Quick Summary: An incredibly fragile and short ranged light cruiser with a main battery composed of sixteen US Destroyer caliber rifles. Can produce the highest volume of fire of any ship in the game but also boasts the worst shell flight and damage characteristics of any mid tier cruiser.
Few other premium ships have changed so significantly in their performance without actually having undergone much in the way of direct changes as the USS Atlanta.
The evolution of World of Warships has not been kind to the USS Atlanta. While she has always been fragile, he has changed from a DPM monster with AP rounds to a skulking HE firebug. She once preyed upon all classes of ships but lately she is little more than a bully of destroyers. Even her vaunted AA power, once a necessity to help balance the disparity between CV allotments isn't a must anymore and hasn't been since CV rebalancing when the game launched in September of 2015. For all of this gloom, the future may be looking brighter for the Atlanta. The changes to AA power and Captain Skills were kind to her in 0.5.3 and the durability changes in 0.5.5 were also welcome. But let's take a closer look at this infamous pew-pew boat.
The Atlanta is armed with sixteen 127mm (5") / 38 Mk32 dual-purpose rifles arranged between eight turrets with two guns per turret. Six guns are arranged in a superfiring position forward, six more take up a superfiring position aft with four guns separated into two "wing" mounts off each side about 2/3s back down the ship's length. This gives her a potential broadside firepower of fourteen rifles at a given target. With a turret rotation speed of 25' a second, she can bring these guns to bear very quickly and track any target, regardless of any high speed maneuvers she or her opponent may make.
To be clear, these are Destroyer-caliber guns. The last US Cruiser to use guns of this caliber is the stock Chester at tier II and even this cruiser upgrades to a 152mm. These guns are very similar to the guns found mounted on every US Destroyer after the Nicholas at tier 5 and are more typically found mounted as the secondary and anti-aircraft armaments on cruisers like the Cleveland or on US Battleships and you're going to be asked to use these as a primary weapon. As you can guess, this comes with a bucket load of drawbacks with not a lot of good news to compensate.
Lock, stock and fourteen smoking barrels.
Rate of Fire
Where the Atlanta wins out, of course, is through sheer number of mounts -- having easily three to four times as many guns singing as any one of these destroyers. This puts the stock Atlanta's rate of fire at a staggering 168rpm on a broadside even with a reduced rate of fire. The Sims, by comparison can only manage 72 and the Benson manages a more favourable 90.
These destroyer numbers should put something immediately into perspective. If you cannot picture a Sims or a Benson crippling a target inside of 60s, don't expect the Atlanta to manage it in 30s. This 30s is important -- it's the amount of time you'll have before Battleships swing their guns your way and punish you for the audacity of trying to pepper their friends with your small munitions.
If you're hoping that her high rate of fire will allow you to set a lot of fires, I wouldn't hold your breath. Aside from the German 105mm guns found on tier 2 Dresden and Emden, these have the worse chance to start a fire out of any cruiser-mounted weapons in the game at a mere 5%. Keep in mind that the higher tier your opponents are, the more fire resistance ships have. The practical chance of setting a fire against a ship works out to the approximately the following:
Fire Chance = (Base Fire Chance + Demolition Expert Skill) * ([1-(Fire Prevention Skill + Damage Control System Modification 1) * (1 - ~Target Tier/20)
So shooting at a tier 7 Colorado without using any mods or perks would work out to roughly:
Fire Chance = (Base Fire Chance + Demolition Expert Skill) * ([1-(Fire Prevention Skill + Damage Control System Modification 1) * (1 - ~Target Tier/20)
Fire Chance = (0.05 + 0.00) * ([1-(0.00 + 0.00) * (1 - 7/20)
Fire Chance = (0.05) * 1 * (0.65)
Fire Chance = 0.0325
Fire Chance = approximately 3.25% per shell.
This makes the Demolition Expert Captain Skill an absolute imperative to turn the Atlanta to anywhere close to the firebug that people envision her to be. This can make up for a huge percentage of the Atlanta's potential damage when shooting at the right targets.
