When players got a look at Artillery mechanics in Armored Warfare's Technical Alpha earlier this year, the initial reaction to the mechanics was that they offered nothing new from what players had already seen in other games. This sentiment echoed concerns we had internally at Obsidian as well so in response we shifted resources to focusing on Artillery, evaluating its role in the game and most importantly, how it feels to play and how it feels to play against it.
As a result, we have a number of changes that have come to Artillery mechanics since that early Technical Alpha. This article is a chance to discuss these changes, including how they work as well as what the intention behind them is.
The first major change was adding a warning to the HUD that alerts you to an incoming Artillery shell in your approximate location. The warning shows up as a flashing icon above your reticle making it easy to notice without needing to focus on it.
Depending on your distance from the Artillery firing at you, you may have anywhere from a few to several seconds to act before impact. If you're quick enough, you can attempt to dodge the shell. With slower vehicles and at close ranges, this might just help you avoid a little bit of the damage by getting further from the epicenter of the explosion. With a fast vehicle or at longer ranges, you have a chance to dodge the incoming shell entirely.
The intention of this mechanic was to give targets of Artillery a chance to do something about the attack coming their way. Artillery has the advantage of being able to fire at targets from behind the safety of cover and distance. We felt it was only fair that targets of Artillery therefore have a chance to respond to the incoming threat rather than being shelled without any kind of warning.
Because the warning is vague in that it does not tell you where the shell is going to hit, only that there is one, there is still an element of chance in play. The target may incorrectly move forward into the incoming shell, for example, when the best move would have been to back up. But if there is hard cover available nearby, the target might be able to make it into cover and not have to worry about where the shell is going to land.
With this element of chance for the target, there is also an element of choice for the Artillery player. Shooting directly at an enemy vehicle may seem like the most straight forward approach. But since the Artillery player knows that their target will receive a warning about the incoming shot, they might want to intentionally aim in front of or behind their target in expectation that their target may very well move into the shell in trying to escape.
The only vehicles that do not receive the incoming Artillery Shell warning are the Artillery units themselves. Artillery will have no warning that a shell is coming its way. Part of the reason we did this is because Artillery is almost always shooting at each other from across the map and the long lead time on the shots gave targeted Artillery plenty of time to move and avoid the shot. But we also wanted to encourage Artillery vs Artillery gameplay in general (more on this later), so decided that removing the incoming Artillery warning was for the best.
This single mechanic added elements of risk, split second decisions, and tricks for both the Artillery player as well as the non-Artillery units in the match that was immediately well received in internal play tests.
When an Artillery unit fires, there will immediately be a ping on the minimap visible only to Artillery units on the enemy team. The first time an Artillery unit fires from a location, the ping is about the size of a grid square, or roughly 120x120m, depending on the map. This gives the enemy Artillery a vague idea of where the shots are coming from allowing them to zero in on that location.
In addition, whenever an Artillery unit fires, its vehicle model will become visible for roughly 10 seconds. The nameplate marker and healthbar will not appear, but the model itself will be visible making the vehicle a viable target for any enemy vehicles that have Line of Sight to its location.
As an Artillery unit continues to fire more shots from the same location, the minimap pings revealing its location will get smaller, until at the third shot, where the pings are nearly pin-point accurate. This means that if an Artillery player simply finds a good place to shoot from and parks there, enemy Artillery units will come to know exactly where they are located and will be able to start lobbing shots right back at them. Remember, as mentioned above, Artillery units get no Incoming Artillery Warning like other vehicles do. The only way to avoid having the enemy Artillery units zero in on your location is to relocate between shots.
In Armored Warfare, stationary Artillery is dead Artillery.
The intent of this mechanic was to help give Artillery players more than one thing to focus on in the match. Instead of just looking for slower moving targets to bombard any time they come out from hard cover, skilled Artillery players will also need to pay attention to the pings on their minimaps to watch for the opportunity to eliminate the enemy Artillery units. Applying pressure to enemy Artillery units is a good way to get them to quit firing at your own teammates and if you can eliminate them all together, you will be able to start firing at the rest of the enemy team without fear of being 'Counter Arty'd'. Skilled Artillery players will also need to balance the reward of taking an opportune shot verses the danger of being in one location for too long and getting shelled from the enemy Artillery units.
In the Technical Alpha, Artillery players relied on a top-down satellite camera view. This view gave players a detached feel to the match when they were watching events play out from such a removed position. While the concept of a satellite view made sense in the modern era, it ultimately did not create as engaging a gameplay experience as we were wanting.
We have replaced the satellite view with a lower, more angled camera. This lower view gives Artillery players a greater sense of being in the moment to moment action of the match. It also allows players to land shots beneath the roofs of open buildings where vehicles might have otherwise found themselves safe from top-down targeting.
This new view is not without is challenges, however. Due to the camera angle, some sense of depth can be lost which can make it hard to visually gauge how a shot is going to impact the terrain when it comes down. But these tradeoffs come with a more involved, engaging camera perspective that we found more entertaining to play overall so we are happy with this change.
We have made a few other general balance changes to the core Artillery mechanics. First off, we hard capped the number of Artillery units per team to 3 so there will never be more than 6 Artillery vehicles in a match. We also made a number of changes to the firing characteristics of Artillery units. In general, Artillery is more accurate than it was before but individual shots do less damage and have a wider splash radius with a less severe falloff in potential damage from distance. We felt it was necessary to make Artillery not reliant on landing direct shots in order to deal damage. Vehicles in Armored Warfare are generally pretty nimble and also have the Incoming Artillery Warning described above that gives them a chance to try and evade the shell, so requiring direct hits or nearly direct hits to be effective was unfair to Artillery players. The higher accuracy also felt necessary given the warning other vehicles get. We didn't want Artillery players to have to combat both the advanced warning their targets receive as well as a large random-number variance due to inaccuracies.
The end result of the larger splash and better accuracy is that Artillery players will be able to exercise more control over whether or not their shots are going to deal damage but the overall potential damage per shot has come down measurably to compensate. Direct hits will still be rewarded with more damage than indirect splashes, but the difference is not decisive.
We increased the rate of fire for Artillery and also improved its aim time (the time it takes to achieve maximum accuracy). The faster rate of fire and rapid aim time mean there is less downtime between shots and less time spent waiting for the chance to fire at an exposed target in order to have any chance of hitting your mark. This faster aim time and rate of fire force skilled Artillery players to make more frequent decisions over the course of the match as well as decide if they want to keep firing shells at a vulnerable target even at the risk of being bombarded by the enemy team's Artillery.
These balance characteristics introduce more intensity to playing Artillery than it had before. Moment to moment decisions will clearly spell the difference between players who are pushing the class to its limits and players who are not.
The above sweeping changes are not the only new things in store for Artillery. We have designed a number of other interesting ways for Artillery players to influence the battlefield without dealing damage to the enemy team. We will be able to share more about these additional mechanics in the future...
For now, the Obsidian team is eagerly looking forward to our Beta Players being able to get their hands on the new Artillery systems and let us know how they feel. All of the above new features are subject to ongoing balance adjustments so player feedback on how Artillery feels to play as well as play against will be extremely valuable to us.
Thank you for taking a look at the latest changes coming to Armored Warfare. There are many more great changes coming soon.