There's been a lot of pre-emptive doom-saying about the upcoming stealth-fire removal. There's a lot to this coming change, including some significant changes to some of your favourite ships. I'm going to try to run it down in a comprehensive (and as unbiased as possible) way.
Casualty: Anshan, Tier 6 Pan Asian Destroyer. Maximum Stealth Firing Window pre 0.6.3: 2.1km -- 12.2km to 14.3km with Advanced Fire Training and Concealment Expert.
What is Stealth Firing?
Stealth Firing is the ability for a ship to fire their main battery at an enemy and remain undetected without concealment from smoke or intervening terrain. Think of it simply as the ability to fire your guns in open water and not be seen by the enemies that you're shooting at, provided you keep to a certain range.
Why is Stealth Firing a problem?
This is a point of contention and your point of view will largely be based around your own experiences and favourite style of play. The problem identified was that stealth firing ships could engage select vessels that had no chance of ever uncovering their aggressor and effectively fighting back. There was no easy form of defense and short of the stealth firing ship making a mistake, said engagements were very one sided. While there was an element of skill to this, it largely boiled down to what combination of ships were facing one another. Ostensibly, a small, fast destroyer or cruiser could chew apart a large, slower battleship or cruiser with impunity, especially in late-game scenarios when there were few ships on either team remaining to assist the beleaguered vessel and spot the harassing ship.
Objectively, there's a perceived trade-off here and this explains why this stealth-fire change is controversial. It's harder for such smaller, lighter ships to survive long enough to see this ideal scenario, so it is felt by some that being able to out play certain vessels in these scenarios is a justifiable pay off.
What ships were most capable of Stealth Firing?
Destroyers and Cruisers were the ships most capable of Stealth Firing. However, the incidences of stealth firing greatly increases in higher tiered matches due to the presence of the Concealment Modification 1 (tier 8+) and Gun Fire Control System Modification 2 (tier 9+) upgrades which increase concealment and range. Effectively, with the exception of very few (most notably everything German and a couple Soviet), all destroyers are capable of stealth firing. Japanese Heavy Cruisers, from tier 8+ are also capable as are British Cruisers at tier 7+ and select Soviet Cruisers. Other vessels may do so on a limited basis with the use of a Float Plane consumable to temporarily boost their range.
Because of the commonality at which destroyers can typically stealth fire, this change is being perceived as a nerf to destroyer game play -- more specifically USN and IJN Destroyer game play.
Why has Wargaming waited so long to act on this?
It's not my place to say. However, this isn't the first time Wargaming has taken steps to try to mitigate the influence of Stealth Firing. There have been two other such initiatives. They clearly recognized the problem with stealth firing as early as the Fall of 2015. Soviet Destroyers guns came with a "stealth tax" that makes their destroyers visible from the surface 2.0km further than they should normally for guns of their caliber. This didn't eliminate stealth firing entirely from the Soviet Destroyer line, but it did make it prohibitively expensive or largely unfeasible to stealth fire with some of their ships. Given the excellent ballistics qualities of their guns and the high-speed platform from which they launch their attacks, it's debatable that Soviet Destroyers had any real reliance upon stealth firing.
In December of 2016, German Destroyers came with a 3.5km penalty tagged to their guns on top of the usual concealment penalty, making them utterly incapable of using this system. German destroyers have received a lot of negative press due to their inability to stealth fire up until this point. This alone should speak to how powerful this ability is in the current meta.
Will Premium Ships be affected?
Yes, premium ships will be affected by this change too. It's a blanket change to the core systems of the game and premiums aren't immune when it's a change of this scale. This is no different from the Basic Fire Training / Advanced Fire Training / Expert Marksman change in 0.5.3 in Wargaming's view.
How will this change game play?
For the average player, it won't change things. This doesn't eliminate the ability to fire from concealment entirely. It's still possible through conventional use of smoke and terrain features. Stealth Firing was primarily used by more experienced players that recognized how to exploit the mechanic to outplay select targets. In short, this will (slightly) reduce the skill ceiling of playing these ships while simultaneously giving a (very slight) increase to their skill floors.
Generally speaking, if you frequent ShipComrade, Reddit or the Official Forums enough to recognize who I am, then you're directly affected by the nerf to stealth firing, as you're probably more invested in the game than most players.
So that's it, then? My favourite [Destroyer/Cruiser/Premium/Techtree Line is getting nerfed? Why should I continue to support the game?
If you feel that strongly about it, then don't support the game. However, I would strongly suggest that when (if?) the test server goes live, you put some time to see how it affects your favourite ships. I'm not going to sugarcoat it and say that everything will be okay. Cause, honestly, that's just bollocks. It's likely that your favourite style of play will affect the way you view and enjoy your ships. Things are changing and for some players this will be a deal breaker. But, make sure you test things out for yourself and don't just take whatever public views best support your emotional state at the time.
Wargaming has said they will revisit any ship that's under-performing due to these changes. Now, that's by their metrics, not by our's, so take that with a grain of salt. We don't what their thresholds are.
