Archive

Monthly Archives: February 2013

For a bit over a month now I have been playing a little War Thunder. Not a vast amount – I have solely played with the UK and am now rank 3. I have played a mix of the early fighters and bombers, and overall I reckon I have enough exposure to offer some initial thoughts. This is just what the title says – first impressions. It is not a proper review. With that caveat, here are my impressions.

Tutorial

There is a nicely done tutorial, teaching you the basics. It only covers the basics however – how to take off, land, shoot, bomb, and so on. It is a very good thing the tutorial exists because the controls are a bit more complicated that ASWD + right and left mouse buttons. Also completing the tutorial gives a small portion of gold, which is a nice touch. The only two negatives I can think of is that all the tutorial missions do actually take a certain amount of time to go through – it could be more streamlined – and that the basic bombing tutorial is overly simplistic. The torpedo tutorial (for example) is much, much better.

Basic Gameplay

I have only played on Arcade mode, but the basic game puts all your planes belong to one into the battle. You select which plane you would like to fly first, and if that plane is destroyed you then select the next one and so on until you run out of planes. You can also change planes voluntarily, though I have never done so. The matchmaker appears to work on the basis of the highest rank plane you have – though my experience is limited. It does mean though that if you expand your hangar to five or six planes it is easily possible to still have biplanes facing Spitfires.

Other than that the basic gameplay is fairly self-explanatory – shoot the enemy. Whether or not you win overall is highly team dependent, but teamplay is also basically non-existent in randoms – except towards the end of a match when relatively few people might be left alive. This can result in some very frustrating matches.

Ultimately though how much is there to say? It is planes flying shooting each other, and shooting ground targets. It feels very aeronautical, the planes feel like planes, and all in all it is really quite enjoyable. There seems to be a fair amount of chicken going on, resulting in occasional rams and occasional flamewars in chat.

Hangar Interface

My one thing about War Thunder that really bugs me is also really petty. Nevertheless this one thing drives me up the wall. It is the fact the camera keeps panning around your currently selected plane in the hangar. I want it to stay still – yet I have not managed to find how to do so. Perhaps there is something obvious I am missing, but right now this one minor thing really annoys me. If nothing else it is a good example of how little things can aggravate.

The research tree is mostly easy to understand – except when it comes to planes that have multiple ranks. Not something I have to worry about in the near future, but intuitively that does not make sense. There is also a nice big friendly “To Battle” button for when you want to start a match. The buttons to display crew experience and aircraft equipment/research are slightly more hidden, but easy enough to find. The other menus are all nice and obvious, respond quickly, and yet, overall I think the stuff in the hangar is well designed. If it were just not for that moving camera!

Progression

When I first read about War Thunder one thing that was mentioned is that the crews retain their knowledge of their previous planes, and mostly one advances crews rather than the planes themselves. This is not quite true, as there are equipment upgrades to planes that do require having acquired a certain amount of experience on that particular aircraft. The crews do retain their ability to fly earlier aircraft and, as far as I can tell, you do not actually sell of previous aircraft – just park them somewhere where they cannot be used.

Aircraft experience is fairly easily understood as it mostly just a counter and after getting a certain amount you can unlock a piece of equipment, but the various crew skills most definitely are not. Well, some of them are – but the difference between “Keen Vision” and “Visibility” is not immediately obviously, for example. Definitely could do with more information here.

The initial rate of progression is, of course, quite fast. The acquisition of silver has not proved problematic, but I have no idea how the economy operates at higher levels. No I am yet paying properly for repair – it appears for your first few battles most aircraft have “free repairs”, but in my next few matches I will discover how much repairs actually cost.

Missions

I have flown one single-player mission, which was a fun enough experience. Missions get unlocked as you reach various goals in game, so my initial selection is very limited. It is fun enough, but the rewards were rather pitiful. This is no doubt to ensure that the main pvp game remains interesting, but it does make my first exposure to missions to make them seem very much a bolt-on.

Glitches

I have only really encountered one glitch thus far. That was when starting a match with a friend, I had a ctd. When I reloaded the game I just went to the hangar whilst my friend continued with the battle. I would have thought it would have made more sense to load back into the battle. Seems like a poorly thought out process.

Money / Beta status

This is not a game I am currently tempted to spend any money on. It is a game which, to some extent at least, claims to still be in beta – but given it is accepting real money and there will not be a server wipe I cannot treat it as a beta-game. Rather it is a game paying for future development with current development which, when you think about it, is the essential model of most MMOs (and we do not say EVE was in beta in 2004, for example). The is a live game with some big aspirations – one of which is to part me with my cash, in which it has so far failed. Partly this is because my money is going elsewhere, and partly it is because this game does quite “click” with me enough.