An IJN Destroyer with both turrets and one torpedo launcher permanently knocked out, running for her life as the Atlanta continues to rapid fire cycle her guns. The tremendous volume of fire the Atlanta puts out makes her an excellent destroyer hunter if she can close the range.
There's a reason this is saved for last. The Atlanta spits rainbows. The shell flight time on the Atlanta is so long that it's entirely possible (when fully upgraded) to fire a fourth volley before the first has hit its target. As we've covered previously, though the Atlanta has a high rate of fire, it's not that high. At extreme ranges, you are looking at a full second's delay per kilometer traveled. When firing at a ship running perpendicular at maximum range, it's often necessary to abstain from using the maximum zoom feature of your scope. The bow of the enemy ship will have to be off-screen in order to give the proper deflection with your shot.
These same flight characteristics make using armour piercing rounds very difficult and limited to point-blank situations against a perpendicular target. Otherwise the fight angle of your shells only serves to increase the effective armour of your target and results in many deflected and bounced shots. If a target is going evasive at all, you can forget about landing shells with any form of accuracy except at very short ranges. "Spray and Pray" is alive and well with the Atlanta and this form of sprinkling shells everywhere in the hopes for a hit will greatly reduce the DPM coming off your vessel.
The only advantage to this high shell arc is that it makes firing over obstacles, such as islands or friendly vessels, quite elementary. One of the favoured tactics of Atlanta gunship commanders is to park behind a headland and rain fire down upon targets spotted by their allies, immune to the more direct-fire angles of their enemies.
On Captain Skills
There is one ray of sunshine in all of this doom and gloom in regards to the Atlanta's main armament. They are destroyer caliber. As such, they synergize with all of the Captain Skills necessitating 139mm or smaller primary armaments. These have the following respective effects.
It cannot be stated firmly enough -- the Atlanta is defined by her guns. Their one, primary good quality is their rate of fire. Everything else is minor gains or situational in exchange for near crippling flaws.
The painfully slow flight time of the Atlanta's shells allow her to get three volleys into the air before the first have landed when shooting at maximum range. This can make aim adjustment very difficult and is one of the least attractive things about the Atlanta as a gunship platform. This precludes her from bombarding anything but the most predictable targets at what she considers long range. This is, however, medium to short range for the battleships that will be returning fire.
The Atlanta has no backup artillery. Unlike most USN Cruisers, the Atlanta has a torpedo armament. The 533mm Mk15 mod3 torpedoes she carries are mounted in a pair of quad-launchers situated just in front of the wing turrets off each side. This gives them good fields of fire. I wish I could say more good things about them.
Though their alpha strike is a respectable 16,633 damage per fish, they do not share the characteristics of the other 533mm Mk15 mod3 torpedoes found on the Benson and the stock Fletcher. Though they have a slightly faster rate of fire and 10 knots increased speed, she loses more than half the range -- and arguably, the functionality of her torpedoes. Though the Atlanta could never hope to be able to stealth-fire her fish with the Destroyer version of her torpedoes, these would give her far more functionality. Instead, her torpedoes are merely limited to a suicidal backup weapon, suitable for ambush or for spitting in the eye of an enemy that gets overconfident and gets in too close.
Don't get me wrong -- a broadside of these torpedoes can do a lot of damage very quickly -- even bag you some surprise kills against unwary opponents. But their short range, like the short range of her guns, is an enormous drawback and limits their usability. In short, they cease having any chance of being an opportunistic weapon and instead become a tool of desperation.
Unlike other US Cruisers at her tier, the Atlanta doesn't have any secondary gun batteries. Instead, she has very powerful but dreadfully short-ranged torpedoes as this Kongo is about to find out.
At least here the Atlanta doesn't have any surprises. She handles and performs as you might expect a USN Cruiser to handle and perform. She has a top speed of 32.5 knots. This compares well with the Pensacola (also 32.5 knots), and Yorck (32.0 knots) but it lags behind the IJN Myoko at 35.0 knots and the Soviet Shchors at 35.5knots. This speed makes her more than capable of matching the speed of any of the larger ships she may want to escort (or be escorted by). However, it isn't sufficient to run down enemy destroyers trying to open up the distance on you. For agility, she has a nice, tight 610m turning circle which is again on par with other USN Cruisers at her tier and superior to those of the IJN. Her rudder shift time is also average at a comfortable 8.4 seconds which can be reduced down to 6.7s with modules.
