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shinytrashcan

Thoughts on Commander Skills

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OK, so I am posting this not in the general discussion because I don't think we need another thread with everyone going berserk on this. Further, this is not intended as another rant against he rework or any particular skill. If you are looking for that, go somewhere else. Constructive criticism, analysis, and logical input is highly appreciated; venting, ranting etc. not so much.

This is intended more as some analysis and reflection on the commander skills (both before and after the latest rework), based mostly on my thoughts and experiences over the past two weeks, as well as some forum posts and discussions on twitch. Despite this being quite the extensive topic and me writing this being definitely part of the thought process, I will try to keep it short and structured. I also tried to structure this around some key questions and issues I identified while going over this and I am sure I have missed something. You may skip parts, though I might refer to previous sections (a lot) or some related things will come up numerous times. I have also been informed that my writing can be verbose and long to read.

Disclaimer: This is written from the perspective of an average random player. I don't play coop, nor competitive. So, take any thoughts on these topics with a heaping pinch of salt. I am sure the game has provided you with enough of it by now. Also, I play mostly Cruisers and DDs with a bit of BBs, but have little love for CVs. Thus I cannot comment on their skills and how they are affected by this.

Wall of text incoming, you have been warned...

What is actually the role of captain skills? Are they just buffs to ships?

OK, sounds basic but I think it is actually helpful to ask these questions to understand the impact of commander skills, their supposed influence on the game experience, and how they could/should be balanced. The first and obvious answer would be that commander skills should buff certain aspects of a ship to give the player a competitive edge as a reward for them playing the game over time. Classic examples for this in WOWS are the Concealment Expert (CE) skill or Basic Firing Training (BFT),  which are a straight buff to a ships characteristic. This is actually not a bad idea, though it has a number of downsides as well. First, it is basically a copy of the module system, where certain modules enhance the ships characteristics (rudder mods, concealment, range mods), and therefore feels very much like an extension of this, instead of being its own thing. Second, with skills being straight up buffs they quickly become mandatory and players are at a disadvantage when they don't have access to them. The concealment expert skill is a perfect example of this, with it being almost mandatory on most DDs. This puts a strain on players to quickly gain as many commander points as possible in order to be competitive with the rest of the players (assuming you do care about this).

The last downside of skills being straight up buffs is also something that comes up a lot in the discussion of the skill rework: build variety. With skills being designed as straight buffs to the ships, it will be not too long before players figure out the best min/max build for the available points for each ship, with little variation. This can also be seen for the modules, where most players use one or two variations of the standard 'cookie cutter' build for a given ship. Few ships have different builds of roughly equal popularity, such as range vs reload mod. See the whole discussion about the Unique Upgrades on this. More on this point also in the next section.

What build variety can there be if skills are only buffs/nerfs to ships?

Considering most ships are already designed around a certain play style or national characteristic/gimmick, the captain skills really can't alter the characteristics of a boat too much or they would be overpowered on other, more specialized boats. There are skills that can make a Gearing into a DPM machine which can take on Harugumos and Smalands? Now imagine the same build on those boats and you see how this just escalates into another arms race, rendering 21pt captains ever more necessary for the competitively minded players among us. Similarly, skills that buff or compensate certain weaknesses of a ship are just part of the same min/max calculations. Survivability Expert (SE) is the best example for DDs, or Fire Prevention (FP) on BBs.

As a consequence, having just buffs or buffs with minor nerfs cannot really be expected to lead to a great variety in captain builds when the basis for how the players play the game (the ships) is already the defining factor. If your skill system is designed around buffs with maybe some minor nerfs then build variety is not really something that is feasible. The exception to this is when you have skills which more or less do the same thing as other skills, with minor differences. An example would be Adrenaline Rush (AR) versus BFT (or whatever it is now called). But the net effect - how the ship is played and which buffs are to be achieved - is the same. The only real game changer in this regard is a switch in the meta, such as going from randoms with 12 players and a wider tier spread, to ranked with 7v7 and a very select tier spread, or Divisions. Prime example might be Clan Battles, where the roles of ships might change drastically as players are now much better coordinated and builds can be very specialized and tailored to a clans strategy and ship composition.

Another factor in this is practicability. When grinding a tech tree line, players often train up captains and build up skills which are expected to work throughout the grind to T10, with maybe a change somewhere around T6-T8 required to account for changes in the line. You won't grind the german or USN tech tree line and then respec your captain every other ship to build, no player could realistically afford that.

Similarly, many premium ships are sold around their unique and interesting playstyle and thus also cannot be expected to be run 'optimally' with different builds. Two examples from my personal collection are Massachusetts and Georgia. The first is the example of the USN secondary brawler ship and players are (at least before the skill rework) encourage to build her as a secondary BB, with the only real question being whether to use IFHE or not. Or to put it bluntly: If I wanted to build my Massa with a tank/sniper build, I'd bought an Alabama instead. Georgia on the other hand can work both with a Massachusetts captain spec'ed for secondaries, but also with a regular USN BB captain as the ship itself has unique attributes (fast + speed boost, good 2ndaries, vulnerable citadel) that make her ambivalent in play style.