Casualty: Blyskawica, tier 7 Polish Destroyer. Max Stealth Firing Window pre 0.6.3: 4.0km -- 10.4km to 14.4km with Advanced Fire Training and Concealment Expert.
How do you feel about these changes, Mouse?
Well, it's complicated. On the one hand, I recognize that stealth-firing was a problem. On the other... well, lemme go into detail.
I couldn't care less about tech tree ships. I've always felt that they can turn the techtree boats upside down on a whim and that's just par for the course. I have always felt more protective and cautious towards any changes made to premium ships -- specifically those that have been directly or indirectly put on sale for real-world moneys. I am terrified that many premium ships whose merits are often based around their ability to stealth fire are damaged irreparably. There are three ships in particular which embody these fears: Blyskawica, Sims and Belfast.
It's Blyskawica more than any other premium ship that my heart bleeds for with these changes. One of her most "ooh, exciting!" features was her ability to fire from concealment right out of the box, even without Captain Skills. Properly specialized, she could have one of the largest stealth-firing windows of any of the premium ships in the game (Sims beat her, but now you see why she's on my list too). Blyskawica, in the hands of an expert player, was truly a brilliant ship to behold and it was this concealment-firing feature with her seven, slow-firing guns that I felt really defined the ship. This should show how personal bias and feelings can really shape a player's perception about these changes. This was how I experienced Blyskawica but other players (and Wargaming themselves) may have different views on the ship and not mind the changes.
I started making a list of all the ships that would be affected by these changes, -- y'know, to really categorically measure just how much of a nerf this was. It quickly became clear that, with few exceptions, all destroyers would take the brunt of this hit. Sure, there were a few cruisers here and there that cropped up, but largely it was at tier 9+ that these ranges ballooned up to ridiculous levels. Zao could boast a 3.0km stealth firing window when properly specialized. Even Des Moines could manage a 1.5km stealth firing window. So it was a little more commonplace than I think was reasonable, and sometimes to ridiculous levels. I've long felt that the Concealment Modification 1 available at tier 8+ was causing more harm than good, but Wargaming decided to take this route instead.
But let's be real here. The changes to stealth-firing affect gunship destroyers most often and a few select cruisers that are known for their open water pew-pew hide and seek builds. So this is primarily aimed at gunship destroyers and (if we're really honest), it's going to hit American destroyers most with the Japanese and Russians having a few that are thrown under the bus too (and poor Blyskawica, Anshan and Lo Yang). With this understanding, I started analyzing how it was going to change how I played these ships, specifically on a per-engagement basis.
This simplification is only ever applicable if taken in isolation, though. The moment you add other ships to the mix, well, it gets complicated. Consider, for example, if you rush a cap in your destroyer and meet your opposite number well ahead of support from either team. You duke it out and you emerge the victor! Hooray! A winner is you! Now normally you could cap in peace. But this is that "mostly, see below" bit. While your detection range is going to remain bloomed, before this was a more modest value than it is now. This means that you might not be dropping back into concealment after killing that destroyer -- especially if you're a long ranged boat, so taking these early caps may (and I stress, may) constitute more of a risk than it once did.
But that brings up another point:
Advanced Fire Training and Destroyers -- the Double Edged Sword
Advanced Fire Training was a Destroyer's friend. While it was of questionable use on some DDs, it was overall a rather nice skill that provided some comfortable flexibility with engagement distances. It also opened the door to being able to stealth fire with many ships. Now? Now, it's not as innocent as it once was.
Taking Advanced Fire Training increases the range at which your destroyer is spotted when shooting at targets. For USS Sims, this changes her surface detection range from 12.9km to 15.5km when she fires her guns. Remember what I said about those early cap-circle duels? Engaging and eliminating close-range targets won't signal the end of your detection time which can put additional pressure on ships trying to avoid supporting fire from enemy ships. This doesn't make the skill worthless. In fact, I would still strongly recommend it for ships that want to specialize in bombarding capital ships. The more reach you have, the further away you can be when you open fire which provides a level of security in avoiding their attacks in return. However, Advanced Fire Training isn't a universal good for destroyers anymore.
I sincerely hope that Wargaming provides a Captain Skill reset (or at the very least, a sale) for destroyer Captains. I know I'm going to want to change the skill sets of a bunch of my Commanders.
I'm weary. I don't think this is the end of the world for destroyer gunships, but I won't lie and say that it's not a hurdle. I am very concerned about the balance of premiums, especially those which were with the stealth-firing abilities as a key feature (Blyskawica, I am looking at you). I'm far from saying this will make these ships unplayable -- simply more challenging. Part of me is sad that this feature, this ability unlocked and exploited only by a mature understanding of the game mechanics, is being put to rest. On the other hand, it will be nice to (almost) always be able to fire back at what's shooting at me. Smoke just got a lot more valuable, that's for sure.
Personally, I want to spend some time on the test server when (if?) it goes up to try things out for myself. I'm going to have to see if I can get access to a Blyskawica to really test it the way I want to, though.