I have been waiting to say anything on the 8.6 update until we had some official patch notes from Wargaming, which were published on today on the opening of the Public Test. Chiefly this is because it was clear these were going to be very extensive. Several times the phrase “the most significant update since the introduction of the new physics in 8.0” or similar have been bandied around, and they are not wrong. Indeed one can make the argument that all the changes in 8.6 put together are even more far-reaching than the new physics, even if no single element is as profound. Either way, this is big news. As always I am not intending to try this out on the Test Server myself – I do not have the time – so it is generally gleaned from the patch notes and the comments of others.
Before I start looking at the various elements though I think it is useful to keep certain thoughts in mind what is going on here in 8.6. In part Wargaming is fine-tuning the decision to make premium ammo available for credits in 8.1. This had an effect of somewhat decreasing the value of armour in the game. Certain instances of premium ammo – specifically HEAT ammo – were shown to be very powerful indeed when widely and easily available. In part Wargaming is also trying to standardise their tank tech trees to some degree, removing anomalies where possible. They are also trying to emphasise player skill and to move away from the perception of “pay to win”. Finally they are continually trying to rebalance the game for randoms, whilst keeping an eye on e-sports.
So, what actually is going on? Well, the first thing we ever knew about the 8.6 update was that they were going to stretch the current SPG tech-trees. However, that is not the first thing I wish to talk about, which is the change to the accuracy mechanics in game. There was a good article on the US Portal about this. I won’t got into detail, but essentially the mechanics of accuracy have changed somewhat to ensure the distribution of shells falls more smoothly from the centre of the aiming circle to the edge. In essence tanks and tank destroyers have been more accurate. The change is reasonably substantial from what I understand, and I think it will largely benefit two groups of being. Firstly it will benefit snipers at range, who are trying just to hit the enemy. With few shells landing at the edge of the aiming circle, more tanks are going to hit at a distance. The second group, which in some cases will overlap, will be players who have a good knowledge of weakspots, as this change will make it more likely to hit them. The people negatively impacted by this change will be people who do not learn weakspots and also people who are more static when fighting at range. Cover will become more important. However, this change only applies to light tanks, medium tanks, heavy tanks, and tank destroyers. It does not apply to SPGs, and this leads me onto the second major change of 8.6 – not the arty-extension to Tier X, but the arty rebalance.
Ever since the temporary rolling SPG hardcap was implemented we have known that the extension of artillery to Tier X was going to go hand-in-hand with an artillery rebalance. Many were expecting a nerf, and at first glance this is exactly what we are getting. For the Record made a series of posts from supertest about the nerf for each nation. Most noticeable were fairly massive accuracy nerfs. Now, there is something slightly curious here, however. In the post I mentioned from the US portal about accuracy, and I have seen this statement replicated elsewhere (but cannot find the link) they say “If you’ve already seen leaked information about the 0.8.6 Update SPG characteristics, please do not worry. It’s not a nerf, just measures to avoid “over-buff.” The overall accuracy of SPGs will be pretty much the same, just more predictable”. How to square this circle? Well it could just be false advertising to prevent an arty-revolt – though I doubt this because it would be very self-defeating. So far however I have not seen a good explanation to explain this statement, though I must admit I have not had the opportunity to search very hard for it either. However, from comments from the test server this does appear to be the case.
There are, however, three other nerfs to SPG effectiveness. The first, directly, is a lessening in the velocity of many SPG shells, making it take longer for the shells to reach their target. This is meant to make it harder to hit tanks on the move, and in general I can support this. It will reward tanks on the move that weave to some extent, while good SPG players will still be able to hit tanks that move in a straight line. The second nerf to SPG effectiveness is rather more indirect, and it is change to the spall-liner piece of equipment. Previously small, medium, and large spall-liners absorbed 15% of damage (more or less) from HE. Now medium spall-liners will take out 20%, large spall-liners will negative 25%, and very large tanks will be eligible to fit a very large spall-liner that will block 30% of HE damage. Given the larger tanks tend to be the targets for SPGs this makes those tanks have an option to help protect themselves. I imagine this would be most usefully employed by the big slow heavy tanks like my KV-5 – and indeed I may replace the EGLD with a spall-liner. It is important to note however that if a shell penetrates the armour the spall-liner will have no effect. At first glance one might wonder how an artillery shell, with its naturally low penetration, ever could punch through the rates armour of a heavy tank. However, one must remember the trajectory of those shells – they often come in from above and land on the top of the tank – and the armour on the top of a tank is often much, much weaker. What this will do is reduce the effect of splash damage, and of direct-fire HE. The third and final direct nerf is that reload times are increasing for pretty much all SPGs, apparently by something like 10-20%.