In essence, with skills being designed around buffs to ships there won't be much build variety as players will quickly figure out the best min/max build for each ship and even complete ship lines.

Are there different ways to design captain skills?

I think so, yes. Matter of fact, there are already a few skills in the game that do this, with the two most prominent examples being Priority Target (PT) and Radio Position Finding (RPF), with an honorable mention of Incoming Fire Alert (IFA). These skills are not designed to give your ship better reload, alpha damage or damage resistance, but they give something very valuable to the player directly: Information.

Whether the individual player uses this is of course up to them, the few discussions on the use of these skills I have seen have been very intriguing. Instead of pure mathematical arguments ("you get X percent better reload, vs Y percent more alpha") it came down to arguments about how players approach the game, how they gather information, and how they process them. The amount of information PT or IFA can provide a player who is used to using them can be invaluable, while other players who never developed the skill or - depending on your point of view - the need to rely on a particular crutch don't feel the loss at all. Similarly, RPF can be used on DD hunters to find them more quickly, or on torpedo boats for those RPF predictive torpedoes. Personally, I believe skills which benefit the player directly are much more interesting and provide the variety that simple buffs cannot. This can be either through direct information like RPF and IFA, or through more indirect information sources like PT.

What about those skills with significant downsides or conditional skills?

The "trade X for Y" skills actually have some potential. One example I like was the old torpedo acceleration skill, which traded range for faster torpedoes. Similar, having for example more DPM for the cost of less gun range might be interesting. However, in some ways these tradeoffs are already in place when players had to decide between taking BFT or AFT (assuming you only got 4pts to spare in this example). Further, there is a potential that these skills might not be worth it at all to most players, or if they are stronger that they are just broken on some other ships.

Conditional skills like they were introduced in the latest rework have some potential imho, though the danger of unintended side-effects should be obvious by now. On the plus side, conditional skills have the potential to actually synergize with other skills (Deadeye really goes well with CE, and CQE main battery buff benefits from secondary range). However, their more intricate function requires primarily two things: feedback for the player on when the skills are working (this is for the UI team), and - more importantly - much increased scrutiny from the balancing department a.k.a "the spreadsheet".

So, I don't think conditional skills are the way to go.

Skills influence the meta, do we really want that?

In addition, WG should be aware that skills which require or at least benefit a certain play style actually impact more than a the player using them. Deadeye has shown us that if a significant part of a teams firepower stays at range while remaining mostly effective, other players on the team are NOT taking up the slack and move in for the caps. Instead, these players are faced with even more danger pushing in as they have less close support and are thus the only target for a team to shoot at. In short order, these players then learn to be less aggressive and stay at a distance. Pair this with new combinations of meme builds for cruisers with zero concealment and long range DPM and you suddenly have a massive shift in the meta, even for those players who oppose it.

If disruptive changes like these are indeed intended, then even more thought into the design of skills is required. In the case of deadeye, some measures would be needed for new builds to counter the influence of the tanking BB in the back. An example could have been a more stealth and speed focused heavy cruiser skill combination, which allowed CAs to push up closer with their DDs while staying more or less safe from long range fire. One major caveat is of course that any defense based on concealment is a moot point with the levels of CV spotting currently in the game. In any case, I don't think it was a good idea to drive the meta so much with captain skills like deadeye, be it intentional or unintentional.

Conclusion, for now...

There are plenty more things on my mind that are not really completely though out, yet. For once, I have not gone into the actually skills that much yet, and we could certainly analyze individual ships and where they stand now as examples for the questions up top. For now, it is way past midnight in my timezone, so at this point I would like to stop and leave this open for discussion or comment. I will probably edit or add more to this over time, depending on when I have the time and energy to think about this some more.

And if you made it this far, thanks for reading that huge wall of text. If you didn't, then I don't care...

 

 

  • Cool 4

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Hey thanks for a well thought out and written piece on the commander skill . Easy to read seems to be written from a neutral stand point with out all the anger and usual it's just a money grab by WG that we usually read  .

There's a lot here I have to read again and I still don't understand all the commander changes and how they affect the game . Been working on lots of builds and just playing to see how things are shaking out .

But it was nice to read something with out all the anger thanks again for taking the time to do a nice write up +1 to you @shinytrashcan .

Edited by clammboy

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shiny - Thanks for the write up and I agree with clam above, nice to see it thought out and not all anger. 

After 10 days of experimentation I feel like there is no one “end all - be all” set up for each ship. Many of the skills are situational which to be honest are the ones I’m trying to avoid. I’d rather have a skill working for me all the time rather than some of the time. 

