WoT Corner: The Artillery Problem
Of all the various controversies in and around World of Tanks, probably the most divisive is the inclusion of artillery in the game. This week on WoT Corner, we’ll delve into the artillery controversy, lay out the issues and try to bring some clarity to a difficult problem. Full disclosure? I am very much in the anti-arty camp and I’ll address why as we go. First, a short history.
Arty originally only went to tier 8 and had a special match making similar to light tanks which meant tier 8 arty would routinely see tier 10 tanks. It was also a bit more accurate pre-patch 8.6 (we are now on 9.14). At tier 8, the guns were powerful, but not often crippling to tier 10 tanks. When tier 10 arty was introduced and normal matchmaking implemented, artillery became a very real menace in gameplay terms. Before the 8.6 patch nerf (slight as it was), games with 2 or more artillery completely revolved around artillery. Two or more artillery on one team essentially determined the outcome and destroying the other side’s artillery was more often than not the path to victory. The community and WarGaming (WG) eventually realized this was very bad for PvP gameplay and the developers addressed it with patch 8.6. The patch nerfed artillery somewhat and many players moved away from it; the combination of the nerf and fewer players reduced the influence of arty considerably. Recently there has been a bit of a resurgence in arty numbers, though nowhere near pre 8.6 levels, and nowhere near the overpowered game mechanic it was, but it’s once again an issue. In fact, it has always been a poor game mechanic; the 8.6 nerf did not address the actual problem with artillery.
Artillery in WoT is one of those, “Which one of these things is not like the other?” situations. Of the five classes it’s the one which bears the least similarity to the other four. Artillery operates completely differently than the other classes and does several things they cannot.
The first thing artillery can do that other tanks cannot is hit nearly anywhere on the map. Around tier 5, most arty can range even the largest maps. This means arty doesn’t have to move very far to be effective. This is in direct contrast to every other class. Even Tank Destroyers (TDs) typically must move forward to put their guns in play (disregarding the cap campers here). Artillery simply does not have to move much, which greatly decreases its exposure and reduces the importance of positioning, maneuver and flexibility. Every single other tank class must take these game mechanics into account constantly. Its reduced exposure is reflected in the survival rate per battle; arty has the highest of all the classes. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that arty rarely ever ventures far from cap.
Artillery can splash for as much damage as a similar tier does with a direct hit, and can cripple a similar tier with a direct hit. One argument made in defense of arty is that is misses a lot. Hit rates are trotted out and the “case is made.” Unfortunately that’s only half the story, because the large splash radius turns a near miss into a hit as far as reducing HP goes. The number of shots that do some kind of damage is essentially the same amongst all five classes. Even more troublesome is the fact that arty can splash tanks behind cover. Much of the cover tanks use when engaging is wholly or partially useless against artillery. Artillery negates the majority of the line of sight (LOS) gameplay mechanic. Sitting behind a hill defending against the direct fire of enemy tanks is ineffective against artillery. Angling, maneuver, hull down, all of these basic gameplay mechanics that must be used and mastered for the other four classes are negated by arty because it has a high arc, splash, and a top down god view for targeting.
Artillery has a top down, and with a legal mod called Battle Assistant, an additional 3D angled view. Any target spotted by your team is vulnerable to arty. Even if your team cannot lay a gun on the enemy, arty can. This includes being able to target past draw distance; a limitation every other tank has to deal with. The god view and 3D view are huge SA enhancers; in fact, artillery can see objects knocked down by unspotted tanks and accurately assess enemy movements even though they’re unspotted. That’s a terrible game mechanic and probably an unintended consequence of how arty god view is implemented.
In short, artillery gets to ignore most of the basic gameplay mechanics the entirety of World of Tanks is built on. It doesn’t need to maneuver much, be in draw distance, spot for itself, or hit a weak spots. Appallingly, arty doesn’t even need to make a direct hit to be effective. Yet that is not its original sin.
The true issue with artillery is not that it’s OP, or that it is so different in gameplay mechanics. These are merely symptoms of the disease. The true issue with artillery is the fact that it allows a player to influence the game from the very back corner of the map, with virtually no danger to himself. This is literally one of the biggest mistakes a competitive, online PvP game can make. This is a contest between humans driving pixel tanks and we essentially have a gameplay mechanic where random alpha strikes can rain down at any moment. You cannot defend against them effectively and you cannot strike back. The game has lost many top tier players because of this particular game mechanic. So why is it still in the game?
The stated purpose of arty is to punish camping and to help dig out well entrenched and heavily armored tanks. The concern was that tanks would find hard cover and be able to stagnate play by holding off multiple enemies and hurt the game’s maneuver mechanics. This sounds like a good idea, because people want dynamic gameplay. What actually ended up happening is arty punished the advancing tanks more, and created its own stagnation and camping problem. Players learned to not expose themselves too much lest they invoke the wrath of arty while a couple arties play whack a mole. The stated reason arty is in the game sounds like a valid argument, but the reality is it does exactly the opposite of what it was intended to do. All of this begs the obvious question.
What to do about arty in World of Tanks? I’ll lay out what I think should be done, and then describe why it’s highly unlikely. I would remove it; WG had a golden chance to do this in patch 8.6. People were fed up with arty and removing it then would have been the best move. This of course didn’t happen, and is unlikely to happen. Why? It’s been around for a long time, and WG apparently still thinks it serves the function they desired and there’re too many paying customers heavily invested in the class. According to WG, they are working on a re-balancing, or a complete overhaul of arty. We have little to no information on what form it might take. Meanwhile it’s still a divisive issue and clearly something needs to be done. When it will be done is also unknown, so we’ll have to wait and see if WG tries to fix the artillery problem. Frankly I don’t believe the baseline mechanic of damage from the back of the map in complete safety is worth saving.
To summarize, most of the discussion of the pros and cons of artillery’s inclusion in WoT revolve around whether it is OP or not. This was very obviously the case pre 8.6; artillery was simply OP. After the patch it’s hard to make an OP argument. But again, that’s not the issue. The actual issue with artillery as implemented in this PvP game is twofold. First is the simple fact that it ignores most of the game mechanics the other four classes must take in to account. But worse than that, it allows a player in the very back of the map to influence the game on any part of the map with little to no danger to himself.
Joe Granducci is a student of politics and military history. He is a life-long gamer and a former fighter pilot. Reliving his wasted youth, and starting his second career after retirement he enjoys reading, movies and computer gaming. Joe plays way too much World of Tanks, and you can follow him on Twitch here or his YouTube channel here. If you like what you see follow all of the NerdGoblins at NerdGoblin facebook and twitter @thenerdgoblin