World of Warships

Overpowered or oppressive? An analysis into “high skill” ships and an argument about game health.

WorldOfWarships1 - Overpowered or oppressive? An analysis into "high skill" ships and an argument about game health.
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Disclaimer: I am an above average but admittedly not unicum player who specialises in destroyer, cruiser, and (formerly) RTS carrier, with a bit of dabbling in battleship and Actiontm CV. In no way is this meant to represent the opinions of a high level player. My stats can be found here.

Additionally, this article is an opinion piece strictly written to express the opinion of the player behind it.

Skill expression in video games is not a new concept. Ever since player versus player games have existed, there has always been a skill gap between those who take the time to learn and refine their skills and those who play casually. From Doom's bunnyhopping in the 1990s to Rainbow Six: Siege's lean/crouch spamming, video games have always rewarded experienced players. Additionally, as video games have introduced specialised classes and characters, certain characters have taken more skill than others; for example, Riot's League of Legends' Yasuo takes significantly less skill than Talon and no I'm not a salty Talon main that believes Yasuo is a broken character with a skillset that should not exist. It should come as no surprise, then, that World of Warships comes with both components as integral parts of its gameplay; certain ships are both better than others while requiring more skill. However, in the past year, this idea that a ship can be more skill intensive yet more rewarding has arguably been taken to the extreme. Today, I would like to analyze and argue about high skill ships and their impact on game health. It is because of their oppressive nature that shuts out counterplay that recent "high skill ships" should not be in the game in their current form.

Primarily, it is important to define what a high skill ship is. I will define the term "high skill ship" as a ship that requires a large amount of skill to play correctly without dying but will lead to great rewards if played correctly. As I'll be focusing on high tier ships relevant to competitive play, I will list off some live and in testing ships that this subreddit believes is high skill. These ships include but are not limited to Stalingrad, Pobeda/Slava, Kreml, Moskva, Henri IV, Midway (Old), and Hakuryu (Old). Ignoring the fact that a large majority of these ships are from a specific nation, one can see that almost all of these ships fulfill the two criterion that makes a ship "high skill"; they are all ships that require a lot of skill to use correctly but can utterly demolish the playing field when played to their fullest potential. It is important to lay down this definition early on, as I will be referencing it quite a bit in my coming paragraphs.

Generally, a multiplayer game with unique classes/characters will have a system known as "hard counters." For the sake of this argument, I will define hard counters as an attribute that allows one class/character to reliably beat another class/character if both players are of equal skill and the playing field is equal. An example of this from another game (League of Legends) is the aforementioned Yasuo. Although he is a melee character, Yasuo is seen as a counter to ranged characters. One of his abilities allows him to place a short-lived wall down every few seconds that will block all projectiles for a period of time. Additionally, one of Yasuo's other abilities is that of a dash that allows him to close the gap between himself and an enemy. Obviously, this allows him to "counter" long-ranged characters. Thus, Yasuo can reliably use his wall to block any enemy ranged attacks before closing the gap using his dash, making him a counter to most, if not all ranged characters. This is an example of a system of hard counter. Conversely, Yasuo is extremely ineffective versus melee tanks. Any champion with gap closing abilities and a large health pool is able to bear the brunt of Yasuo's attacks before hitting back hard; in this case there is only so much Yasuo can do before he is killed although ridiculously enough he is able to survive much longer than other assassins/ADCs because he requires much less skill. It can be said that Yasuo himself is hard countered by tanks. In other words, hard counters force a player to alter their playstyle or lose.
Hard counters are considered to be a critical element of multiplayer games for breaking up the meta of the game, and without them most games will end up developing a stale meta that ends up driving away players. Thus, hard counters are important for game health in that they ensure a reliable meta strategy can be broken up with a counter strategy, which in turn has the potential to be countered themselves.

Counters themselves may be influenced by the meta; to use the example of Yasuo once more, he is a weaker champion in high ranks because of the tank meta that has evolved since Season 5. Logically, it is a poor choice to pick Yasuo in a high elo game due to the popularity and skill of tanks at higher levels, and to pick him would gimp the team. So counters themselves, while being able to break up the meta, are ironically also dependent on the meta to thrive.