Most of my testing is on DDs or cruisers and I have to say I’m good with most of it. My only gripe so far is the “Grease the Gears” skill on my Gremy. My turrets seem to turn slower even with my super Russian skipper’s (whatever his name is) boosted skill.  I believe someone mentioned earlier in the week that the old skill actually gave more of a speed increase than the new one on certain ships. All I know is my Gremy feels a lot slower now than before. 

Anywho, much more to look at but will keep plugging. Thanks again. 

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24 minutes ago, cgbosn4 said:

shiny - Thanks for the write up and I agree with clam above, nice to see it thought out and not all anger. 

After 10 days of experimentation I feel like there is no one “end all - be all” set up for each ship. Many of the skills are situational which to be honest are the ones I’m trying to avoid. I’d rather have a skill working for me all the time rather than some of the time. 

Most of my testing is on DDs or cruisers and I have to say I’m good with most of it. My only gripe so far is the “Grease the Gears” skill on my Gremy. My turrets seem to turn slower even with my super Russian skipper’s (whatever his name is) boosted skill.  I believe someone mentioned earlier in the week that the old skill actually gave more of a speed increase than the new one on certain ships. All I know is my Gremy feels a lot slower now than before. 

Anywho, much more to look at but will keep plugging. Thanks again. 

You know what's sad is this probably won't get any traction because it not the usual hatchet job with anger and false accusations written from a they wrecked MY game perspective  . 

It's like the newspaper and TV networks if it's not written from a sensationalized , controversial or negative view point a lot of people won't watch or read anymore .

Edited by clammboy

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8 hours ago, cgbosn4 said:

Most of my testing is on DDs or cruisers and I have to say I’m good with most of it. My only gripe so far is the “Grease the Gears” skill on my Gremy. My turrets seem to turn slower even with my super Russian skipper’s (whatever his name is) boosted skill.  I believe someone mentioned earlier in the week that the old skill actually gave more of a speed increase than the new one on certain ships. All I know is my Gremy feels a lot slower now than before. 

You are right, the new skill is percentage based, whereas the old one was a fixed value. This is another issue to look at, in particular when comparing pre- and post rework skills and builds. It is not all bad, but certainly changed things in more ways than one might think at first. Lets look at a few examples:

Gremyashchy

180 degree turn time stock is 36s

, which equates to 5 degrees per second (d/s). Now, with the old skills (2.5 degrees for low caliber, 0.7 degrees for high) you would get up to 7.5 d/s, which is equivalent to 24s. Quite the improvement of 12s, or shaving off a third of the time! With the new skills, you go up by 15% flat, yielding a 180 turn time of 31.3s. So yes, the skill got cheaper, but it also got way less effective.

In order for 15% to equate to 2.5 degree, you'd need to be at more than 16 d/s. So only for DDs which already have a 180 turn time of 11s or less is the skill of similar effectiveness. And let's be honest here, why would you speed that up even more.

Yamato

Other end of the spectrum, but similar story. With 3 d/s it takes a whole minute for the guns to turn 180 degrees. "Grease the gears" reduces this by 20% for guns on BBs, yielding 3.6 d/s for Yamato. This is almost as good, but still slightly worse than before. Things also don't look much better when you factor in things like MBM3 etc.

It gets crazy though when you look at BBs that really should not need the skill at all, like Kremlin: stock it already has 6 d/s and turns in just 30s. Now, add 20% to that and you have 7.2 d/s, which is literally old Gremyashchy levels of turret traverse. So a BB that already has outstanding turret traverse gets even better, while ships that really benefited from the old skill get slightly to significantly nerfed.

This goes all back to the second point I made in my original post about why simple buffs to ships lead to cookie-cutter builds:

14 hours ago, shinytrashcan said:

What build variety can there be if skills are only buffs/nerfs to ships?

Considering most ships are already designed around a certain play style or national characteristic/gimmick, the captain skills really can't alter the characteristics of a boat too much or they would be overpowered on other, more specialized boats. There are skills that can make a Gearing into a DPM machine which can take on Harugumos and Smalands? Now imagine the same build on those boats and you see how this just escalates into another arms race, rendering 21pt captains ever more necessary for the competitively minded players among us.

This is a significant downside of choosing flat percentage buffs over fixed values: The strong get stronger while the weak stay weak. You can't expect people to not spec into the strengths of a ship if those are getting buffed disproportionately.

A good example how the old skills (and by extension the new skills) worked better in this regard was Survivability Expert, as it gave you a flat bonus (depending on tier) to your HP pool. The skill became very good on DDs, as the HP buff to them was proportionately large (more than 10%-20% usually) while on ships which already had a large HP pool the skill was usually wasted (who cares about further 2.8k when you already have 66k, get SI instead). Instead, now imagine they changed this skill to a flat 15% HP increase and made it available on all ships. This would have turned it into maybe the most important skill for almost all builds.

