Everyone has maps they love and others they hate in WoT. More of this has to do with the balance of the map versus particular tanks or playstyles than it does personal preference. While most maps contain something for everyone, there are a few that stand out as obviously catering to a particular type of machine, and teams lacking those by even one or two units will be at a severe disadvantage. When the matchmaker is making these decisions for you in Randoms it can be a very frustrating situation.
There are also certain aspects of map design that can make it especially difficult for players to read based on how the map is designed to be perceived. Crafty programmers can include visual static and arrangements of terrain intended to trick the eye or just make sorting the ground from the foliage nearly impossible for the player. Some maps are so visually dense that they even overload many GPUs, to say nothing of the effect on the human eye.
In writing these briefs it seemed odd to me - I was so familiar with each map and yet there are 31 currently in circulation. It makes seeing the same few maps for an entire night oddly irritating, yet also makes me wonder if we ask too much. Isn’t 31 enough? At one paragraph each it’s certainly enough to split into two features.
The Physics facelift to Abbey added a great deal of depth. There are more routes between chokepoint roads and more opportunities for flankers and scouts to circle targets midfield. Base camping can be a dangerous prospect here given the number of ingresses and the small cliffs surrounding the front face of each flag. These can shield the enemy just as well as they shield you, or perhaps better as an enemy under your guns cannot be hit, but if you’re close enough to the edge to be spotted their artillery can certainly hit you. This can also blind you to the attackers angle of approach as they have room to maneuver to a different ramp. Flanking maneuvers should be restricted to the center region so as not to give rear fire opportunities to enemy snipers camping their flag. Abbey is a map with a lot going on and feels very well balanced giving opportunities to all classes of belligerent.
Airfield is a very well balanced map and supports flanking maneuvers much better than most due to the number of small, enclosed routes available near the center. There isn’t a great deal of vegetation given the desert landscape, but what is there is placed to give concealment along good sight lines for sniping rather than being purely eye candy. The desert landscape is relaxing on the eyes and allows easy target acquisition while keeping GPU load very low. The terrain balance is also varied, offering some features directly opposite others while others are diagonal from their opposing teams counterpart. Airfield is a map that’s never irritating to play regardless of the tank I’m using.
Arctic region looks like a simple map on the surface but subtleties in the design favors heavy tanks and snipers over scouts, flankers, and artillery. The map feels about 15% too large for what it’s trying to do. The exceedingly sparse vegetation and good hard cover positions all seem to be just out of spotting range of the road you’re trying to overwatch. Moving forward enough to spot of course blows your own cover and frequently gets you killed by the forces you’re attempting to reconnoiter. The heaviest battles seem to always take place in the Northwest and South East corners of the map in places that are difficult or impossible to cover with artillery fire. Places that would be the best sniping posts with boulders to take cover behind are inconveniently overlooking ridges that cover depressions in the road from observation allowing enemy forces to roll right past you unless you drive up to the ridge and expose yourself. Also, while there appear to be a number of approaches at first glance everything narrows down to exactly three main routes to each flag. When combined with the amount of terrain simply impassable due to mountain terrain or frozen gorges, this results in a bias toward heavily armored tanks that can camp near corners and bite anyone that comes too near. Given the high number of tanks guarding so few avenues of attack, flanking prior to your team achieving numerical superiority can be extremely dangerous.
Cliff offers something for everyone with patience due to the three rather narrow choke points that dominate this map. Dedicated flanking tanks will have to wait for an opening, but once the opponent is forced into a brawling situation opportunities will arise. Artillery has a choice between being exposed with a wide angle of fire or better protected with some restricted sight lines. Scouts have plenty of things to dodge behind and the disposition of forces between Sniper's Alley on the West and the Cliff area can quickly swing the fight for one team or the other due to attrition. The spacing between the chokepoints ensures that reinforcements will usually arrive too late to stop a massacre, and Sniper's Alley generally devolves into slow moving heavy peekaboo or a series of suicide pacts as a spotter runs the gauntlet to expose enemy sniping nests. Cliff is a place you generally know where the enemy is at all times and once losses begin mounting the writing on the wall can be seen sooner than other maps.