So why do these terms of art matter in the context of WoWs? Surely, League of Legends is a very different game than World of Warships, I admit, but they do share some vital concepts and ideas. The system of counters is a system that has worked in the past and will continue to work in the future, with the concept being applicable to WoWs. Ships should have the ability to be countered by other ships, and in many cases this holds true. A Shimakaze, for example, will be bodied incredibly hard by a Des Moines with radar. In this case, Shimakaze must alter her playstyle; instead of playing aggressively she must learn to stay outside of the 10km circle of death and to hold her artillery until the Des Moines is either looking away or dead. Whether you think this is fair or not, Shimakaze's strategy will be changed by the presence of a Des Moines. In the same way that a ranged character in League of Legends must play more cautiously when Yasuo is in the same lane, a Shimakaze must play more cautiously when a Des Moines is near her cap unless they're like my ranked team mates, who don't go near caps and yet somehow manage to die anyways. Counters in WoWs is ingrained deeply into the game itself, going even farther back than CBT and was evident in even earlier Wargaming titles, such as World of Tanks. An example of such a counter system in World of Tanks would be the heavy tank to tank destroyer dichotomy; a Tiger tank, for example, must play cautiously when he knows an ISU-152 is hiding in a bush nearby. So really, it is not at all an exaggeration to say that the system of counters is present in World of Warships' DNA.

Now obviously, if the counter system worked perfectly in WoWs, I wouldn't be wasting my Thursday evening writing this post. I think it's entirely accurate to say that certain ships in WoWs are incredibly strong because they counter other ships whilst lacking the same magnitude of counter themselves. To put it simply, some ships are too strong a counter to one class or ship archetype while not being easily countered themselves. That's not to say that these ships are completely uncounterable; in all but the most rare circumstances they can be killed, albeit through extraordinary means. Returning to my list of "high skill" ships (Stalingrad, Pobeda/Slava, Kreml, Moskva, Henri IV, Midway (Old), and Hakuryu (Old)), I will move down the list with the goal of proving that these ships lack effective tradeoffs to their ability to counter.

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Stalingrad. The terror of Reddit. The most controversial steel ship amongst the likes of Black, Flint, and Neustrashimy. Though it should come as no surprise that I believe the Stalingrad to be a "high skill" ship, I will attempt to clarify my response beyond the simple "Stalingrad has no counter" argument that is often seen on this premier messaging board.

Stalingrad finds itself to be in a strong spot due to two unique reasons; primarily it has strong guns on a well armoured platform, and secondarily it takes up a cruiser slot. The first is simply a fact that makes it a strong, if boring, ship in both randoms and competitive play. Who can deny that the 305 mm guns' autobounce parameters it possesses is weak? And who disputes that a primarily 50 mm deck increases its survivability many times over? The second reason is important due to the context of competitive play that this essay is written in; in most competitive formats there is a hard cap of battleships allowed, and the Stalingrad allows teams to circumvent this hard cap without actually breaking any rules. Both of these factors contribute to the Stalingrad being an incredibly strong ship. However, it isn't a crime to be simply strong, otherwise ships like the Des Moines would be felons many times over. Rather, the source of controversy behind the Stalingrad is that it lacks the same counterplay options that other strong cruisers at this tier are weak to. Traditionally, the tier X cruiser finds itself a weak prey to the likes of Republiques and Montanas, as their armour schemes are vulnerable to high caliber shells that would penetrate and deal massive damage to them. Stalingrad, on the other hand, is very well protected by a mostly 50 mm belt, and as a result it simply bypasses a core game mechanic that other cruisers must deal with. Effectively, it has one less counter by virtue of the fact that it has a strong armour scheme. The main predator of the cruiser is bypassed by this one ship (and Moskva, but see further below). The incredible guns and matchmaking status as a cruiser allow it to dominate competitive play in a way that we haven't seen in many ships. Essentially, on top of having less counters, it is a stronger ship than its competition, making it not only situationally stronger but universally stronger than other cruisers.

Critics of this argument love to bring up two munitions: the torpedo and the 240 mm shell. The torpedo, while a novel concept as a counter, is considered to be outmoded today due to the unreliability of it. After all, the torpedo travels many times slower than naval artillery and has the potential to be easily spotted by the likes of hydroacoustic search or even the detection range. Additionally, torpedoes often have a slow reload, further reducing their ability to take down large ships immune to traditional naval artillery. The Henri IV I will address later.