Overall

Generally I find this a fun game to play, but very much in a very casual manner.

The inevitable comparison

Throughout I have avoided making direct comparisons to World of Tanks, but it would be ridiculous to avoid looking at them both together. War Thunder (excuse me, Gaijin Entertainment) and Wargaming are clearly in the same business, if not yet direct competitors (tanks are not the same as planes, after all). That will one day change as both have aspirations to cover both air, land, and sea.

Having played some War Thunder I think I have an appreciation of why garage battles are not yet in World of Tanks. Ignore for a moment the problem of tanks camping the spawn areas (not really a problem in the airspace) or of tanks taking a lot of time to get to the area of action after respawning. There is another issue – matchmaking. The World of Tanks matchmaker is, for most non-SPG tanks, two tiers wide. It used to be wider but they narrowed it, in part responding to player demand. People did not like facing tanks that massively overpowered them. In a garage battle people would presumably play a number of different tanks – perhaps 5. How does the matchmaking work? I think this is superficially easy, but in reality could get a lot of people back in the situation with tanks facing tanks 3-4 tiers above them. Definitely something to keep an eye on.

As for the rest, the only real area where I think War Thunder does something better than World of Tanks are the crews not forgetting which tanks they have been trained on. That is one amendment I would very much like to see in World of Tanks.

I cannot compare War Thunder to World of Warplanes – though I note one is in beta and the other is a live game, despite the propaganda. Therefore I would not expect World of Warplanes to be as good a game as War Thunder right now. Also I get the distinct impression War Thunder and World of Warplanes are going to be catering to slightly different sort of gamer, in terms of realism and the like (even in arcade mode). I do think, however, it is good that Wargaming have this competition now.

That said, despite the talk one finds here and there, I do not think War Thunder is going to sink Wargaming. My experience of gaming the last ten years is dominated by two companies – CCP and Paradox Interactive. I cannot remember the number of times x game was meant to be the “Death of EVE” or y game (usually one of the Total War series) was meant to be the “End of Paradox”. Rather I suspect when all is said and done both companies will be offering somewhat different experiences, and the market will be better for it.

 

Advertisements

I have now played over a hundred games in my KV-4 Tier VIII heavy tank. It has been fully researched for a while, and I have 105k experience amassed out of the 166k experience required to unlock the Tier IX ST-1. I think therefore I have some idea now of the strengths and weaknesses of this tank, leastways as relates to how I play it. Starting off with my statline – I have played 132 matches with a total of 75 victories, or roughly a 57% win rate. Along the way I have 1 Defender medal, 4 Sniper medals, 11 Steel Wall medals, and 1 Confederate medal, and I have destroyed a total of 113 enemy tanks. My damage per battle is just over 1200, my kills/match is 0.86 and my kills/death is 1.23. I mostly will only be discussing the fully upgraded tank, but to begin with I will speak a little about how the tank performs during the initial periods of research.

The first thing to note about this tank is both that you do not need to research the improved suspension to equip the top gun, and that you do not need to research the turret to get the top gun. This makes this 107mm ZiS-24 absolutely the first research priority (in my case the other weapons carried over from previous tanks). Until then the other guns one might use will feel distinctly underpowered for the battles you find yourself in. Essentially one either just learns to live with quite a few bounces (or a lot of bounces in a Tier X match) or uses free experience immediately. Once the top gun is researched it is actually possible to go on and start grinding away for the ST-1 without further action. However, this will mean you are using a somewhat handicapped tank as both the improved suspension and engine do help make this tank slightly less like a stranded whale. I should note that although I personally did research the turret, I have never used it. While in theory it increases the armour values somewhat, there is also a huge weakspot in the form a secondary turret on top of the main turret. I have read that quite a lot of KV-4 players basically do the same.

Even with the upgraded engine this tank is winning no races in the speed department. On the flat, on proper roads, one can just about manage 30 km/h. When you are going uphill, it becomes painfully slow. Things do not improve if the tracks get damage, or especially if the engine or driver are hit. All three and you more or less become an immobile lump of metal. The slow speed has several obvious consequences: you are a relatively easy target for artillery (and very vulnerable if you do get a damaged engine or injured driver) and you do not really have the opportunity to redeploy across the battlefield. In most situations you commit yourself to a flank or area at the start of the match, and you live and die by that decision. Being overly indecisive is a good way to more or less take your tank out of the crucial first few minutes of the battle as well, since it takes far too long to creep back and forth whilst you make your mind up.

