The aircraft carrier rework is almost finished. Wargaming is happy enough with the state of the older aircraft carrier premiums to declare them re-balanced. For those unhappy with their ships, they have until patch 0.8.2 drops to refund them. This isn’t enough time for me to provide an in-depth review for each. Instead, I am releasing these articles in parts. In this manner, the most important details of these ships will be compared and evaluated relatively quickly and my coverage will be constant over the next few weeks. Hopefully this will be time enough for my readers to make educated choices regarding the fate of the premium carriers in their inventory before the deadline. This first article serves as a general summary and introduction.
The rework so far…
For all of the “finished” status of these four premium carriers, their implementation remains volatile. Balance decisions continue to tweak their performance. Players are still uncovering new tactics. I don’t foresee much longevity to my assessments here. However, the fast-approaching deadline necessitates that I say something, so I shall.
Let’s get this out of the way: I’m enjoying the aircraft carrier rework. However, it’s not without its problems. I’m generally not terribly concerned with said issues, however. So far, these have been steadily addressed and game play is improving from one patch to the next for both carriers and surface vessels.
I don’t for a second swallow the hyperbole that aircraft carriers can “never be balanced”. They most certainly can and they’re not far off from that point with fewer and fewer troubled areas. However, between bugs, exploits and patches, there hasn’t been a prolonged period of constancy. This has made assessing carriers a challenge — many players have simply given up. I can’t blame them; the constant state of flux is exhausting. I have watched pages of data I have collected become obsolete from one micro-patch to the next, forcing me to start anew. The impressions I had of these ships from a month ago are all irrelevant and inaccurate now.
This is worrisome to me, not because of time wasted, but because this disengagement has affected the community as a whole. Far too many players have simply thrown their hands up in frustration — whether that be playing carriers or suffering their attacks. It has become trendy to speak ill of aircraft carriers. Nay-saying the rework has become currency in some social circles with expectation that players of a certain caliber will pay their dues. While gamers being grumpy is nothing new, this has unfortunately made for fertile ground to perpetuate misconceptions regarding CV mechanics. This is further complicated by a general lack of up-to-date resources and data to help keep players astride of changes. If you don’t have a good handle on how things work, it’s far too easy to be led astray by misinformation or to hold onto earlier impressions that are no longer valid.
The only solution currently is first-hand experience. I wish I could point you all to reviews and impressions I trust, but there just aren’t many out there. Too much has changed too quickly. To this end: If you haven’t been playing the new aircraft carriers with each update, go do that before choosing to spend or refund your money. Make sure you experience both the highs and lows of CV game play and in all game modes available, from those 200,000+ damage highs to the lows of being deplaned halfway through a fight. Like destroyers, until you play mid-to-high tiers, it’s difficult to get a handle on the true experience — playing Isokaze does not inform you of the challenges of playing Yugumo in her radar-rich environment, for example. As for carriers, it’s not until you face tier 7+ opponents that dedicated AA ships truly begin to appear in numbers and your reserves become taxed. Carrier striking power also jumps considerably at tiers 8 and 10. If you can muster the patience to test it all again, you’ll be rewarded with much more accurate impressions of the mechanics.
I’ll do my best to cover this all through later articles, however I do not style myself as the be-all, end-all for information. I cannot stress enough that my feelings should not be the only source upon which you base your decisions.
Mouse’s Quick Summary of Premium Carriers
These are my general impressions of each of the premium carriers and how they perform.
Skill Floor: Challenging
Power Level: Meh
Fun Factor: Blah
Saipan’s gimmick has always been that she uses higher tiered aircraft but fewer of them. This has been preserved with the rework — gone are Saipan’s tier 9 Skyraiders and Corsairs (boo — I liked those planes!). She instead makes use of Midway’s BTDs and Bearcats. The only thing she lacks from Midway’s arsenal is the ability to take HVAR rockets on her Bearcats. Saipan’s strike fighters are locked into using Tiny Tims. On paper, her strike potential is phenomenal (especially with the current dive bomber accuracy exploit). In practice, her performance is throttled by the relative fragility of her air groups.
While Saipan’s individual planes are tougher than most of her contemporaries (the jury is still out with Indomitable under development), having fewer of them per squadron means that AA power focuses more easily on individual aircraft. Furthermore, Saipan has the slowest aircraft recovery from the tier 8 carriers, making her much more susceptible to being functionally deplaned at key moments of the fight. Lastly, higher tiered AA power is quite capable of pulverizing Midway’s air groups. Saipan’s are even more vulnerable.
Saipan is capable of dishing out the punishment but she can’t take it. This really hurts, especially when up-tiered. What’s more, the ship herself is one of the more fragile carriers with weaker AA power, no secondaries and a small HP pool.
Skill Floor: Casual
Power Level: Meh
Fun Factor: Fun
Enterprise is arguably the easiest premium carrier to use at the moment (again, the jury’s out until Indomitable gets released). Enterprise regenerates aircraft faster than any other tier 8 carrier making her one of the most difficult carriers to effectively deplane. In addition, her planes are the most manoeuvrable of any of the the tier 8 carriers, facilitating aiming. Enterprise’s torpedo planes also have the shortest aiming distance of any of the tier 8 aircraft carriers. To balance this, her strike power is lackluster when compared to Lexington, the tier 8 American tech tree ship. Enterprise’s rockets are worse, firing fewer rockets, doing less damage and with less penetration than Lexington’s. What’s more, Enterprise lamentably uses AP instead of HE bombs on her dive bombers, greatly affecting how well she can engage destroyers. Finally, her aircraft are individually more fragile than Lexington’s and slower to boot.