Similarly, the fixed improvement approach would be nice for things like range & speed of torpedoes or reload on guns, as they would buff ships which are lacking in those qualities significantly more than those already excelling. It would give commanders the option to make weak gun boats into something at least average, while not giving a game-breaking good skill to gun boats which in turn would make said skill virtually mandatory on gun boats.

Design decisions like these are what I think we should focus on as a community, as these have far larger impact on how you might play a certain ship than straight up percentage buffs.

 

9 hours ago, cgbosn4 said:

After 10 days of experimentation I feel like there is no one “end all - be all” set up for each ship. Many of the skills are situational which to be honest are the ones I’m trying to avoid. I’d rather have a skill working for me all the time rather than some of the time. 

Personally I am still internally debating which skills to take on which ship. The idea to include situational skills is actually quite interesting, in theory at least, however, you have to take into account how this affects player decisions and how much influence on the decision to get in the "situation" have. Further, without a feedback system in the UI telling players that a skill is active, it will be hard for players to asses their effectiveness. Personally I think that the way the skills are now they push captains too much into situations, as these situational skills are very expensive in points and rather powerful ( I mean -10% dispersion is better the than the legendary mod for Yamato, which is -7%). This heavily incentivizes players to use the skills and make sure they are active.

A better design (at least in my opinion) for situational skills would be something that gives player more options when they find themselves in these circumstances.Having said that, I am not sure how I would design such skills myself, though.

 

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Here are some more thoughts on the rework, specifically on how the rework affected Daring and my build on it. Mostly, it is about the increased costs on the skills and that I feel we lost something in this case. Yes, some DDs got a bit better or have more options now. Others, like Daring lose a what was in my mind a pretty good build.

pre-0.10.0 I used the following skills:

  • PT was important for a smoke gunboat since you wanted to gauge whether you could fire in the open or had to smoke up without looking at how much damage you were taking.
  • LS is obvious.
  • AR, more dakka and faster torpedo reload. the latter is important when you are low HP and have to rely on stealth and torps much more.
  • SI not for the hydro (with the hydro mod I almost never ran out of hydros) but for the 3rd heal.
  • SE because you need every bit of HP.
  • CE obvious.
  • RPF to go towards the enemy DDs. I'll explain more below.

So how I played my Daring most of the time was to screen for a flank. I'd go in front of my CAs/BBs, keeping a distance of a few km but not too far. Further, I'd go towards the closest contact as this was almost always a DD. With hydro running this meant I could almost always see the torps, dodge, and because of the early warning the BBs could dodge, too. Further, this often motivated players to actually push, because once the scary torp ninja is gone on a flank, people would push (go figure). Heck, sometimes they did this even before the DD was taken out simply because they knew their DD is on it.

Point is though, RPF was crucial in finding the DD or at least for estimating the position so I could let the team know and screen effectively. Now I can't take that skill anymore without sacrificing one of the others for this, because PT and AR are each one point more expensive. However, even with 21 Pts I can't take, even though the difference is two points. The reason is I also need to take another 1 Pt skill since PT is moved up to 2Pts. So I need to take smth like PM, which makes this build now effectively 3 Pts more expensive. I could of course not take LS (a poor-mans version is baked in the game now), but I have found myself during testing in too many situations where really could use it.

This is something that really bothers me, since it was a build designed for randoms around not maximum damage or torps, but with teamplay in mind. Other DDs, such as the IJN gunboats get basically get to keep their builds, albeit at more total cost (21 vs 19 now) since IFHE is now a 3 point skill.

Overall, I think the amount of skills that just buff damage instead making DDs better at supporting their team (better spotting, better smoke screens, making RPF builds viable, torpedo screening etc.).

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On a general note, I recently saw a brief discussion about the cruiser skill "eye in the sky" which halves both the reload and action time of the spotter plane, while also giving you two more charges. The overall idea of changing how the consumable works and how it is thus used by the player in combat was very intriguing to me.

I do think this is one of the better skill of the rework, but it also highlights one of the fundamental issues with skills in the game: Most of the characteristics are already set by the ship and can't really be altered by the players through the captain skills. Imagine having a DD equivalent of this for the smoke screen consumable, where it would give you more charges, yet shorter action time and reload: Basically it is a RN smoke.

And that is the problem, since the RN smoke is one of the defining features of that DD line. WG therefore does not make it accessible to other DDs (imagine being able to select from a variety of types which smoke to run on your DD) since a skill that would turn a Gearing into a DD with RN smoke would seem to go against players wanting to grind the RN line, or vice versa. Similar, imagine this with radar (range vs duration) or hydros cruisers etc.

So I think in some ways all of this are missed opportunities the dev team should maybe look into.

 

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