The tank moves so slowly because it is heavily-armoured. There is 180mm of armour in front – but beware this is an old style tank. By that I mean the armour is not sloped unlike, for example, the IS-3 which has that distinctive “beak” on the front or the Type 59. The real strength of this tank’s armour however is not the front, but the sides. They have 150mm of armour, but if you can get the tank positioned correctly at a decent angle the effective side-armour becomes much greater, aided by the thick cladding of the tracks.It is possible to soak up an enormous amount of damage this way – so long as one is more or less arty-safe. It will not work very well at the closest ranges as most folks should know not to aim at the tracks themselves by this level, but one can still survive for a surprising length of time from a concentrated enemy barrage.

This points to the first role of this tank – to be a target for the enemy to occupy themselves whilst the rest of your team deal out damage. Since the KV-4 is very large it makes an almost irresistible target. The one caution is to be aware of artillery, as one is large enough and slow enough to make avoiding arty damage tricky. However, even the role as an arty-magnet has its uses. Alternative scenarios of this role are to be a roadblock delaying the total collapse of one flank by a possibly crucial 30 seconds, or the one that “goes over the top” but it doing so allows the rest of the team to break out.

The thick armour on this tank ensures a heavy weight – nearly 100 tons. There is one element of this game in which this tank has an almost unrivalled capability – ramming. Especially if one can manage a downhill sprint (where it can reach higher speeds than on the flat) which ends up in the side of an enemy tank the damage one can inflict is staggering. Even on the flat though, if one has picked up any amount of speed, it is possible to inflict significant damage. In the right position one also has the option of generally being able to push most other tanks around – off cliffs for example or into holes.

The top gun, the 107mm ZiS-24, will generally have little trouble against most Tier VIII targets so long as one does not hit obvious strong spots. Of course, sometimes that is difficult to avoid. It will start to have difficulty against Tier IX (though weakspots remain weakspots) and especially Tier X targets. Lower Tier targets will generally not prove problematic unless circumstances (angling, range, and the rng) favour them. The damage of the gun is respectable, but less than the top gun of many other Tier VIII heavies.

The KV-4 is has one of my poorest kill/match ratings in tanks I have played in the last few months. I also have never killed more than 4 enemy tanks in a single battle with it. It took me a while to realise why this was, and I think it speaks to what sort of tank the KV-4 is and perhaps also why many people seem to dislike it. Firstly the gun’s lack of punch decreases the overall amount of damage – but even more so I think this is a consequence of the tank’s mobility. Many times I have been unable to get a kill because I could just not move quickly enough or nimbly enough to get in that final shot – a nippy medium got it instead. This is especially true as a battle develops since the tracks of the KV-4 tend to get damaged. It is also difficult to switch sides of the battlefield simply because it takes so long – which means one generally can only benefit from one portion of the battle. Finally its role as being something of a damage-sink means one very often is left with a tank that is operating significantly below top capability by the later stages of the battle in a way that simply does not happen so consistently with most other tanks. In addition I think by the time some people get to the action they become over aggressive – I know I sometimes do – which translates into making easy mistakes. All in all this can add up to a very frustrating time.

Plus these days there is a (mostly) incorrect belief flying around that the addition of premium ammunition for credits has rendered the high armour values of this tank immaterial. Well, I have seen a KV-4 (not my own) take over 80 hits, and even my own tanks regularly take 20-30 hits (sometimes surviving, sometimes not) so I would say its capacity to absorb punishment remains high.

Overall judging one’s performance in the KV-4 requires, I think, considering some of the less tangible things that simply does not show up in stats – the only stat that can encompass such things (such as holding up an enemy attack for a precious 30 seconds, or even a precious 10 seconds) is the win rate. Since my own win rate in this tank is in line with my overall win rate (indeed, a smidgen better) I feel I must be doing something right.

I do like the KV-4, and if I had the garage slots I would probably keep it. I do not have said garage slots however, so at some juncture I will sell it off and acquire the ST-1. That is not likely to be before April at the earliest.

This weekend’s special offer on the EU server is based all around Tier VII medium tanks. In what I find (and I presume the team behind the offer) to be quite beautiful symmetry there are seven regular Tier VII medium tanks in the game at the moment, and these are the focus of the offer. It runs the usual Saturday morning to Tuesday morning.