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It's important to note that I don't actually dislike the Stalingrad because of the gate behind its cost; for one the many seasons of ranked and clan battles have allowed steel to be somewhat less rare, and for another my issues with it are in principle. Even if the Stalingrad was a free tier X unlocked at the beginning of the game by simply registering to play, I would still dislike the ship on the basis of principle.

Pobeda/Slava. A ship that has been described as "the most broken ship in testing, beating even Belfast." And yet, it is included in this to expose the hypocrisy of the defenders of later ships in the list.

There is very little to say about the Pobeda/Slava besides the ridiculous guns. It has pinpoint accuracy that is akin to a point-and-click adventure. I need not waste more time describing the issue itself. More critically is the justification behind it that is parroted by its admittedly few defenders: That it is a "high skill" ship. I believe this ship to be comparable to other ships in the list because of the justification behind it. Many defenders of the Pobeda/Slava will describe it as a ship that is all about player skill. To them, manifestations of skill expression in its rawest form is a blessing. To me, however, and possibly you, dear reader, it is the largest issue behind the ship.

This ship is included in this essay because of its uncanny parallel to later ships in the essay.

Kreml. The newest addition to the game (as of writing) and a beast in its own right. And a ship that shares not just the same hull and nation of Pobeda/Slava when it comes to similarities.

The Kreml may be a new ship, but that shouldn't stop me from making a judgement based on what I've seen in streamer testing and in live servers. Though I lack one myself, I have played ships in the same line with the same Russian dispersion, and thus I have a grasp on what it feels like in terms of accuracy. This subreddit seems to echo the sentiments of a member of a sister clan's belief that the Kreml is simply a ship that "punishes poor play." I believe there is more to the ship than just "punishing poor play" in the same way that there is more to the outrage behind Diablo mobile than just a lack of a phone to play on. By simply looking at the armour profile of the ship, one can get a good idea behind its ability to take HE damage like a champ. The 60 mm deck plating it has over many parts of the ship is so strong that only an IFHE Hindenburg can penetrate it for raw HE damage which a clanmate does, and I think he's retarded but ok. In the same way that the Stalingrad has immunity to battleship overmatch, Kreml has immunity to not only battleship overmatch but also HE spam. And the damage control party allows the Kreml to hold greater immunity to HE spam by reducing the potency of fires; it is essentially on demand and therefore highly usable by a skilled player. When one moves to the guns, they tell a similar story. Their 457 mm caliber allows them to overmatch all but Soviet cruisers and select parts of the Hindenburg Hinde confirmed OP?. Their good shell velocity means that they're also somewhat difficult to dodge out of, although they are easier to juke than Pobeda/Slava guns. These two components come together to make a close range brawler that is immune to HE spam and overmatch from ships like Yamato, making it extremely potent in the current meta. If you're in any cruiser not named IFHE Hindenburg, then better luck next time. As long as Kreml angles correctly, it has relative immunity to, well, everything but torpedoes. I have a real issue with this, as it means a skilled player can mitigate any equally or even marginally better skilled players' abilities. The ability to sit in a ship and angle away to avoid damage while asking "what are you going to do about it?" is incredibly toxic for game health in the same way the Pobeda/Slava is. It takes away player agency from the victim and disallows any kind of meaningful counterplay on their end. As for torpedoes, they are extremely unreliable and have many issues as discussed in the Stalingrad section.

As this ship is technically brand new, if it is found that Kreml is actually weak, I will videotape myself printing out a paper that says "Kreml is weak" before eating it in one sitting. However, I am confident that my early assessment is accurate.

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Moskva. The capital of Russia and of heavily armoured tech tree cruisers. Moskva is a sister of Stalingrad that didn't quite make it out of puberty the same way Stalingrad did. However, some of her issues are very similar to her sibling.

Moskva has similar issues that slightly differ but are the same in concept. Her guns are strong, but in a different way, as they have strong fire chance and DPM in the place of large caliber and autobounce. Her armour scheme is the exact same as Stalingrad's armour scheme, making her possess the same issues. Although her guns prevent her from being a mini-battleship and causing issues by being a cruiser for matchmaking purposes, she is a very frustrating ship to fight against. In many cruisers, your only hope is to deal diminishing amounts of damage as you aim for the superstructure while she pounds literally every soft part of your ship. She simply bypasses the issue of overmatch that other cruisers must face on the daily, and in doing so she has one less counter than similar cruisers, making her a stronger ship with little to no tradeoff.

