration keeps creating engaging, interesting and well-made content, I say, bring it on.