Many of my bitter band of readers will remember my old article on the T-28, and how it was odd for so many words to be written about a lowly Tier 4 tank. The T-28 holds a special place in my heart and ended up re-purchased with a new 75% crew shortly before writing that article. Most of the original T-28 crew I had is in my T-34-85 and is working on their third crew specialization. I believe in the T-34-85, though my confidence has waned somewhat through indirect nerfs as I shall explain below.
Where it Stands
The T-34-85 is the second in the short line of Soviet generalist medium tanks. Everything after that dives deeper into the realm of brawler both due to the tank's design and the opposition you’ll face. In my foolish youth I brought the T-28 crew with me through the T-34, T-34-85, T-43, and T-44 before accepting that nothing after the T-34-85 could be made to function properly as a sniper and ultimately put them back where they belonged. I used the KV-13 briefly but decided I wasn’t as pleased with the performance of the D5T-85BM cannon at tier 7 as I was with it at tier 6. That gun is the best available for both tanks and does reasonably well against Tier 8 tanks (discounting the KV-5, which I believe was the basis for the killdozer) but is inadequate against Tier 9 tanks unless you’re flanking lucky. Medium tanks flanking opponents two tiers higher than them seldom live long.
My crew initially stayed in the T-28 for a long time racking up XP while I toyed with the Soviet Heavies it opened up. Putting the T-28 as the gateway to the Soviet Heavies, but not as a gateway to the T-34 seems a very odd decision to me. The play style of the T-34 and T-34-85 are a lot closer to the T-28 than they are to the A-20 that actually leads to them. The advantage of this in my case was a much more experienced crew for the T-34-85 by the time I did access it. I was unimpressed by the T-34's performance but even at 90% skill when retrained, the T-34-85 felt like where these fictitious men belonged. The T-34-85 seemed at the time to do everything the T-34 did, just a little bit better. That little bit better felt like more of an improvement than everything else got going from tier 5 to 6 though and initially it played very well.
I’ve always felt that people should be generalists whereas weapons of war should be specialized. A Swiss Army Knife for all its versatility is rather poor at most things it attempts to do. It will work in a pinch but it’s not nearly as good as having an actual combat knife, pair of scissors, spoon, and other tools on your person. The AK-47, on the other hand has surely been utilized as a melee weapon, stepladder, battering ram, prybar, etc. but is designed only to throw bullets at the enemy and not break. In WoT the generalist tank is outclassed in all situations by another tank specialized to that task, but can gain an advantage by playing to that opponents weaknesses. The T-34-85 couldn’t dream of bouncing the shells a Sherman Jumbo does, but a Jumbo will be hard pressed to catch or out maneuver a T-34-85 for example. A generalist tank may still suffer if it is equipped haphazardly, but can shine brightly if loaded with specialized gear and crew skills.
My take on the T-34-85 is to load up as a scout/sniper giving me first shot resolution and the ability to ruin days from afar and retreat. With this loadout it isn’t an exceptionally good brawler, but by the time the enemy closes to a brawling solution they’ve usually been bloodied and are far less of a threat. Damaging or killing the enemy prior to a brawl used to be a matter of efficiency, but now it is a matter of survival. Since the physics patch, the T-34-85 lost a considerable amount of agility and can't reliably circle opponents like it used to. I use the long range capability of the T-34-85 to eliminate my opponent's advantages by damaging modules, killing crew, and trimming HP off the top before things get ugly.