From Knobbers Knews Knupdate the devs don’t think the Dragon Ridge player experience is bad. I have to ask “what tanks are the devs using in this determination?” If the gameplay videos that accompany WoT official releases are any indication it’s all Tier 8 to 10 heavies all the way down which is somewhat telling. In my opinion Dragon Ridge easily the most poorly balanced map in the current rotation. The terrain is designed opposite of most maps with a huge ridge in the center, meaning a threatened flag can be rescued in short order even by the slowest tanks as it’s all downhill back to them. Instead of being able to defend the flag area the valley actually turns it into an open grave for attackers that have not achieved total superiority already. Snipers will find only short, clipped sight lines along the ridge and reasonable valley in the East, and Artillery fire is severely impeded as what isn’t in defilade due to the mountain in the center is protected by jagged peaks. The long route to the West is taken by very few as it is threatened at all points again by the central plateau and driving it, even in the fastest tank, frequently gets you to the enemy rear lines well after the battle was decided without you. Using the steppes tactically is exceedingly dangerous as trying to ease down them can trap you on hard unyielding pixels rather than earth that tends to deform and flatten when driven on by a 60 ton tank with downhill momentum. Gunning it over the edges instead will likely destroy your suspension. If a heavy tank tries to snipe over the edge and slips they’re probably done having an effect on the match since there’s no getting off them to the sides. Dragon Ridge is also graphically intensive, reducing older machines to unacceptable frame rates despite being reworked for optimization once already. Discounting the GPU intensity, many areas of the map are visually assaulting as well. There is so much vegetation in some areas it is physically impossible to get a camera angle that isn’t covered in green, forcing you to literally drive blind. If your eyesight is poor trying to see through it is actually headache inducing. If you drive a heavy tank that likes to drive up to people and shoot them in the face, then Dragon Ridge is perfect for you. It’s just terrible for everything else.
El Hallouf used to be a snipers paradise but, several balancing changes in the redesign have stripped most vegetation from the ridges making sniping more an argument of visual range than cover. Anyone without a full 400m view range and additional boosts will be hard pressed to spot anything on the opposing ridge even when they’re firing leading this map to be played in more of a camping style. This isn’t complained about as badly as Malinovka, as there are more routes to take and the hill climb isn’t as grueling or exposed. The near side of the valley is difficult to hit with artillery fire and while it is an extremely dangerous drive, getting a spotter to the foot of the opposing side of the valley in hard cover can turn things in your favor quickly. Apart from the odd break, combat in El Hallouf is still slow and arduous as it frequently comes down to large heavy forces slapping each other in the face around that narrow bend in the North. You may be restricted in where you can safely play but at least there’s something for everyone to do here.
Ensk is a very flat map that, much like Himmelsdorf, is exceedingly bad for artillery. Arguably artillery have the entire back end of each deployment zone to play in but the number of openings to those back zones make it an extremely dangerous place to corral yourself. The tall buildings and insufficiently wide streets make artillery fire through, into, and out of the city portion of the map nearly impossible. The Eastern side of the map is wide open to artillery fire which would be great if anyone other than fast scouts actually went there. Snipers are somewhat restricted in deployment but not as bad as artillery. Ensk is an unbalanced map that favors heavy tanks and flankers.
Erlenberg is a very well balanced map with more intricacies than a casual glance would suggest. Areas of light city, hills, and rolling plain are scattered about so as to force attackers to brave several zones in their assault. One can always stick to a particular portion of the map favoring their style of play, but doing so will limit opportunities for mutual support. Very little of the map is completely inaccessible and buildings do more to shield players from artillery fire than ridges and cliffs. Though three bridges span the center river, most assaults occur over the top and bottom only as they are closest to the deployment zones and most players prefer to cross early so as not to be caught by enemy fire in the open on the bridges themselves. The center bridge is an option usually taken only by the bravest and most foolhardy as it exposes one to potential enemy fire from 180 degrees rather than 90. Paradoxically, few players bother to cover the center bridge because of this making a central crossing for a few players who can make good cover of surrounding buildings a relatively safe endeavor. Driving the fields once everyone is engaged also isn't as dangerous as it looks since the enemy will have to be in very specific places to see and get a shot at you.
Large open spaces, many clumps of sparse vegetation, and rolling hills make Fishermans Bay a well balanced area for war. The central hill serves to cut sight lines preventing cross map fire, but unlike Dragon Ridge the hill is gentle enough so as not to restrict movement or make a circuitous route to the flag improbable for heavy tanks. While the central road village is usually a playground for snipers and scouts, heavies can expect reasonable cover there if they haven’t decided on a bay area slugfest. The Western side of the map offers even longer sight lines and more visual cover. Part of what makes repositioning accessible is that areas of the map are separated visually by gentle hills, but there are very few areas cut off by cliff faces.
