Way back when, probably something like a year ago, on his blog (perhaps in a comment) Overlord said the most common quitting points for the new player in World of Tanks were Tiers III and IV. Matchmaking rule changes have shifted around Tiers II and III somewhat, you do not have to go very far at all to find someone struggling. I have known a couple of folks to stop playing at Tier IV, and another who would have done so if I hadn’t helped him over the hump.
Why is Tier IV the pressure point however? Well there are several factors and game design decisions that contribute to Tier IV being the pressure point it is.
Take two tanks, the Covenanter and the Panzer 38 nA. Both appear to be Tier IV light tanks, and on the basis of the information in-game there is no suggestion of any particular difference between the two. However, there is one critical difference, and that difference is one of the rocks that most commonly wrecks a potential World of Tanks career. The Panzer 38 nA is a scout tank, a tank can can see Tier VIII tanks in battle, and a tank who is not expecting to do damage as its primary role. In other words a tank whose game design is totally different to anything that the new player has encountered up to that point. Remember as well it is easily possible to get into that scout tank with considerably less than 100 games played.
After 100 matches, what knowledge did any of us really have about this game? Especially for the casual player, facing a KV-4 with a pea-shooter is going to be a shock. Oh vets can say “scout tank” or “learn to scout” or other such nonsense, but for most new players who only have the absolutely most rudimentary understanding of camouflage and spotting this is just not something possible. Also bear in mind many of these players will be using crews with a free retrain, perhaps 50-60%, no equipment, probably no consumables. New players do not have the credits for any of that yet. Think about it a moment more and the game-ending frustrating of a run of Tier VII and VIII matches becomes easy to visualise.
Iconic tank traps
The situation is made worse, however, by the position of scout tanks on the tech trees. To get to all the remaining Chinese vehicles you need to go through the M5A1 Stuart. To progress up the much touted T57 Heavy line you first must master the M5 Stuart. That iconic workhorse of the German army, the Panzer IV, is preceded by the Panzer 38 nA with no alternative route. The same situation used to prevail in the run-up to the T-34 as well, when one had to go through the A-20. Now there is the alternative through the T-80 – but again there is no way for the new player to know the difference between the two routes.
Scout tanks are not the only pitfall on the way to an iconic vehicle. Think a moment at some of the most well-known historical vehicles at Tier V in game, with their Tier IV predecessor. There is the M4 Sherman, preceded by the M3 Lee; or the KV-1 which follows on from the T-28. Now I personally hold fond memories of both the Lee and T-28, but the general opinion of both vehicles are that they are crap. To be sure the Lee with its fixed gun is jarring to play if you not expecting it, and I can well imagine why folks struggle adjust to its different gameplay. Likewise the T-28 is large and lightly armoured, making it trickier to get the best out of its weaponry. Given both are on track to some very iconic vehicles lots of people play – and hate – both.
The Curse of Being French
It is not all doom and gloom at Tier IV of course, most nations have a bright spot or two at Tier IV vehicles. But not the French. Ignoring SPGs a moment, and the Chinese and Japanese due to lack of TDs, let us look at the Tier IV vehicles available to the Germans, Russians, Americans, and French. We’ll also ignore premiums.
Germany has two scouts, the Pz 38 nA and the Luchs, a fun medium in the Panzer III, and a great TD in the Hetzer and another good one in the Marder 38T. It also has two tanks generally considered subpar – the VK2001D and Durchbrushswagen 2. So a mixed bag. The Russians have the T-50 and A-20 as scouts, the T-28 as a difficult to play medium, a good TD in the SU-85B, and a reasonable light with regular matchmaking in the T-80. Another mixed bag. The Americans are probably in the best situation. They have their scout in the M5 Stuart, and the M3 Lee which is generally considered weak, but it has two superb TDs in the T40 and M8A1. Competing with the Americans are the British. The Matilda can make a very credible argument for being the best all-round Tier IV tank, the Alecto is an effective TD, and both the Covenanter and Valentine at light tanks with regular matchmaking that are no worse than average.
The poor French, on the other hand, do not get a break. Play up any of the regular French tank lines and at Tier IV you face the AMX 40, the B1, or the Somua SAu-40. Now, I have played and found success with the last two – but my conclusion is that the B1 takes all the sorts of skills to play successful a newer player is most unlikely to have, while the SAu-40 really is completely useless until you unlock the derp. However, you don’t need the derp to actually unlock the next tank, so it is often ignored. I have not yet played the AMX 40 yet, but from all I know it fits the bill of slow, underpowered, and undergunned that the French low-tier tanks so excel at. I am quite sure one contributory factor the relative paucity of French tanks in the game is people get to this trinity of hardship, and go no further.
A surfeit of mediocrity
Ignoring for a moment that there are some of these tanks which I like, or which I think can be played well (we are looking at this from the perspective of the casual, newer player) let us look at all the non-SPG non-premium tanks at Tier IV a moment, just in terms of numbers. In total there are 26 such vehicles at Tier IV. Now let us think a moment of all the tanks that would be classed as “difficult” to play. I would include all the scout tanks, plus tanks generally considered poor or tricky to play. Total them up and you get at least thirteen tanks – over half the availability. Most Tiers have their weak spots, but in none do the more difficult vehicles so dominate. This casts a pall over the entire tier.
Enter the farmers
Then there is another element at Tier IV that can make it such an uphill struggle – the presence of credit-farmers. Credit-farming starts in earnest in Tier V of course, so your newer player would already have encountered a few of them at Tier III. Also of course there would have been some exposure to more experience people playing low-tiers, either for relaxation or serious stat-padding. By the time a new player is at Tier IV however things start getting more serious - approximately 2/3 of their games can end up being dominated by experienced players with high-skill crews. Not only that, though, but since they now can see Tier VI games they get exposed to two of the most domineering vehicles in the game: the KV-1S and the Hellcat.
If you get a bad stretch of Tier VI games in a tank like the Covenanter, or perhaps the M3 Lee, coming up time and again against KV-1S or Hellcat platoons, unable to do damage, yet being constantly one or two-shotted - well it doesn’t take much imagination.
The three-way massacre
So to recap I would say there are three particular influences that make Tier IV such a tough challenge. Firstly the scout tanks appearing with their associated gameplay with no warning. Secondly a large number of generally tricky tanks to play, several of which block to the way more iconic vehicles most people – casual players in particular – usually want to aim at. Thirdly, a much greater exposure to players much more highly skilled who can dominate a battlefield.
As to the last I am not really sure there is anything that can – or should – be done. You cannot mollycoddle people too long. While there may be something that can be done in better balancing platoons in the matchmaker, on the whole exposure to better players is one of the best ways for people to learn to improve (if they want to).
As to scout tanks, well, here I think there is room for improvement, if only in terms of in-game information. Tier IV scout tanks generally have become less useful with the introduction of more higher-tier light tanks, and I generally think that Wargaming will take a look for them. As to the other weak tanks – well, I would like to think some of them would be looked at as well – but if one is brutally honest these are low-tier tanks so their priority will be low.