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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Did rather less gaming than expected as got hit by another cough/cold that has impacted my game time somewhat. On the plus side the weather has been somewhat better this week.

World of Tanks

I have had some good times in World of Tanks this week, but also two abominable losing streaks where seemingly everything I touched turned to dust. Despite that my win rate has reached a new high (though as a result of last night’s loss streak it is now lower) and I have passed 8000 games.

As far as my big grinds are concerned I am one decent battle away from eliting the Panther. I haven’t really done much on any of the others, so their slow grinds continue. What I have done this week is play a bunch of lower-tier matches.

A few more games in the M5A1 (which were, alas, mostly terrible) and starting up in the Valentine, Alecto, and AMX 40. My experience of the AXM 40 so far is not too bad, but I can see it will get frustrating relatively quickly with its slow speed. My one game in the Alecto was rather nice, if nothing special. I have played a few more in the Valetine and had a really good game where I got the Ace Tanker award. A very powerful little tank – a small Matilda.

I have managed to spend pretty much all of my credits on odds and ends – at one point I was down to less than 100k. I would like to get the Crusader this weekend now that it will be on offer, which will clean me out again. I am hesitant otherwise to say too much about what I might manage to achieve in the week ahead, as I think it quite possible my gaming will once again be reduced.

World of Warplanes

Played considerably less than I would have liked, really only a handful of games just ticking along. Saving up credits to get equipment for the Bristol 146.

Skyrim

I did achieve quite a bit when I played this on Tuesday, even if it was not the most interesting. I went back to Whiterun where I keep most of alchemical ingredients and just sat down and burned my way to Alchemy 100. I also had a pre-crafted set of Daedric armour there, which I now Enchanted each piece with two enchantments. Whether my “build” is as good as it could be I have no idea, but I rather like what I have.

Otherwise I have just arrived at the Imperial military camp in The Pale, and am ready to start plotting the takeover of the hold, possibly with a sidequest or two thrown in along the way.

Hearthstone

Played a little more on the Hunter, but actually played more games back on the Mage deck. I have now managed to unlock the Priest and Warlock, leaving me with just Shaman and Paladin to go.

Long Live the Queen

I got this off Steam for 50% discount at the weekend, having read about it on Mrrx’s blog. I must say I am rather taken with it. Simple, but not simplistic. I have managed to survive once so far, and died several more times.

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The first Japanese tank in World of Tanks is based on that widely spread French example, the Renault FT. I have ended up playing more games in it than I actually intended, in an ultimately failed effort to get the Ace Tanker. In general I have found the Renault Otsu to be a fairly un-impressive Tier I.

For me there are two main factors that lead into this vehicle being underwhelming. The first is its relatively slow speed. Of course, it is not the only slow Tier I tank, but it is light-years behind the T1 Cunningham, for example, and considerably slower than even the MS-1 or Leichttraktor. This means that it is difficult tank to get into a good position, a problem all slower tanks face. Given that Tier I battles have a tendency to be fairly short-sharp affairs this can get irritating very quickly as a lot of fighting occurs before you can have an impact.

The second frustration is the weaponry, which feels particular underpowered. Its top gun has a low 32mm of standard penetration, which will lead to frequent bounces – especially against Tier II tanks. Meanwhile its rate of fire and alpha are also low, leading to a depressed dpm. It is useful to compare it to the T1 Cunningham in this regard. The pen on the Cunningham is also about the same – but it gets a much better burst damage which generally allows it to do more damage. Alternatively one can look at the RenaultFT. That has even lower alpha and slightly worse dpm than the Otsu – but it also has 50% better penetration making it a far more reliable in doing damage. To make matters even better, like all Tier I tanks, the Otsu has poor accuracy. Long range sniping engagements are therefore far more dependent on luck than they are at later tiers. All in all it feels like the Otsu is in the opposite of the sweet spot when it comes to doing damage.

There are other compensations, but in a Tier I tank they are hard to manage to use properly at Tier I, I have found, where combat ranges tend to be closer. Firstly it has insane gun depression – 22 degrees. I don’t know if that is a record in the game – it certainly could be. Only, given the maps available to Tier I tanks it does’t always get that much opportunity to use its gun depression.

Likewise the Otsu is comparatively well armoured. You can and should be able to bounce shells from other tanks with some reliability – but you will still get penned regardless now and then. You are not going to be able to face a full clip from a Cunningham and remain unscathed even with good angling and the like.

