Monday 7 January 2013

Hetzer heroics

I'd a nice time over the Winterveil festival. Not a lot of guildies around, so no guild events. Same story with my raid team: we've basically taken 3 weeks off raiding. That suited me well. I spent a lot of time relaxing and unwinding with my family in Earth Online, where the Christmas holidays were a lot of good, chillout fun. All the same, the weather was a bit miserable. We'd go out for walks and come home wet and cold (can you believe it? On Earth, rain and snow make you cold, which is a stacking health debuff that can actually kill you if you have it for long enough. Anyone who spent their time in Northrend wearing the Black Mageweave set knows how unrealistic that is). So as well as the usual eating and drinking and being merry, I spent a fair bit of time in the World of Tanks. The new physics engine is great! There are no invisible walls, tanks can drown themselves in lakes or fall down cliffs (and sometimes even survive the fall)!

My sweetest moment was when scouting in Province underneath the winding path above our base (at J7). From here, I can shoot at enemies going up the other winding path, above their base (they rarely seem to notice where the shots are coming from). Even better, it enables our snipers camping on the opposite hill to see enemy tanks above me, so they take a lot of fire without even seeing who's shooting at them; and it annoys the hell out of the enemy tanks above me, who can see me on the map, but can't shoot at me. Some of them get so annoyed that they try leaning over the path to try to get a shot; but I'm always tucked in tight, and generally ignore them for our snipers to take out, while I shoot up the opposite windy path. After one such duel with an enemy who spotted that I was shooting at him, I finally managed to kill him and looked up from my gun-sight, to find an enemy tank directly behind me, dead, vertical with his gun barrel in the ground and his rear in the air. A self-kill.

I've been playing World of Tanks very casually for quite a while, deliberately sticking to tier 2 tanks. This is great fun in light tanks, because you're usually fighting against other tanks in tiers 1 and 2, with only occasionally a tier 3 tank in your battlefield (tier 3 tanks are hard for tier 2s to damage, unless you do a lot of manoeuvring to bring yourself up behind them, or at least shooting into their side. Shots hitting their frontal armour usually bounce).

I've got pretty good at tier 2 tanking, and even when my side loses (which is 50% of the time), I'm usually near the top of the table for experience earned.

My style of play is not suited to scouting (rushing forward to detect enemy units for your team-mates to blow up, relying on great speed to avoid being hit). I prefer more static play. I can find a hidden spot from which I can snipe at targets our scouts light up, put on my camouflage netting, get out my binoculars and wait to kill tanks that can't even see who's shooting at them. So I thought I'd probably enjoy artillery; but it turns out that artillery play is a different game altogether from sniping. So I next tried tank destroyers. I chose the German line, beginning with the Panzerjäger I. This suited my playstyle well, but there are two problems with it.

Firstly, the problem with tier 2 tank destroyers is they are in a different battle tier to other tier 2 tanks. The World of Tanks matchmaking is a complicated affair that picks teams based on a battle tier. Tanks from different vehicle tiers can end up in the same battle tier. There's a simple-looking (in fact over-simplistic) chart on their wiki that covers it. But what is hidden in this chart is what decides what battle tier you go into. From the chart, you can see that a (vehicle) tier 2 tank destroyer can end up in battle tier 2 or 3, the same as any other tier 2 tank. Well, it aint so. My Panzerjäger nearly always seemed to end up in tier 3 battles, specifically Prokhorovka and Ensk, fighting tier 3 tanks.

The second problem with the Panzerjäger is that it has no turret, and it's gun has a firing arc of -10°/+10° That, combined with its so-so rate of fire, means that by the time you've fired and reloaded, your target has moved out of your sights (if he has any sense), and you have to resight him by turning the vehicle itself.