The seven tanks at the centre of this offer at the T20, KV-13, T-43, Comet, Panzer V Panther, VK3002DB, and T-34-1. These tanks are available for a 50% discount, and will also have 50% earnings bonus for the offer. In addition the premium Panther-M10 is also available at a 30% discount. I do not think I will be able to take advantage yet of any of this – if this offer occurred in a month’s time it may have been a different story but right now I am just too far away from researching any of these tanks. Nevertheless it is certainly an excellent time to pick them up.

The medal involved in this offer is the Confederate medal, which one earns for damaging at least six enemy tanks which are then subsequently destroyed by other team-members. Each medal earned will mean a ten thousand credit bonus. This does feel a very appropriate medal for a medium tank offer – the tanks that support the heavies which then provide the killing punch (or something like that).

Also in this offer garage slots are at a 50% discount – so definitely time to expand one’s garage! Also on a 50% discount are all consumables, so time to stock up on those repair kits and fire extinguishers! I will probably stock up a few of these myself.

Finally the first victory each day of each vehicle will grant x5 experience bonus for the duration of the offer – definitely going to try to take advantage of this one several tanks!

Overall this is a very solid offer tightly organised around a clear theme – B+.

 

My character in Skyrim is now Level 33, and I feel curiously mid-life in the character too. This might have something to do with the fact he has just gotten married 🙂 . More seriously I am beginning to properly appreciate the true scale of this game.

To put it into perspective, the land of Skyrim is made up on nine holds, each with its own capital. Of those nine capitals I have visited five – Whiterun, Winterhold, Morthal, Riften, and Windhelm. Of those five the majority of my time has been spend in the domains of Whiterun and Riften. I have not advanced along the main questline for over ten levels. I have not yet commenced the Civil War questline. I now have membership of the Thieves’ Guild and Mages’ Guild, and of the Companions, but apart from the Companions have not yet progressed very far along the various questlines. There feels like so much to do – even in parts of the world I have already traipsed over, let alone the swathes of Skyrims where I have yet to stomp.

My plan currently involves starting the Dark Brotherhood questline, as well as doing some other quests which have sent me to the same general area. After that, well, I will probably take the plunge and head to Solitude to continue the main questline.

So the Second Public Test of the 8.4 update has been announced. There is really not a very great deal to add (patch notes here). Most usefully is the new matchmaking for 8.4 which can be found here. In particular it how Wargaming is approaching the matchmaking for the Tier V lights. Essentially the “standard” Tier V light matchmaking will be Tier VI-IX, whilst the Crusader, M24 Chaffee, and T-50-2 retain their current matchmaking. The matchmaking for the last two is almost the same for the new standard Tier VI light tank, and presumably as those tank lines are given the same treatment the German line is getting in this patch they will move onto this newer matchmaking.

Otherwise one element of the new update, that was not written into the earlier patch-notes, is we will be able to select which ammunition we wish to load in that thirty second countdown at the start of each match.

Otherwise the notes are mostly a long list of fixes and the like, which are not of much interest to me personally given I do not take part in the public tests.

The T82 is a great tank. Currently regarded as one of the most powerful vehicles at Tier III, when it is equipped with its top-gun howitzer it is able to one-shot pretty much all Tier III and a lot of Tier IV vehicles. If I were starting now I would most likely have fallen in love with the T82 much like I did with the Marder II.

The most difficult thing to adjust to is the lack of armour. The Tier II T18 which precedes this tank is very well armoured for this tier. In comparison the T82 has relatively weak armour. If one does not fix this fact early on it can easily lead to over-aggressive play and some very unsatisfying deaths (mea maxima culpa). The fact that it has a fair turn of speed makes an over-aggressive death easier.

What weaknesses there are, however, are more than compensates by the howitzer. Effectively using a howitzer can take some practice – and in particular one just has to accept that at distance one is sometimes just going to miss. The longer reload times need to be taken into consideration too, but as one gets used to this they become less drawbacks more “features”.

I have now played 17 battles in the T82, with 12 victories and a total of 34 destroyed. Given this all took place with a crew that started at 75% I think it shows what this tank can be capable of. Another example of this can be seen in the medals I have, a Top Gun, Defender, and De Langlade’s Medal, all of which I earned in the same game. It is actually quite a fun tale.

It was a Tier IV Encounter battle on the Sand River map – my team were starting on the western side of the map. I was playing the match with my brother, who was in a T-46. We were distinctly at the bottom of the pile – 11 tanks on each side were Tier IV. To begin with my brother and I formed up with a B1 to head towards the top of the map whilst most of the rest of the team headed either towards the base or the ridge overlooking the base.