This is not to say that the Renault Otsu cannot have its moments – it certainly can. But it struggles to be a game-changer. That combination of poor mobility and weak effective firepower, compared to its peers, limits its potential.

My own record in the Otsu stands are 20 matches played with 11 victories and 34 enemy tanks destroyed. Along the way I have earned a Confederate medal and a Cool-Headed medal, as well as First Class honours. So a decent enough run, despite not getting the Ace. The one advantage of over-playing the tank is that my Commander now has Mentor at 60%, which with the crew re-trained to the Type 95 Ha-Go will make keeping the basic crew level high easier.

 

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.

Scout tanks

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.

I have to say I have never really understood the modern incarnation of Valentine’s Day. As a child/youth at school I never understood it, and just tried best to ignore any cards that I was sent (and never sent any myself). I am therefore most fortunate that my wife holds the commercial creation with same disregard. Besides, given there is a gale blowing outside it is hardly the day for dining out – and usually it would be a rip-off now anyway. So, following Matt Yglesias’ advice (if not his practice) the money saved tonight can be made to go further on other occasions 🙂

Well, that aside out of the way, my gaming this week was interrupted by all of us falling down with the cold mid-week. That said I did manage to get a reasonable amount done. I have also decided that Tuesdays nights are going to be my Tank-free night. This is something I was thinking about back in the autumn, and I am finally putting it into practice.

World of Tanks

I played considerably less tanks this week than I originally thought I would. Partly this is because I played nothing on Tuesday, but then on Wednesday I played no games at all. Despite this I managed to continue my progress on various tanks.

My crew on the ST-I is now just over 50% on the fourth crew skill. Just for fun that means it will take about 1.5 million xp until the fourth crew skill is maxed. On the T29 I have researched the mid-engine, which has improved the mobility a bit though I am looking forward to the top engine. I am about 13k away from eliting the Panther, and the Sherman Jumbo is elited. Also I have just about 20k to go to unlock the top gun on the Ferdinand, which will also be very welcome.

My crew on the KV-1 is now in the mid-40s on the second crew skill, which is enough to re-train and keep the first skill at 100%. However, I will put off doing so until I can actually purchase the IS-4. I will be taking advantage of the equipment discount this weekend to buy what I want for the IS-4. The discount is only 25%, but I would rather take it now than wait for a 50% that might not come. It will also mean that I just have the plain cost for the tank to gain.

Also this week I bought and equipped the Loyd Gun Carriage. So far only had a single game, but it was a lot of fun.

Looking forward to the week I am intending to acquire the Valentine on the offer. I will probably also get the Matilda Black Prince. It has the reputation of being a fairly underwhelming premium, but on the other hand I will be getting it at 75% discount. The next Tier VI I am going to work on is going to be the M4A3E8, the crew of which will eventually end up in the T20. The crew I have in the Sherman Jumbo I will keep there for the moment, with the aim of retraining it into a later tank in due course.

World of Warplanes

I have gotten though some games now on the Bristol 146, though I still have a way to research. I almost have finished upgrading the Skua as well – just one battle to finish researching the top bomb. In the coming week I hope to get a few games in to keep things ticking over.

Skyrim

Made the decision to return to Solitude and kick of the Re-Unification of Skyrim. Along the way I got my Enchanting up to 100. I now have to return to Whiterun where I have a set of Daedric Armour waiting for me to enchant. Also Whiterun is where most of my alchemy ingredients are stashed. I think it is time to burn through a lot of them to boost my alchemy score as much as possible.

I never swift-travel in Skyrim, so it takes me time to travel. While this no doubt slows down my progress it does have advantages. I ended up having two quite enjoyable fights with Ancient Dragons on my meanderings on Tuesday.

Hearthstone

Now that my initial Mage Pack has all the main cards researched I am trying to do the same for the other packs I have so far unlocked. My next first option was the Warrior, and this turned into a long hard slog. After much tinkering I have a build that is not terrible, but just doesn’t feel very good either. I have, however managed to get out a few victories along the way to unlocking all those cards. I am now starting on the Hunter, and whilst my first game was a wipeout with me on the losing side, my second was a slaugher with the sides reversed.

I have the Cleric, Paladin, Shaman, and Warlock left to unlock.

Over the almost two years I have played World of Tanks my garage has ballooned in size – largely because of my general reluctance to sell tanks. Nevertheless over time there have been some tanks I have sold, due to garage size pressure, that I subsequently regretted. A few of these I have already bought back, but there are still several out there I rather miss.

