Power creep, it’s a phrase that is heard every patch cycle of world of tanks. Everyone remembers a time before power creep, when tanks were 'balanced', when the person that killed you was a 'good tanker' instead of 'scrub using free-exp to OP tank'. Every tank seems to have too much penetration, too much armor, too much agility.
Bittervets of WOT can recall a time when tanks felt 'balanced', it was patch 6.5 if I recall, the 'new' German line was on the cusp of release. Back then only T10 heavies were used in CW, with an occasional Patton or T54 scout. The T30 could punch holes through IS7; IS7 could bounce and penetrate Maus; and the Maus had the health and armor to tank T30. It was 'balanced' in the same way that rock-paper-scissors is balanced, clan wars consisted of IS7s spearheading pushes, followed by T30 blowing stuff up, and Mice being big roadblocks. And WG thought that was a crummy way of doing things, so they introduced new tanks to 'shake up' the meta game.
The first newcomer was the E-100, which is laughed at nowadays for being terrible, but back in the day, it was THE premier CW tank, if you had gold that is. The gold shooting E-100 was a complete terror, obliterating tanks with 2-3 shots, bouncing shots with ease (remember, only the T30 and IS7 had 260+ guns at the time), and generally wrecking stuff up, if you had gold. Now, the 'big' clans on the map at the time had formed a pact called NASA (think OTEC, but more profitable), making use of landing mechanics to prevent clans from nabbing a foothold on continental Europe**. And the gold fueled E-100s were not helping at all.
In patch 7.1 WG introduced the French tank line, characterized by having 'absurd' penetration (267 pen on a heavy tank, OP!), high speed, and canister guns. Players rightfully declared them OP, and they were heavily nerfed the next patch, but even then, their effect on CW was limited, the weak turret and the need to stay still for 10 seconds to deal max damage meant a quick and ineffectual death from the 155mm guns of waiting T30s and E-100s.
Patch 7.2 was where it all changed. The patch removed the T30 from tier X, and in its place added the T110E5. At first glance, the T110E5 seemed to be mediocre (and there were massive threadnauts over the forums of players complaining how terrible the tank was going to be), it was 'slower' than the IS7, the gun had a 'measly' 400 alpha strike, and everyone knew that alpha was king and DPS was useless. The armor was too weak, and there was a big weak spot on top of the turret which players called the 'tumor' or decorated with hats in Photoshop
(Pictured, SerB, lead designer of World of tanks, you will grow to love him)
The whining continued until swarms of T110E5s started marauding across the map, pummeling tanks to wrecks under a hail of high penetration, fast aiming, and accurate shots. Alpha didn’t matter if your opponent never retreated to let you reload, and had enough armor and agility to maybe bounce that first shot. Clan wars became dominated by T110s sprinkled with supporting tanks, a trend that continues to this day. Alpha was dead, long live DPS.
Patch 7.3 followed, and introduced the new Russian heavies, all armed with weapons comparable to the T110E5, and the shift in tank design was cemented. Take a look at the following list of tank releases and gun penetration.
Pre 6.4 Maus/IS7 246/260
Patch 6.5 E-100 235
Patch 7.1 AMX 50B 267
Patch 7.2 T110E5 269
Patch 7.3 IS4 268
Patch 7.4 AMX 50 FOCH 267
Patch 7.5 Obj 268 303
Patch 8.0 Obj 263 290
Patch 8.1 FV215B 269
Patch 8.2 US autoloaders 269
Patch 8.x Chinese tanks 268
Notice anything? It seems like the new norm for tank guns seem to have stabilized around 270 mm. with this massive proliferation of high penetration guns, any armor that is not resistant to 270mm becomes essentially useless, and this is a problem WG has realized, so if you look at the armor layout of newer tanks, they are made of large patches of good armor with small weakspots to balance these tanks. To wit, this is the armor layout of the AMX 50 FOCH.
(image courtesy of wotarmory.com)
These numbers are for immunity, any gun with less than 20% more penetration than the number will struggle against the armor.
This armor design caused by the increase in gun penetration has subsequently made guns with less than 260 penetration ineffective in combat. Subsequently, armor designed to be resistant to the norm of 240mm guns is ineffective against 270mm guns. When the norm moves, the tanks designed for the old norm now find themselves struggling to compete, even though they may still be good tanks in a vacuum. The environment they fight in has become hostile to their strengths, and less forgiving to their weaknesses, and their use becomes marginalized into niches.
This article will be continued next week after I gather reactions and Intel from the comments section.
(Pictured, SerB doing what he does best)
** in World of tanks, territory control is determined by tournaments in which the winner of the tournament would play the territory holder for control. Allied clans could participate in the tournament to defeat the challengers, and then throw the fight for the actual territory, leaving the original holders in control.