The first part of the battle for us was a fight for this northern area, which pitted the three of us against a Panzer 38t and a M5A1 Stuart. The Panzer 38t I dispatched with one shot whilst he stood silhouetted on a ridgeline. The M5A1, however, was a much trickier target, evading the B1, ducking behind a lip of land before I could aim, and so on. Eventually though it came down to a game of peekaboo – which never works well when your opponent can one-shot you when he hits. Which is what happened to him.

By this time our team had won the initial fight around the base, but lost the skirmish on the ridge above it. It was plain that the enemy, with the superior firing positions, were starting to demolish the rest of the team. We three then starting to do what we could to undermine the enemy – the B1 sniped from atop a hill. I struggled for what seemed like an age, but in reality was probably only 15-20 seconds, with getting out of a groove in the ground and then I moved southward to crest a big sand-dune which gave me a good firing position. This proved fairly effective, and a Medium Mk II and Panzer III fell to my derp. The rest of the enemy team cleared that ridge, and now (apart from us) only one or two of our team’s tanks remained the enemy now tried to swarm the cap. This meant the three of us now moved southward to occupy the ridge the enemy had just vacated.

My brother and I headed straight for the ridge, the B1 went wide to actually cross over onto that half of the map. We were just taking up firing positions, my brother indeed had just fired a shot, and suddenly both our computers froze up. This sometimes happens to me in World of Tanks – the ping goes to 999 and nothing happens. It is essentially a disconnect. I generally find a quick restart of the client does the trick. So I restart the client.

I log back in to find my brother destroyed, along with every other tank on our team apart from myself and the B1. The cap-counter is in the 70s, which very soon gets reset by the B1 down to the 40s. In other words, a little more time. I am amazed I am alive. On reflection I think the fact I had not fired after getting on the ridge helped hide me, and the fact I was in a small depression in the ground made it harder to see me. Nevertheless, there is work to be done.

A small reposition and I have a good view of the base area. My first target is a M8A1, and it goes boom. Next a Panzer 38 nA which leaves itself exposed, and soon regrets doing so. A Panzer III is damaged by the B1, and then I finish it off. The last enemy tank is a Matilda, which unlike its team-mates knows how to take cover behind buildings. Fortunately the buildings are destructible. It takes two shots, the first to remove the cover, but then he dies too.

Given how close we were to losing, I must admit of being very chuffed to have helped pull this chestnut out of the fire. Especially considering the disconnect. I earned 133 base defence points, the most I have ever earned in a single battle, which I must admit gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. Also my first ever de Langlade’s Medal. What enabled me to do this however, most certainly, was the ability to one-shot pretty much everything I came across – because that meant they had little opportunity to fire back at me.

Certainly after a match such as this the temptation to keep this tank is very strong. In the short term I am not intending to do so, as I need the garage slot to progress further up the USA turretless TD line. The one consideration that may make me not end up keeping it is the fact I already have a Tier III TD in my Marder II. Nevertheless the two tanks do not play the same. We shall see – I have a lot of Tier III tanks to go yet.

So, I was riding my bicycle to work yesterday. I was not very far away from home – maybe 5-10 minutes walking distance, when at a small blind junction onto the main road as I cycled across a car pulled out. Then I was on the ground in a heap with my bike. This rather shook me up and is the main reason why I did not post anything yesterday. This was a rather more forceful collision that the little nudge I had back last year, and I have the following thoughts:

1. Ouch

2. It was a genuine accident. That particular junction is horrid, and a bad combination of circumstances caused the accident. Either no one was at fault, or we were both at fault.

3. Car bumper versus my leg – the bumper won.

4. The car driver was in an even greater state of shock than I was immediately after the accident. I had to comfort her, which on retrospect was very useful as it meant I was not thinking all that much about what had just happened.

5. It was a good thing the accident also took place only a few doors away from where my brother works.

6. Monday morning is a really quiet time in the local hospital Accident and Emergency Department

7. My lifelong streak of no broken bones continues (as the doctor said, the femur is a difficult bone to break, but when it does you know about it – I did not think anything was broken as I was limping, but thought it was good to check it out).

8. Thank heavens for the fact I was wearing a helmet. Note to any and all cyclists or potential cyclists who are reading this – helmets are good things. As of right now that is some of the best money I have ever spent.

Today I did get into work, and proved something of a struggle. Definitely not at the top of my game. Still, a hurdle crosses, and in theory tomorrow should be easier.

My bicycle is somewhat damaged, will find out in the next few days how badly so.