The SPG rebalance is large, but the headline change is the stretching of the current lines to Tier X. This is involving the addition of a nine new vehicles across the four nations currently with SPGs. I know the intention is for this to allow the rolling SPG hard-cap to be removed. It should be understood that the current Tier VIII SPGs are not really getting buffed moving to Tier X – indeed given everything they are essentially getting nerfed. Another, quite profound, consequence of the stretching of arties to Tier X is that SPGs will generally get the same matchmaker to everyone else. In other words a Tier VII SPG will potentially see Tier V tanks (in a battle in which it is top-tier) and also Tier IX tanks (in battle in which it is bottom-tier) but will not see Tier X tanks (unless it has special matchmaking). I am fairly willing to bed that many players haven’t quite taken this on board as yet, and expect a few whines about it once 8.6 has hit the live server (we are getting a few now in the test server).
When some of the arty changes were first leaked the news came down that there was a buff for SPG players to balance out the nerfs, and it is true there is an across-the-board buff for SPGs. It is not a buff to gameplay, but to results. Currently SPGs have a 50% penalty applied to experience gains, which is being totally removed. I see this partly being a consequence of the tier stretching – there is more experience now required to get to the top-tier SPGs – and partly as a way of trumpeting this as more of a rebalance than just a nerf. Incidentally tank destroyers are also having their current experience penalty (33%) removed – no doubt because the whines would be truly epic if they were the only class penalised. Overall I think this is a good change for both classes, but for SPGs it is more necessary.
There is one further change that could be considered an arty-nerf, only far more than arty are effected, and that is the changes to HEAT ammunition. In terms of the mechanics HEAT ammunition is going to become far more ineffective against spaced armour and against tracks. Unfortunately this is likely to have a side effect of making 0-damage hits more common for HEAT ammo. Some HEAT ammo is also have its penetration reduced. There are two elements to that. The first is that the penetration of top-tier HEAT is often being reduced, and this is apparently in an attempt to boost the value of armour. This is part of a wider rebalance to boost armour (of which the change to spall-liners should be seen as another element). A second group of HEAT is being affected, used primarily at Tiers IV-VI, and this is a nerf. With the premium ammo for credits change it became obvious that a series of weapons at that tier have very powerful HEAT options – principally the 10.5cm guns of both the Germans and Americans. Indeed, they have become so common one sometimes feel like a bit of a prat not using them, and not using HEAT. Ultimately they have been judged overpowered – which I know many will agree with – and their HEAT penetration is being given a hard whack with the nerfbat. This is the first of two long-awaited responses to the introduction of premium for credits in 8.1.
The second is that the price of premium ammunition has been rebalanced across the board. Most premium ammunition is increasing in price – HEAT ammo especially – though some are having minor price reductions. The stated idea is to try to make shells of the same effectiveness have the same cost. Given how most have a price increase, however, one suspects this is another attempt to reduce the use of premium ammunition just a little, and I would see this as a further element in the “boost armour” agenda of this update.
Another very large element of this agenda is that shell normalization for AP and APCR shells is being reduced from 5 to 2 degrees. Normalization effectively reduces the angle at which a shell hits armour, so the end-result of this change will be that angling will become more effective. So people who present no angle to the enemy will not benefit from this change, but players who avoid such things will find their playing skill rewarded. This should also be seen in light of the accuracy buff – people who know what weak-spots to aim for should be able to retain their effectiveness against armour. People who know how to angle and obscure their weakspots should also benefit. A further theme of this update is “reward skill”. To further reinforce this there is a line in the patch notes that says penetration and damage mechanics have also been changed to cause the average result to occur more often, and the extreme results about 5% less often. This reduction is randomisation will again be an effective boost to better skilled players.