Fjords is one of those maps that makes me wish the minimap were rendered in proper topographical relief. Looking at the overhead shot you’d have no hint as to the incredibly varied elevation at play here. If you’re not in defilade of artillery fire from the opposing team, drive a few meters and you probably will be. Due to extreme mountains that block line of sight to large areas of the map, Fjords provides only a small rear area for artillery to set up in and expect to have any kind of effect on the match. As a result the enemy usually has a pretty good idea of where you are. The narrow areas that lead to these artillery tracks are riddled with cover to dodge HE shells, making assaulting artillery positions child's play once an opening is spotted. Sniping lines of fire are also very restricted and result in snipers relying on peekaboo tactics even when their vehicle is poorly equipped for it. Favorable soft cover is all too close to approaches that block line of sight until the enemy is close enough to guarantee you are spotted if you fire, and perhaps even if you don’t. With huge swaths of map space taken up by mountain and water the fighting is very cramped for such a large map. Frequently, heavy elements and tank destroyers end up locked in head to head assaults shouting insults at their own artillery for not firing, without realizing the enemy is in a spot completely in artillery shadow.
Large and typical of central valley style maps, Highway demands a good deal of commitment to assault either flag as it is an uphill trek. Most of the combat occurs along the NW/SE diagonal as most heavy combat is centered in the city and most sniper combat near the sparse buildings on the West. Highway isn’t perfectly symmetrical in features as it offers the city to the NE team and the farm to the SW team. The odd tank out will have difficulty coping as the city fighting is typically a brutal slugfest and the farm offers little safe haven for slower, heavier tanks. Despite the restricted sight lines along parts of the river the angle of the banks is insufficient in most places to shield one from artillery fire. There are enough concentrations of vegetation to allow both active and passive scouts places to roam and a number of large bushes near the river are ideal for spotting. Though you usually end up facing your opposite from the opposing team Highway offers an excellent balance of regions to fight in, but forces attackers to leave their comfort zone in order to assault the opposing flag.
This map is average to good for everything except artillery. With several long sight lines, an engine taxing hill climb, relatively dense cityscape, and multiple routes to flank most people will be able to find an area they like. Artillery will be consigned to either certain or probable death should they take up a position allowing a wide arc of fire. Artillery are stuck with the obvious train yard, the obvious and restrictive flag area, or the exceedingly dangerous hill. Flankers can do well here but SerBs favorite Maus tactic of driving into the middle of town square and blasting anyone that comes near him is telling of how slanted this map is in favor of, again, heavy tanks.
Karelia is a well balanced map that could only be more brutal if it were the plains of Kursk. The South East route is the only area of this map that shields players from fire from potentially any direction and may be why so many prefer that route for their assault. The central valley is filled with very difficult, swampy terrain that will slow tanks to a nerve wracking crawl. Though vegetation is plentiful here and offers a great deal of cover, when on the move it cannot be counted on to protect you from enemy spotting or snipers. Several large rocks provide hard cover from what would otherwise be an artillery killing ground. The North West portion of the map appears far more open visually but provides far denser rock formations to drive around. With the South East ridge far enough from the North West ridge to prevent easy spotting there isn’t any position that gives one an obviously superior vantage point on this map, and much like the Airfield players will frequently find themselves taking fire from unexpected angles.
Currently out of rotation. Combat here used to focus around the two flag areas and the center industrial area with little of the other terrain used. Due to the open nature of the flag fields it was imperative the opposing force be completely distracted a great distance from your capture attempt.
Scouts generally keep their distance from combat here until the enemy force has been thinned out. The prominent lake leaves the large central area of the map unplayable but doesn’t restrict sight lines. Tanks with exceptionally good visual range can snipe across the north-south axis and forces on the road are never safe from snipers in the town. The rocky mountain pass in the West is extremely difficult to push but if left undefended is a back door to the flag areas. Heavies generally split their forces between the two sides of the mountain range and guessing where the enemy has committed their forces is always a gamble. If fast scouts don’t mind acting as flankers in the city this map can be considered very well balanced. Unless the city and area leading to it are very well covered, though, you can expect scouts streaking through there to locate your artillery and reserve forces.
I will conclude the remaining half of the maps in the next installment.