Overall, the Atlanta handles well. She doesn't excel in any one particular area here (except for maybe her turning circle), nor does she lag behind her peers. Moving on.
Throwing herself between the torpedo tracks launched at point blank range (less than 2.0km), this Atlanta runs down the Hatsuharu that launched them. The Atlanta isn't remarkably fast but she has rather nice handling -- just what you would expect for a Light Cruiser.
There's a lot to cover here.
On Hit Points & Armour
The Atlanta, functionally, may be considered to be absolutely lacking in armour protection. She has a large citadel, exactly where you would expect it to be and she gets hit there often. Even when angled, 203mm AP rounds from heavy cruisers can penetrate her, nevermind the large caliber rounds from Battleships, such as those from the Nagato or Colorado. Her soft skin makes her a ready victim for high explosive rounds striking her just about anywhere and she is unlikely to cause zero-damage hits, even from destroyer caliber weapons.
Now combine this lack of armour with a low hit point total for her tier and her fragility becomes downright alarming. The Atlanta has 27,500hp stock -- this is less than the tier 3 St.Louis. It should be kept in mind that the 403mm rifles on the Colorado inflict 12,400 per shell and that the torpedoes on the Hatsuharu cap out at 17,233 alpha. Her hit points simply do not last very long under any form of enemy attention.
This might be alright if she had a reasonable stealth value. However, this too is a disappointment. Stock, her surface detection range is 11.0km -- a mere 100m less than her default range and far beyond the 4.5km of her torpedoes. Given the poor performance of her guns at the extremities of their reach, this is very disappointing. Though she can open fire on her targets when she's first seen, she cannot effectively begin giving her opponents Hell until she closes the distance further still.
Even her Premium Camouflage is no help here, being a disruption type which reduces the accuracy of incoming shells. This may be a mixed blessing, however, as there is no chance of ever hiding this ship in the open ocean where she can fire effectively.
On Module Damage
Like a Destroyer, with so little armour surrounding her vitals, the Atlanta loses modules very quickly. Her guns, in particular, were notorious for being knocked out. Each gun casemate has a mere 13mm of effective armour. In practice, this means even high explosive rounds from destroyers are capable of destroying her guns if they land consecutive hits against your mounts. It's very rare for an Atlanta to finish a game without at least one turret knocked out. These guns were buffed so that single hits are much less likely to smash a turret per shell, but their fragility remains a concern.
Engine damage and Steering gear damage is also very commonplace. It's highly recommended you invest in modules and Captain Skills to increase her survivability when these systems are knocked out.
Four turrets still able to put out eight shots this volley. This is actually a rather good game for the Atlanta, who loses her turrets with painful regularity.
For all of the preceding doom and gloom, here is where the Atlanta excels. Prior to patch 0.5.3, the Atlanta had a very respectable AA compliment -- more than capable of annihilating multiple same-tier attack craft waves single handed when properly upgraded and using consumables. She could effectively lock-down an enemy CV trying to bully through a section of airspace protected by an Atlanta. She retains this ability and, in some regards, has become even more formidable.
The primary gain has been in the effectiveness of her dual purpose guns. This has, in effect, increased the lethality of her longest ranged anti-aircraft "bubble", making her an immediate danger to any aircraft straying into her zone of control. The alpha strike of her 127mm/38 main batteries when upgraded with Captain Skills is formidable, putting out in excess of 1331 alpha damage every 5 seconds against a targeted aircraft. Combined with her Defensive Fire consumable, she can release a hailstorm of shells that can quickly overwhelm attack waves. And this is something else worth noting. The Atlanta is the only ship in the game that has unlimited charges of the Defensive Fire consumable.
I say again:
The Atlanta has Unlimited Charges of her Defensive Fire consumable.
No other ship at present has this perk. This might be considered extremely valuable if CVs were more frequently present in game. However, very often there just aren't any enemy planes to shoot down except for the occasional spotter aircraft.