Enterprise has some fun quirks. The fighter squadrons her attack planes summon are enormous — 10 planes compared to 5 from the other carriers. Properly deployed (and good luck with that), these annihilate any strike craft they get a hold of, even Kaga’s monstrous squadrons. She’s arguably one of the best carriers to use to snipe and harass enemy CVs, what with her ability to regenerate aircraft like it was nothing. Finally, Enterprise has an alternative camo and commander thanks to the Azur Lane crossover, if that’s your thing.
Enterprise is a carrier that needs a long match to really play to her strengths. While other carriers struggle to maintain fighting reserves, Enterprise simply doesn’t care. Furthermore, she has the tools to make enemy carrier’s lives even more miserable provided you make use of them.
Skill Floor: Challenging
Power Level: Meh
Fun Factor: Blah
Kaga takes a similar approach to Enterprise in that she is meant to tank through casualties to her air group and shrug them off. While Enterprise does this through fast regeneration of aircraft, Kaga does this with enormous squadron sizes and ridiculously deep aircraft reserves on deck. Kaga begins the fight with a minimum of 96 aircraft on deck. Enterprise starts with no more than 56. While Kaga does not regenerate aircraft as fast as Enterprise, her recovery is by no means throttled.
In terms of striking power, Kaga’s all kinds of meh. All of her armaments are a bit of a mixed bag. Her torpedoes exemplify this with great range, great speed and firing four of them but with only modest-to-poor damage per fish and flooding chance. They also have the longest arming distance of any of the tier 8 carriers, needing almost 1km to properly fuse. This isn’t to say her torpedo bombers are bad — they’re arguably pretty easy to use with their improved stealth and very short aim time. The challenges of using her weapons effectively is echoed through her rockets and dive bombers, though the latter use HE bombs which is nice. Her rocket aircraft are some of the worst at her tier.
Where Kaga really falls apart is the fragility of her individual aircraft. She may have very deep reserves but she needs those reserves. She uses lower-tiered aircraft — worse-than-stock Shokaku planes. She loses aircraft constantly, even to mild AA fire. The only plus side is that she’s generally pretty resistant to fighters, being able to absorb the 4 or 5 casualties they inflict and still be able to deliver her strike package effectively. The question with Kaga isn’t whether or not she’ll be deplaned — she has too many aircraft on board to ever realistically have to worry about that if you’re playing smart. However, it’s very likely she will run out of specific kinds of aircraft, leaving her with less-than-ideal strike groups for the targets she needs to engage.
Given the challenges of using her planes effectively and watching your planes evapourate when a Benson farts, Kaga requires patience.
You’re not getting a full review of Graf Zeppelin — not at this stage. This ship isn’t ready and it’s an insult to the player base that Wargaming did not have the courage to admit that. If you ever wanted to know what it was like to play test an unfinished ship, now’s your chance. I can’t promise you that the ship you’ll be paying for will be any good when they finally get around to finishing it. Graf Zeppelin has had a very troubled development history and I do not have confidence that they can patch this ship to make it an enjoyable or compelling choice for players based on the design decisions so far implemented.
I’m totally kidding.
Skill Floor: Casual
Power Level: Good
Fun Factor: Fun
Graf Zeppelin is easily the best of the tier 8 premiums right now (again, still waiting on Indomitable). She’s so good, she’s the only one of the premiums to have been repeatedly been hit with the nerf bat over and over and over again. This is largely owing to her torpedo bombers which are amaaaaazing.
What makes Graf Zeppelin’s air groups so particularly nasty is their speed. Her Ta-152 fighter-bombers hit a top speed of over 250 knots with boost applied. They can (and will) outrun pursuing fighters and greatly reduce the time spent in flak auras. More importantly, it accelerates travel time to and from the carrier, meaning you’re putting more attacks on target faster than her contemporaries.
In terms of striking power, Graf Zeppelin’s ordnance is okay-ish, if a little on the poor side. Her rockets are like baby Tiny Tims, with high penetration, decent damage and fire chance. They’re unfortunately mounted on Me-155s which are much slower (and less survivable) than her Ta-152s. Her torpedoes have the worst damage and flooding stats of any of the tier 8 fish but they have good range. They can be dropped from up to 6km away but travel at a mere 35 knots and allowing around 12 to 14 seconds of reaction time when spotted, so your opponent needs to be asleep for those hail-mary drops to hit. They do have a relatively short arming distance, so more traditional drops work very well. Finally, she uses AP dive bombers which won’t ever be anything more than “okay”.
So it all comes down to that speed and dumping torpedoes over and over again and changing up with her dive bombers to let the former air group recover. She does struggle somewhat against destroyers, especially with having lost her Hydroacoustic Search consumable, but she does have those formidable secondaries (which are almost, but not quite as good as those on Massachusetts).
So of the four, if I had to choose one to get, it would be Graf Zeppelin with Enterprise as a distant second. If you were to ask me if you should refund any of your current premiums, my answer is “no” unless there’s a premium ship coming to the arsenal that you’d much rather have. Doubloons don’t have as much value as they used to.
Now this was just a first look, more feels than facts, but the facts to back the feels are coming. I’m going over the tier 8 torpedo bombers in full detail with the next article which should be out sometime next week. After that will be rocket aircraft and dive bombers after that. Then I’ll cover things like the ship’s hulls, agility, etc, until there’s as much information out there as a full review.
Stay tuned and thanks for reading.