So I made myself a little promise around the start of the year that, at some point, I will spend a little gold to expand my garage by perhaps 10 slots solely to acquire past tanks. Then of course I started to think about what tanks would fill those slots. So far I have come up with eight tanks, listed roughly in order of desirability. Given how I have played the game, they are mostly low-tier vehicles.

Jagdpanther – If there is one tank I regret the most for having sold, this is it. It is a truly great tank destroyer, relatively mobile, hard-hitting, able to take advantage of cover and camouflage. I had great times in it back when I had it – I think I would enjoy it even more now.

KV-3 – Again, I really enjoyed the KV-3 when I initially had it, and I think now I would have a blast as well. I wouldn’t want to play it in a 75% crew – I would want at least some repair, but this would be a great tank to re-acquire. Also it would mean I would have the entire KV-line of heavy tanks, which would appeal to my completionist instincts.

Somua SAu-40 – a tank that many hate, but it is all about the derp gun. Some games you will have very limited, if any, impact. However with a little luck and a good sense of opportunity you can really ruin the other team’s tanks.

T18 – this is a little bit of a guilty pleasure. I only ever played a few games in it back in the day. My brother has one now, and it would be fun to be able to do a T18 platoon.

T82 – now this tank I think is an even greater seal-clubber than its baby brother. This tank can terrorise vehicles above its tier. I have very fond memories of it.

Cruiser Mk II – the other great Tier III derp. Again, this is a tank I feel I could be more effective with now – if I manage to keep my patience about me.

M8A1 – One I sold rather more recently, but which I rather liked but never spent the time on I probably should have.

M3 Lee – Most people hate the M3 Lee, but I rather liked it when I played it. I am rather interested to see if I would still like it now.

This leave me two slots out of my self-promised 10, and I am not sure if I will actually fill them at this time. Still, this is something I am aiming for, perhaps in the summer.

All in all I have had quite a reasonable week’s gaming, though I have had to keep one eye on the various floods in Somerset happening just down the road. While not on the Levels themselves, the local rivers and streams were just on the verge of overflowing when we had a break in the weather allowing them to subside slightly. At times as well surface water flooding has threatened to stop us moving around, flooding in various dips and hollows. So far, however, all remains accessible.

World of Tanks

On one level World of Tanks has been quite kind to me this week – on the other I have had one particular run of very bad luck earlier in the week, and last night finished with some crackingly good games that ended in losses. The best (or worst, depending on point of view) of these was in my Dicker Max, where I did 3400 damage and 6 kills, earning my Ace Tanker badge, but the team could not bring it home at the end. Though the game just before, when in the Marder 38T I 1300 damage and 3 kills in a Tier V match – but no fewer than nine of my teammates did absolutely zero damage.

In terms of my grinds it was quite a successful week. I have now elited the ST-I. Unfortunately I do not yet quite have the credits to acquire the IS-4 – being a small matter of 4.6 million credits short! Credit-grinding is in my future. 🙂 The crew for the IS-4 is progressing very nicely, getting to 100% on that first crew skill now, which means it should be in a good place when it comes to retraining. On the IS-3 I have unlocked the turret, meaning I have just the tracks before starting the grind to the IS-8. On the Panther I have just under 30k to go, whereas on the T29 I have now unlocked the turret and have started to work on the engines, and on the Ferdinand I am just over half-way to the top gun. I also have just about 3k to go before eliting the Sherman Jumbo. Finally the Crusader is also now unlocked.

Yesterday I took a good look at my progress in the monthly missions, and I have decided that I am just not going to be able to manage to do the 375 battles (always finishing in the top 10 on the team). Well, I might if I super-prioritised my time, but realistically that feels a little too much like work. The 500 kills I might do, but probably will not for the same reason. On the other hand I am well on the way to getting the 150 victories, and that will just have to content me.

World of Warplanes

I have done less WoWP than I wanted to, out of an initial desire to try for those battles. I have, however, purchased the Bristol 146 (on 50% discount last weekend). Now just putting together the credits to retrain and the equipment. I hope to manage this in time to have it ready for when I next play with my friend in the coming week.

Heathstone

I downloaded this as the weekend, after seeing it on Quickybaby’s stream. I have not played it very intensively – something like 12-15 matches total in both Practice and Play mode. So far I am finding it a fun occasional diversion. I was never a big Magic fan back in the day, though I dabbled in it and some of the other various CCGs that were on the market when I was at university.

