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Published November 12, 2012

After a two weeks of testing, Wargaming recently released patch 8.1; starting with the Russian server on the 26th of October and the rest of the world a week later. No one expected it to come so soon after the successful and game changing 8.0 'physics & normalisation' update which was released at the beginning of October.

8.0 was generally well received by the community but 8.1 was both highly anticipated due to content additions but also contained a controversial decision by Wargaming which caused a large number of players to announce the game's impending death. Was that justified or just forum hyperbole? We'll take a look later on.

So what's in 8.1?

The core content of 8.1 is the new British Medium and Heavy tanks. Other changes and additions include:

  • Three new Premium tanks
  • Four redesigned maps
  • Platoons can deselect game play types
  • Premium ammo for credits

Pudding and Tea?

I guess something was lost in translation as it doesn't make much sense to me either, but that is the name of the new British premium consumable to be placed within any of the 22 new British tanks. Originally slated for earlier this year, the nation that invented the tank is finally here with its first two tech trees out of an announced four.

The tech trees feature both mass-produced and a few prototype tanks from the 1930s to 1950s, including famous names like the Matilda, Churchill, Crusader, Comet and Centurion. Sadly, no Sherman Firefly is to be found in a list of largely homogeneous British tanks.

Medium? Heavy? Infantry? Cruiser? What?

The introduction of British tanks somewhat defies Wargaming's definitions of tanks which apply roughly to the other nations', i.e. Light, Medium and Heavy tanks.

The British tanks for the first 7 tiers are the Infantry and Cruiser tanks which was the British armour doctrine of the 30s and early 40s. Infantry tanks are slow-moving, heavily armoured, higher hit point tanks with a generally high rate of fire but do little damage or penetration and feature in the Heavy tree. Cruiser tanks are lightly armoured, more mobile and pack a little more firepower and feature in the Medium tree.

Because of this many of the lower tier British tanks are either ponderously slow affairs or reasonably mobile but very poorly armoured tanks based on Christie suspension; as a whole, however, they are great fun. If you liked the British lend/lease Premium tanks in the Soviet tree like the Churchill, Matilda and Tetrarch or the British premium, the Matilda Black Prince, you'll love the British low and mid tier tanks. A good early example of a typically British Cruiser tank is the tier 2 "Cruiser A13 Mk3". Fast and mobile, weakly armoured but with a selection of fast firing weapons to choose from including the famous 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft cannon.

In the medium tree at tier 8 we see a change in tank design, with the first iteration of the venerable Centurion tank, followed at tier 9 by a later model Centurion with the famous L7 cannon and at Tier 10 the FV4202, which was a technology demonstrator for the 1960s' Chieftain MBT based on the Centurion. Unsurprisingly these don't really feel like mediums tanks usually do in World of Tanks owing to the fact they're really MBTs. So they're a little slower but have a little more armour than most other mediums of the same tier.

In the Heavy line at tier 8 and 9 we see the British attempts at true heavy tanks, built to take on the anticipated Soviet hordes of IS3's during the post war years. The Caernarvon and Conqueror certainly look the part with the latter being a fun and well-balanced tank, the former could do with a little tweaking however before it will feature in the lineup for Champion Company Battles.

Strangely however the British tier X heavy tank, the FV215B is an SPG prototype based on the Conqueror. A very strange choice by Wargaming as this tank would have been more appropriate in the unreleased Tank Destroyer tree. Possibly they plan to do the same as they did to the US T30 tank, which was moved from the top-tier US Heavy to a Tier 9 US Tank Destroyer. The tank itself is quite mobile for a heavy and has possibly the best overall gun in the game and has a massive 2600 hit points; however it literally has the armour of a lower tier heavy tank so you'll need every one of those hit points as everyone will be firing HE rounds at you.

Other highlights include the extremely flexible tier 7 Comet medium tank, the well armoured tier 4 Matilda, the tier 6 Churchill VII which may become a firm favourite for Medium Company Battles.

HEAT?

This is the British premium round for many tanks: High Explosive Anti Tank. Normally the Premium ammunition in WoT gives the player higher penetration. HEAT is a little different, its penetration is somewhere between the standard AP rounds and the standard HE rounds, but does more damage than normal AP rounds. While not an odd choice for the British, it is an odd choice for a premium round. It's highly effective on poorly armoured French tanks, artillery and scouts but against most other tanks it's only effective against the sides, rear or weak spots of enemy tanks. It's also not very effective against spaced armour, which is seen on many higher tier Soviet tanks.

How do the Tier X tanks stack up for Clan Wars?

For the Clan Wars players, the British however appear to be a bit of a letdown for a few reasons. The FV4202 and its HEAT premium ammo are highly situational. Great against French tanks or artillery but requires well-aimed shots on most heavy tanks to penetrate, which is a luxury in the hectic and fast battles of clan wars. Secondly the FV4202 is quite slow for a medium tank. It basically does 40KPH everywhere but never exceeds that, even going downhill!

The FV215B, while having an epic cannon has virtually no armour. The reason the IS7, IS4 and T110E5 are clan wars favourites is because they'll bounce poorly aimed Premium rounds and have reasonable firepower and mobility. The FV215B does use high penetration rounds as its Premium ammo type but that doesn't offset the fact that it can't be used in the front line due to lack of armour, which is the same issue the AMX50B has. Support tanks are just not useful in the quick, massed tank rushes of Clan Wars.