As discussed, Moskva is countered by torpedoes and the Henri IV. The former has already been discussed. The latter is yet to come.

Mosvka is like a weaker version of Stalingrad; she is still a problematic ship but definitely less so than the Stalingrad. Out of all of the ships here, I find her to be the weakest in competitive, although in total she is still strong.

Henri IV. A joke on release, perhaps, but now a staple in clan battles. Its big guns and main battery reload booster are no joke, and it can output theoretical DPM in real conditions with both AP and HE.

Henri IV is in here because it is the sole viable counter to the Stalingrad/Moskva that can reliably damage them. With IFHE, its guns cross 50 mm, which takes the Stalingrad from dangerous tough nut to squishy prey. Its status as the sole counter to the two strongest tier X cruisers makes it a must pick, which is obviously bad for game health. However, this ends up being more a critique of the Stalingrad/Moskva than the Henri IV itself. What makes it a broken ship fundamentally is the fact that it possesses incredible speedjuking and spaced armour. These two traits make dealing damage to it purely up to the skill of the Henri IV itself, which takes away the agency of the person firing at it. A ship in WoWs should never be immune because a player is good, no matter how good a player is. Unfortunately, the Henri IV manages to do just that, and with the crutch of spaced armour it is very hard to kill compared to the other kiting cruisers of Hindenburg and Zao. For all intents and purposes, it is a superior Hindenburg with the same 50 mm pen on a better platform with better guns and better gimmicks. Its ability to not take damage while dishing out tons to anyone makes it a poor addition to the game. I dislike the Henri IV, even if it serves as a counter to the Stalingrad/Moskva.

The Henri IV almost didn't make the cut for "high skill" ships not only because a potato clanmate plays it effectively but also because I was worried I would be adding it due to personal bias. This clan wars season saw a lot of Henri IV usage, and I became worried that I would be adding it in due to a personal hatred of it. However, I've determined that the Henri IV is a "high skill" ship as defined in this essay.

Midway (Old)/Hakuryu (Old). Legends say that one needed to be a Starcraft II pro to play these ships effectively. While this is certainly an exaggeration, these ships received the reputation for being the highest skilled ships in the game and not only fit the definition but set the gold standard.

Old carrier as a whole is hated on this subreddit, but these two ships receive the most hatred. They required, in addition to the usual need for map awareness and good aim of WoWs, skill in RTS, a game mode that WoWs is not explicitly about although WoWs is basically internet chess anyways ¯_(ツ)_/¯) . Having been since removed by imposters Actiontm CV versions, the tier X carriers of RTS will rest eternally. These ships aren't relevant due to their status in the game, obviously, but rather due to the hypocrisy that many players exhibit. In surface ships like the Kreml, it is seen as good for a ship to be "high skill"; it is even seen as acceptable for a surface ship to completely remove agency from another player. However, RTS CV was a high skill ship that partially removed agency from the player. It is incredibly hypocritical for Reddit to continue to claim that it is ok for a ship to be high skill but to aggressively attack RTS CV. This ship class should serve as a warning towards those that defend the likes of Stalingrad and Kreml.

Obviously, I'm biased towards these ships. I was and still am a great defender of RTS as a concept, and I was very sad to see them go. I've attempted to shift the conversation away from RTS CV itself and towards what it means for the community today. I hope that in the future, players will see other "high skill" ships as just as deplorable as AP DB 2-2-2 Midway.

In summation, I find "high skill" ships that either lack certain counters that other ships of the same type have or that take away agency from the player to be poor additions to the game. Reddit as a whole is split on the issue, and even people that may support one viewpoint will aggressively attack my next. It is entirely naive to think that additions to the game that make the player on the receiving end feel "useless" or "gimped by design" are good for game health. I've purposefully omitted Actiontm CV as this is constantly shifting, but I'm sure anyone can draw their conclusions based on what I've discussed in this essay. Thank you for getting through this entire block of text, and I eagerly await the bloodbath in the comment section as Redditors rip each other to pieces.

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