There is therefore a certain nostalgic quality of playing Hearthstone, that I am sure is part of its appeal to others and not just me. I really doubt I will ever play more than a handful of games here or there.

The IS tank seems to occupy a slightly peculiar position in World of Tanks perceptions. It is a tank almost everyone even just casually serious about the game gets to play at some time or other, on their way to the ever-popular IS-3. It attracts considerably less opprobrium than the M3 Lee or Jagdpanzer IV, but even so it is not well liked. One does not have to dig far to fine a litany of complaints, but those complaints usually lack a certain degree of punch. Indeed I wonder if because so many people play this tank only to get to the IS-3 that this tank is regarding somewhat unfairly. It is generally compared to its more famous successor, and also I think some people approach the grind as something akin to a job: a boring task with a payoff at the end. Perhaps not the most positive frame of mind in which to approach the vehicle.

Myself I have really enjoyed myself in the IS. I have had some absolutely tremendous games – contesting the centre ridgeline in Mines, doing heroics around the building at the top of the hill on Himmelsdorf, and much more. The overall impression I have is of an incredibly versatile vehicle. It may not have the best armour or survivability, and it may not have the absolute best alpha or dpm, and it might not be the fastest or most agile, but it is no slouch in any department.

The first thing to understand about this tank is that, while classed as a heavy tank it follows the design evolution from the KV-1S. That means, compared to the KV-line of tanks which are all about heavy armour, this line sacrifices some armour for mobility. This is not to see it is unarmoured – it is not. Rather it is selectively armoured. The armour is concentrated to the front, a little less on the sides, and much less on the rear. Compare this to the KV-3 which is better armoured all round, and has the large tracks which can absorb a lot of hits. It also has comparatively fewer hitpoints, which can be thought of another consequence of this design choice. Another comparison with the KV-3 is the base weight – at 44.9 tons the stock IS is almost 20 tons lighter than the stock KV-3.

All this means is while the IS can take a certain degree of punishment, and expect to bounce a number of shots, it will suffer if it has to go face-to-face with many other enemies. It has the added mobility – it should be used. Indeed, the IS has the best power ratio of all the Tier VII heavies, which means it can effectively accelerate and decelerate. It also has the second-best track traverse of all the Tier VII heavies. This allows it to ove into position, fire, move back, reload, rinse and repeat. This improved mobility also gives the IS greater tactical flexibility on the battlefield. It makes it considerably easier to redeploy on the battlefield. Never mistake the IS for a medium tank – it is not – but neither is it a lumbering beast, and like a medium its mobility is part of its defence.

In both the KV-1S and IS-3 an easy argument can be made that their respective guns are better than their equivalents on the KV-line (the T-150 and KV-4 respectively). The same cannot be said about the IS, which uses the exact same gun as the KV-3. I am sure this is one reason why it is popularly thought to be less than brilliant, in that it has the same firepower as the alternate line. However, this overlooks the simple fact that the 122m D-25T is pretty decent gun. Its aim time and accuracy are poor yes – but then, Russian heavy tank guns are hardly renowned for their accuracy – but its alpha is great and the pen is very respectable for tier. Yes it will struggle against Tier IX and better armoured Tier VIII targets, but then then is only reasonable, and like the KV-3 the IS has the mobility to better get in flanking shots. For tanks on tier and below it will be deadly, quite capable two-shotting most lower-tier targets.

The accuracy and aim time do mean that this tank is not best served being used as a sniper, but for close-in work – and this is something that the IS does do well. Like a stuck record I return again to the mobility. It really is the defining characteristic I think of this tank when compared to its peers – but it is a subtle difference. I am also fairly sure it really helps having a well trained crew, particular in Repair since this tank is dead if tracked. Given the IS line is so popular I would not be at all surprised that many people play the IS in less experienced crews, and when they are just less experienced themselves. Ultimately I think all these factors help explain why the IS is not as well-loved as I have found it.

My own record in the IS is 88 matches played with a 55.68% win rate. Along the way I have destroyed 106 tanks, and achieved a damage ratio of 1.19 and a destruction ratio of 1.77. I have not quite managed a Top Gun – though I came close several times. I did get the Ace Tanker, plus 4 Snipers, 3 Confederates, and 2 Steel Walls.

I am going to keep the IS in my garage, though I have now already moved its crew onto the IS-3. I am going to need to train up a new crew for it, and I would like it to be fairly decent just to get the most out of this tank.