World of Tanks: in from the HEAT

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High Explosive Anti-Tank shell 53-BP-540 left us at 1:00 am PDT today. It was 26 months old. It is survived by Armor Piercing shell 53-G-530 and High Explosive shell 53-OF-530. Condolences should be sent to the Soviet KV-2 Heavy Tank.

Today’s 8.6 update to World of Tanks represents the most ambitious re-imagining of’s popular “freemium” game since its 2011 launch. Even major changes like the physics patch or the removal of “pay to win” components of the game pale in comparison. This update hopes to resolve some of the legacy problems that have been around for so long they had begun to feel like features.

Over the next few days I’ll examine the patch and the current state of World of Tanks. But balance changes often have a feeling of “two steps forward, one step back” and the 8.6 update is no exception. Buried in the massive list of patch notes was the change that signaled the death of one of my favorite tanks:

Added shell MPB mod. 1915/28.
Removed shell 53-BP-540

After the jump: requiem for a derp

The KV-2 has always been an odd tank. It’s slow and clumsy. It has trouble making use of cover due to its massive box turret. But life is full of tradeoffs, and in the KV-2’s case, that gigantic turret was the only way to cram in a 152mm howitzer. That howitzer (a “derp gun” in World of Tanks lingo) took an eternity to center in on a target and several eternities to reload. It was not very accurate even when fully aimed in. But when it hit home, it hit home hard. Heavier tanks would often decline to advance into a KV-2, knowing the damage its cannon could inflict.

Changing times were tough for the KV-2. Both the Soviet heavy tank rebalancing and the general changes to high explosive damage were good for the game, but they were not good for the KV-2, which relied on its massive gun to make up for its massive shortcomings. The KV-2 stayed relevant because of its high explosive anti-tank shell. These HEAT shells were designed during an age long gone, when the KV-2 was a lower-tier tank called the KV, when the 152mm howitzer was not the ideal cannon for the KV, and when the HEAT shell was not the ideal shell for the howitzer. It was designed for an age when HEAT shells cost real money.

As part of World of Tank’s effort to go from a “free to play” game to a “free to win” game, the 8.1 patch allowed the purchase of premium shells, bought with silver earned in-game. That greatly increased players’ use of HEAT ammo, which highlighted how howitzers with HEAT were too powerful compared to other guns. While the most (in)famous beneficiaries of the 8.1 HEAT changes were mobile 105mm howitzer platforms like the M4 Sherman or PzIV, the change was also a godsend to the KV-2.

So great was the power of silver-purchasable HEAT shells that within a few months of version 8.1’s release, mid-tier matches were completely dominated by HEAT-shooting howitzer platforms. In a game that boasts around 250 available tanks, HEAT platforms were degenerate. They limited viable options. They reduced player satisfaction. Thanks to 8.6’s de-powering of HEAT rounds, a large number of previously underpowered tanks like the iconic T-34 can finally emerge from HEAT’s shadow.

The needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the KV-2.

Tomorrow: the China syndrome

David Lydon has been playing games since he was very young, and hopes to still be playing games when he is very old. David posts on the Quarter to Three forums as Dave47. His previous World of Tanks diary begins here.