Another element of this is that one is now going to be able to earn experience and credits for tracking an enemy, if another member of your team subsequently damages or destroys the enemy tank. The mechanic will apparently work much like spotting damage does currently, and I think this is a very welcome addition. Although I suspect its effect will be minor in random battles, it is an incentive to teamplay, and over time people who have less change of penetration may start to track enemy rather than bounce shells uselessly. Probably only a relatively small percentage of players mind you, but still the effect will be there. Anything that incentives teamplay is to be encouraged! There is also a note in the patch notes that a mechanic is being added to track damage from pushing enemy tanks down hills and into water, included drowning. It does not appear, however, that we are going to get any credit/experience benefit for these actions as yet.
To help track the credit and experience gain of this new mechanic there is a new after-battle statistics screen. This actually apparently goes a little further – we will now be able to see which modules we damage and also shows what damage you deal and receive is splash damage. I always like this sort of thing, more information please!
Camouflage is also getting something of a rework in this update. It is being touted that the entire camouflage mechanic is going to be changed in a further update (probably 9.0), so what follows should probably be viewed as something of a stop-gap. There are two changes. Currently the camo net and camo paint increase the vehicles base camo rating by a relative amount. This means a vehicle with a large camo rating gets a larger bonus than a vehicle with a low native camo bonus. Indeed it means some vehicles generally should not bother with either, as they effects are so minimal as a result of their poor native camp bonus. In 8.6 however this changes, so the bonus the camo net and camp paint are absolute, not effected by the tank’s native bonus. It just adds to that rating. The precise bonus varies for different tank classes, being large for TDs and smaller for heavy tanks, but it basically a buff for all tanks. Indeed, for TDs it is something of an overbuff so they have to balance this by reducing the effectiveness of bushes and trees at concealment, otherwise there would be “invisible TDs”. I see two things behind this change – firstly there is an attempt to boost sales of camo paint, hopefully gold (permanent) camo paint at that, by increasing its usefulness. There is nothing wrong with that, and given it is relatively easy to use credits to get the same bonus (for a quite reasonable price) I do not see this as pay to win. The second reason I think is to encourage more specialised gameplay through what equipment you select for a tank. Note however this change does not effect the camouflage skill, whose bonus is still dependent on the native camo bonus. On a more cosmetic note some new camouflage patterns are being released for the USSR, France, and Germany.
We are getting a new map in 8.6, called Sacred valley, which is a Korea-themed map. The screenshots I have seen suggest it is going to be a quite complicated map. Murovanka, Widepark, and Airfield have apparently been moved onto the new rendering engine, and in the ASAP video it was mentioned there have been some gameplay adjustments to Widepark. In the patch notes it also mentions balance adjustments have been made to Westfield Assault, which leads me to believe that game mode is making a return for Westfield. There is also a note that the Encounter mode is arriving in Mines, Lakeville, and Redshire. I have yet to see where the bases are going to be for each of these, though I am looking forward to them.
There is also one major “less-grind” change that is worth noting, namely an increase to credit earning for all non-SPGs Tier VI and up. Apparently this will be greatest at Tier X, where the bonus will be about 10%, and somewhat less each tier down. What this means in practice is people will be more able to reliably break-even at higher tank tiers (generally Tier VII for standard accounts and Tier VIII for premium accounts) – and while they will continue to lose credits in the highest tier they will be able to spend less time farming credits to play those top-tier tanks. I think this is partly an attempt to try to increase the number of Tier IX and X non-SPGs in randoms, which can probably also be seen as a way of diluting the number of top-tier SPGs.
There are a whole bunch of much more minor changes, such as changes to various tank models and the like. Of all these additional changes the only one I will note is that, for new accounts, all Tier I tanks will start with a 100% crew. The stated reason is to help new players appreciate the importance of a good crew. I personally think the real reason is a partial counter to folks like Mrrx (and now myself) who continue to play Tier I tanks.
I have probably missed something major out. However, in theory these generally sound like improvements to the game. I am personally not expecting the update to go live until the second half of June, but we shall have to see.