Should I get a slice of pudding and a cup of tea?

Of course! As always the tier 1 is free and the lower tier British tanks are great fun. They don't really offer much over tanks already available from other nations other than high RoF guns but what they do offer is a fresh tree to grind and some very enjoyable low and mid tier tanks. The overall experience required to complete the British trees is quite high, the medium tree is over 800,000; but the good news is British tanks share many components so you'll notice that guns, engines and radios unlocked for one tank will also unlock for a number of other tanks, similar to the Henschel tanks in the German tech trees.

You might be disappointed if you're just doing it to get the Tier X tanks for competitions but they're still fun tanks in random battles.

Obviously the only real glaring problem with British tanks is Pudding and Tea. Any Englishman will tell you that you have biscuits, cakes or scones with tea!

So, what about the new Premium tanks and the map revisions?

The new Premium tanks are a Soviet SU-122-44 tank destroyer; a modified Panther tank disguised as an American M10 as used by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge and a Schmalturm turreted Panzer IV.

The SU-122-44 is average at best. It's a comparable to a weaker, smaller and faster Jagdpanther. The Panther/M10 is similar to the stock Panther tank but has added soft steel plates to make it look like an M10 but they do not add any additional protection or work as spaced armour.

The Panzer IV is slightly contentious because the Schmalturm turreted Panzer IV used to be in the German Medium Tech tree. It was removed and made premium which did cause a little forum rage. This tank comes with side skirts which absorb some HE damage as well as this new turret, which for its Tier is very well armoured.

The map revisions once again are excellent. Both the visual changes from a graphics engine upgrade and the layouts have been changed to make the maps more realistic and allow players to employ different strategies. El Halluf is now more than just a sniper battle with one line of attack up the north side and Abbey includes more variations on the left and right flank routes. Dragon Ridge is back in random battle rotation. Not too much has changed other than a new attack route, but is bug free unlike when it was introduced in 7.3.

Time to put that tin foil hat on.

So the big controversy is you can now buy Premium ammunition for credits.

The rate works out as 1 gold is equivalent to 400 credits; Players can select how they'd like to pay for Premium ammunition via a drop down in the "Service" screen. For example a single round for a Tier 8 tank is 10 Gold or 4000 credits. Doesn't sound like much but unless you win every game with a convincing personal score and have a Premium account it's going to be quite expensive. That said, if you own a Lowe or another Tier 8 Premium tank, you can load up with Premium ammo, have a reasonable game and still obtain a nice profit.

Wargaming claim they did this is because players wanted it, however complaints have reached proportions that equal the EVE Online summer of rage 2011. Players also wanted an E100 buff but that never happened so whether this was player motivated or not it's certainly not clear to anyone outside of Wargaming's Belarus office.

But really, why did Wargaming do this?

Over on the official forums, various tin foil hat wearing players have come up with a number of conspiracy theories. It's possibly because players will get hooked on using Premium ammunition and feel that they cannot progress without it and thus spend more money on World of Tanks. It's possible that the use of Premium rounds will generate more experience on elite tanks, which will then be converted using gold, thus earning Wargaming more profit. Perhaps some players, namely Wargaming's primary market Russia, did want these changes but by all reports it's not exactly popular there either.

Another theory is that players have too much credit sitting about and Wargaming want to reduce this. However this isn't a game with an interactive economy so that doesn't make much sense.

So why are people complaining?

Apart from the conspiracy theories above, it changes the dynamic of World of Tanks and vastly affects the balance. Premium ammunition on normal tanks means additional penetration, on artillery it can be larger splash damage.

For one it means that a player with a lot of credits or the ability to make a lot of credits can nearly always use Premium ammunition. Newer players will find it a lot harder to compete with older players in lower tier battles and potentially might want to spend gold to compete or worse, leave the game because they cannot progress. It also means that tanks which rely on armour over speed for protection will suffer, meaning tanks like the Maus, already unpopular will become increasingly less viable to play.

That all said, a player with knowledge of tank weakspots, maps with an elite tank and a crew with a few choice skills will still win over an inexperienced player who is using Premium ammunition.

But, whatever theories are thrown around and damage it might do to game balance, at least Wargaming have stated that they may turn off this feature in 8.2 if it's really that detrimental to the game as a whole.

So, is 8.1 any good? Or a damp squib?

Apart from the controversial issue with Premium ammunition, 8.1 sees a good game getting even better with more free content and existing content polished and improved.

There will be balanced complaints about some of the underwhelming British tanks, however if Clan Wars and Absolute Company Battles isn't your thing and you play mainly in lower and mid tiers, there isn't really much to complain about with 8.1.

What's next for World of Tanks?

8.2 which will possibly feature a new set of American Medium and Heavy tanks featuring auto loaders and oscillation turrets, a British Tier V Premium tank and, just announced, the first Chinese tanks.

Knobber
QA manager by day, avid World of Tanks and EVE Online player by night. Having worked on AAA MMO titles in the past, I bring the perspective of both the gamer and former games industry professional.