Putting these two problems together meant the Panzerjäger wasn't the greatest fun on earth. I could lie in wait for enemy tanks, but when I shot at one, I was unlikely to kill it outright, unless it was already damaged. In fact at long range my carefully-aimed shots were likely to bounce right off their armour. Meantime, if they've spotted me, they can one-shot me, since I'm in an open-topped tin-can. If they miss, they've plenty of time to move off, forcing me to rotate using my tracks, which knocks out the aiming for a couple of seconds and undoes the camouflage cover of the netting and whatever bushes I'm in. So the actual rate of fire is far less than the quoted rate, and survival time once spotted is on the low side.

Meantime in my lumbering French tier 2 Hotchkiss H35, I'm fighting tier 1 and 2 tanks. I can play the tank destroyer in them, and while I can't one-shot enemies, I can still snipe at them from camouflaged cover, rotate my turret to follow them if they try to run for cover, and if they get close, I can stand toe-to-toe with them in a firefight.

Rather than abandon tank destroyers altogether, I moved up to the next tier beyond the Panzerjäger, the Marder. This was a huge improvement, once fully kitted out. It's PaK26 gun can penetrate anything it might find itself up against, and deliver reasonable damage, its range is excellent, and best of all, it's firing arc is -32°/+25, so there's a good chance of hitting a target twice without having to move the tracks. This is more like it. But it's still an open-topped tin-can. Hey, if the next tier up was so much more fun to play, let's try again, with the Hetzer. That looks awesome. How many times have my shells bounced off that sleek beast? So I moved up to the next tier again, to the tier 4 Hetzer.

Each time you buy a new tank, it's initially a bit of a step backward. You've to learn its strengths and weaknesses, and upgrade its modules (the modules it comes with are always poor), so when at first the Hetzer seemed like a step down from the Marder, I expected it. The sloped armour is great, deflecting all but the highest penetration shells from the front. I read up about the gun upgrades available. The 10.5cm StuH gun (the derp gun) delivers a heap of damage but not great penetration and accuracy compared with the 7.5cm PaK 39 gun. The 7.5 seemed like the sniper's gun. So I researched and bought it, and got my Hetzer fully kitted out. But I still wasn't having great fun. The Hetzer just isn't great as a sniper, due to the poor gun arc, which I didn't think of when I moved up from the Marder. Plus, the 7.5 can't deliver much damage at range

I thought about moving back to the Marder, but first I tried out the derp gun. What a revelation! It has completely changed my style of play. I'm not a sniper any more. The 10.5cm StuH 42 is more like a bazooka than a sniper's rifle. Less accurate, slower to fire, but if you're hit, you're dead. This beast of a gun just blows away anything it penetrates. Since it's not great at penetrating thick armour at range, the best tactic is to use it as a blitz support tank, just behind the first wave of tanks, so that you can take on enemy tanks at close quarters and perhaps from the side or rear. This big gun usually sends anything it penetrates clean into orbit.

The downside of the Hetzer is that I can now face tier 6 tanks such as the KV-1S and M6. With their thick armour and heavy guns, they can easily swat me away. When I have one of these in my sights, the likelihood is that I'll be dead within the next ten seconds if he sees who's shooting at him.

But that's okay! The Hetzer is still storming fun to play. It gets into 2 types of battles, essentially: those in which it cuts through the enemy ranks like hot lead through butter (it's not hard to rack up 3-4 kills, 5-6 kills is not unusual even if the battle is eventually lost); and those where it's gunned down within the first two minutes by a tier 6 tank, and you skip on to the next battle in another tank. Plus it brings in loads of cash. I'm definitely not giving this one up!

Wouldn't this be great, though: imagine that in the 30 seconds before battle, after you've seen your enemies, you could change the modules on your vehicle to suit the fight you're about to go into.

I do want to go back to the Marder, though, which I think I should have played for a bit longer before moving to on. Despite its poor armour, I enjoyed the sniper style. I have a British Medium 1 in the garage that's not yet got a good crew, and doesn't really play any differently from the Hotchkiss I mentioned earlier. I think I'll dump it for the Marder.

Also, though, I want to get the next tank destroyer after the Hetzer. Only great things are said about the Sturmgeschütz. I fear another of my tier 2 tanks will have to be scrapped to make way for it.

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