Well, not quite. However, the 8.3 update (1st public test patch notes) has simply two major features – the initial Chinese tech tree, and an across-the-board artillery nerf.
There is no extra information as to what changes have been made to the Chinese tanks since their last outing on the test server. Along with the tanks we will get an extra free garage slot with the Tier I vehicle. I am not particularly exciting by the prospect of Chinese tanks. I may just advance in the low tiers, but I do not expect to devote much time to Chinese tanks at all. Mostly they will just be targets.
The artillery changes are unexpected. There are in fact two changes to arty, one of which has already been implemented on the Russian server and is going to hit the EU server tomorrow. This is essentially a cap on the number of artillery in a given match. The update says this set to 5 per side, but in Silentstalker’s thread on the EU forum it appears there is going to be some sort of rolling cap (some matches having a cap of 2, others 3, others 4, and others 5). This is not a problem at the lower or mid tier matches particularly, but apparently at higher tiers (especially Tier X matches) one can get truly massive arty parties (7+ SPG per side). In my Tier VIII tanks I have never seen anything like that - but I will say the average number of arty does seem to increase with tier. From a few things I have read on the forums I get the feeling the situation has worsened since the change to matchmaking was introduced in the 7.5 update. I think by reducing the number of battle tiers it has had the side effect of concentrating high-tier SPGs into fewer possible match-ups. Also SPGs only go up to Tier VIII (with Tier VIII SPGs acknowledged to be roughly the equivalent of Tier X vehicles of other types). Apparently at some point the SPG lines will be stretched out to make them resemble the other lines more closely, and hopefully this will also relieve some of the top-tier pressure.
However, all that is not strictly speaking part of the 8.3 update. Instead in 8.3 what appears to be going on is an across-the-board artillery nerf and rebalance.The most obvious element of the nerf is what appears to be a HP nerf to every SPG in the game. SPGs never had all that many hit points to begin with, and how most of them can be expected to be one-shotted by most top-tier opponents.
Beyond that it gets a little more complicated. Many SPGs had their movement performance nerfed, but not all (the SU-26 is one that gets increased manoeuvrability from this update). Some SPGs have had their ability to have any gun depression reduced if not totally eliminated. This means that “TD-mode” – or direct firing – becomes that much tricker if not impossible at close range. Many arty – but again not all – have had their dispersion on the move or by hull movement increased. Basically there is a whole lot of changes – and generally much more negative than positive.
I have (for my sins) read through the (as of writing) 25 page thread on the EU forum, and there is a lot of upset. Frankly, I understand where that comes from, as many SPG players feel that Wargaming our responding to various folk who complain long and loudly about being nailed by artillery, when the problem with the overprofileration of high-Tier SPGs (which many arty players themselves acknowledge) is not directly addressed by these nerfs.
I say not directly addressed but I think part of Wargaming’s logic runs like this: make SPGs harder to play by nerfing them should equate to fewer people playing artillery, which should equate to fewer matches overstuffed with artillery. The “problem” with that view, as I see it, is that artillery are already the least-played form of vehicle in World of Tanks. By making them less likely to be played fewer players are likely to have tried out SPGs themselves, which generally will make them poorer overall players as they will have less knowledge of arty-safe spots on the map (which arty players get to know very well in frustration). The complainers will therefore likely still see SPGs as overpowered because they never learn how best to make the terrain and buildings work to one’s advantage in avoiding or minimising the damage that arty can do.
I also think there is a legitimate concern that by making many SPGs less manoeuvrable it will become far easier to counter-battery. This is only one that will be become plain by testing, but I do not hold much faith in Wargaming to be able to manage this aspect properly.
Overall however it is plain that SPGs have been rebalanced to be generally more vulnerable on the battle-field. The game will change as a result, and I feel it is this and not the Chinese tanks which is the defining characteristic of this update.
It will not stop me playing them, however. Ever since I got my first “Tank tears” with someone accusing me of using gold ammo I have been itching to cause more ire. Still being an effective SPG player post-8.3 seems like an excellent way to do this.