The changes in 0.5.3 to the Atlanta's AA armament was primarily an emphasis towards the strengths of her anti-aircraft artillery over her machine guns and automatic cannon. The Atlanta can throw out a monstrous level of anti-aircraft fire up to ranges of 7.2km with her sixteen dual purpose guns.
The Atlanta is an exceedingly fragile ship. As a specialist, she is more than capable of bullying any lone destroyer she encounters and giving many CVs a hard time that try and pick her off with attack craft. However, she is a ready victim when facing cruisers and battleships. Spotting her or luring her into the fire paths of these larger gunships will see her sent to the bottom without fail. She is a support vessel, not a lone hunter. An isolated Atlanta is a dead Atlanta and every means should be taken to swat her should she find herself exposed.
The Atlanta is a gimmick-ship. She is intended to excel at one given role -- that of an Anti-Aircraft Escort. She does this very, very well. However, the opportunities to perform this role are not constant. You can just as easily find yourself in a match without any carriers. And even if you do find yourself with a pair of enemy CVs on the enemy team, there's no guarantee your AA gunners will see any action. It doesn't help that there are insufficient gains to be earned for shooting down aircraft and protecting larger vessels. You won't see huge credit and experience dividends, no matter how many "Clear Sky" medals you may earn yourself.
I have experimented forcing the Atlanta into two other roles via the use of modules, consumables and Captain Skills. While capable in these tasks, she doesn't excel. Some would argue that though the Atlanta can accomplish these tasks, because she does so at a disadvantage, she shouldn't bother because it's a detriment to the team. I would agree only in the case of Team Battles and Ranked Battles, where going contrary to supporting your team hurts the whole. In Random Battles, you're considerably more free to experiment.
As a lone Destroyer Hunter, the lack of any form of spotter plane and her rather slow top speed (coupled with large surface detection range), makes this role challenging. Though more than capable of besting any destroyer she finds in a one-on-one engagement, she is not fast or stealthy enough to catch DDs unaware like an Atago might. In short, she will arrive just as the destroyer's own cruisers show up and this puts the Atlanta at an extreme disadvantage. It's preferable for the Atlanta to continue to play close-escort in the anti-destroyer role, waiting for the Battleships to lock down, distract or drive off enemy cruisers and battleships before the Atlanta is unleashed against the tin cans hounding her large friends.
As an Artillery Support Vessel, the Atlanta again can perform well but this is very challenging due to her short range. Specializing in improvements to her gunnery and concealment (at the expense of some AA skills and modules), this is probably the most successful way to play the Atlanta given it's versatility, given the overlap of some her Captain Skills. The focus here is to rain high explosive shells with boosted fire chances, picking on exposed ships and coordinating fire with Battleships. Alternatively, she can skulk among islands and launch ambushes against unwary vessels that think the Atlanta is limited to high-explosive spam only and tear their citadels apart with a mix of AP-storm and torpedo salvos at point blank range. This is a very high risk, high reward style of play which can see the Atlanta wrack up an impressive tally of hit ribbons and a respectable amount of damage. However, the very moment she is out of position, she's as good as sunk.
The Atlanta is probably one of the least forgiving Premium Ships in the game. She is a lot of fun, however, and she is one of my favourite ships.
Would I recommend?
Let me be clear, the Atlanta is a lot of fun -- I love mine. She's my second most played ship after my HMS Warspite. She's fun the same way the TOG II* from World of Tanks is fun. As an overspecialized oddity, she has personality in spades but she struggles to perform as people want and expect her to perform. Outside of an AA escort vessel, she is not a good choice. If you do not like a challenge, stay well clear of the Atlanta.
As an Artillery Support Ship or Destroyer Hunter go with Gun Fire Control System Modification 1. This will increase your accuracy when shooting at range. This reduces the dispersion of your guns from 112m down to 107m.
For an Anti-Aircraft Escort ship, AA Gun Modification 2 is your best choice, increasing the range of your AA umbrella.
From here you get to choose skills the best maximize your ship's potential.
This will take you up to 15 skill points (16pts for a Destroyer Hunter). The rest you can spend to suit your own tastes.