Zao. Oh, Zao.
You were my first Tier 10 ship. When I first got you your reputation for trollish tankiness went to my head, and I died early and often. I played you as a brawler and picked fights with DMs, Minos, and Hindenburgs in CQC, sailed broadside to Moskva, Henri IV, confident in my turtleback and paying the price.
As I played more I learned that you were not a brawler, as your torp angles and health pool should have told me from the start. But you were also not a max-range HE spammer. No, you were a more elegant weapon for a more civilized time. You demanded patience, a steady nerve, and an opportunistic eye. I sailed you 4 km behind friendly destroyers as they poked into the caps, pumped the most accurate HE salvo in the game into any enemy DD that dared to show up, then kited away and disappeared at the edge of your concealment while leaving the sea on fire. As the game went on and the enemy team forgot about me, I would sail you up the flank and carve off half the health pool of a DM or a Moskva holding back the push. The rain of AP and HE from the smoke puffs littering the map never seemed to expect 12 km torps from their flanks. We respected Yamatos and Republiques, but never truly feared them, especially after acquiring your legendary upgrade and bringing your rudder shift below 5 seconds. Once key ships were taken out by your 12 railguns suddenly appearing at 10 km you lead the push, racking up massive numbers with IJNapalm, bouncing 16-inch AP and confident that you could drop back into stealth whenever the PT counter began rising and overmatching rounds began to fall. Even the occasional CV game didn't bother you too much, as your rudder easily dodged DFAA-panicked drops and it took 1-2 minutes for the CV to launch another wave and find you again.
Those days are over, unfortunately. No more using stealth to get the drop on dug-in ships. No more following DDs closely. No more dropping back into concealment to pop up where the enemy isn't looking. Once the planes find you, they don't stop coming. A CV can throw 3 waves of planes in the time it takes for DFAA to reload and their drops aren't even panicked. Your base AA just isn't good enough to ward off a CV strike even with sectoring and upgrades and the CV knows this. DCP puts out a double fire that is blooming your detection so you can escape the attention of the enemy fleet, only for another double fire to be lit 30 seconds later. No more making those key solo plays that break the enemy line. Alright, fair enough. Solo play is less viable, I should be doing more teamplay.
So I find my AA buddies, the DMs and Minos — oops, they're behind islands and in smoke clouds because they don't have that holy trinity of armor, concealment, and rudder which allow Zao to operate in open water. At the same time, Zao doesn't have the consumables, shell arcs, and DPM that allow DM and Mino to do what they do. I find the Henris, and get left in the dust. Find the Moskvas and Stalingrads, but their 50 mm bows bounce shells that cut straight through your 25 mm. Find another Zao, but 2 x 0 is still 0. Fair enough, not every ship can do everything. I find AA DDs, the Grozovois and Gearings, and a DM brave enough to push ahead, and escort them in. AA range has been nerfed, but that just means stay closer. But don't stay too close! DFAA doesn't panic anymore, and when the formation breaks as soon as shells start coming in and you have to play with that god-like rudder and throttle, you might just ram the very person you rely on for AA support. Then you're on your own again, with the added bonus of having attracted the attention of the enemy team, and once again — constant fires! Plane spotting!
Alright, so pushing up isn't as viable anymore. Again, fair enough. Meta has changed, but you've always been adaptable. So I find the AA battleships, the Montanas and Republiques and, once in a blue moon, a Conqueror. They fight in open water and have good AA, should be a match made in heaven, right? But while they're fighting well within their range, I find myself on the edge of mine, and spotter plane can't help because I have a catapult fighter. After all, jUsT bUiLd FoR aA, right? So I move in closer so that I can reliably hit — oh, right moving in closer doesn't work anymore. And AA range and overlap has been nerfed. Very well, I'll just stay at your max range and do what damage I can. No more stealth torp runs, no more peek-a-boo on the knife edge of stealth, just rain HE at 18 km. But what can I reliably hit? Not destroyers, even with your railguns, and cruisers stand a good chance of dodging. So I mostly shoot battleships.
But if I'm farming damage off battleships, why am I not in Hindenburg? Because for all its strengths, Hindenburg is clumsy and slow where you are nimble and swift, and feels less comfortable to drive. Why am I not in Mino, then? She has good AA, stealth, and maneuverability, right? Because angry smoke clouds spewing AP are much less frightening when everyone's balled up around AA ships at your max range, and Radartaur is redundant when DDs don't push and get spotted by planes anyway. Not to mention uncomfortable to play when you get spotted by planes that your fully-upgraded, sectored AA doesn't seem to do anything to until after they've shaved off 8,000 health and a Republique has blasted you for another 20 k.
So I continue to play you, Zao, hoping to return to those glory days where your stealth, speed, maneuverability, trolly armor, insane accuracy and alpha strike were balanced by a low health pool, lack of consumables, poor turret traverse and weapons angles, and mediocre DPM. I've returned to HE spamming at max range, balling up with AA battleships and what DMs and Minos dare to sail in open water. It's a boring, frustrating, low-impact playstyle, but at least I'm doing damage over the entire game rather than being bombed, shelled, and spotted into oblivion. You can do so much more, Zao, and back when there were only a few CV games and you had breathing room between strikes even CVs didn't hold you back from your full potential. But now? Every other or third game, once the CV has your scent he doesn't let go, and your mediocre AA can't save you from that. Every CV game is like dangling a steak in front of a starving man, letting him smell it but never take a bite.
So this is to you, Zao, my first tier 10 and the ship I could always have a good game in. Maybe when the population has died down I can take you out and relive your glory days. But for now, you'll sit in port, forgotten amidst the duels between CV players and DD players, a reminder of what once was. I'm only an average player. There's probably so much more I could do to make myself useful in CV games. But until I learn to dodge and group up with AA ships, until I learn to hang back and not expose myself, farewell Zao. There are far better things to do with my time than spam HE at max range.
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© Post "Zao: In Memoriam" for game World of Warships.
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