There are a lot of good ideas implemented by WG. However, some of these ideas need to be tweaked. Some have good intentions, but difficult to balance.
Arty Shell Types
It is a good idea to have three shell types that cost mostly the same, and have different utilities. However, in practice, it fell apart.
1. AP shell is basically useless. The damage is generally too low. 40 second reload for 500 damage shot is absurdly low. Arty simply does not have the accuracy as well. Bounces and misses would reduce the DPM even further.
Worse, the trajectory arc is very bad. With CGC, most places I could hit with HE simply cannot be reached with AP. Also, with easier arty tracer, one really needs to keep your arty behind hard covers or at lower ground etc, to prevent getting blind shot.
I get why WG does not want to give 1K damage AP shells to arty, but at the same time, I think that it is impossible to balance AP shells. 261 and M44 with AP/HEAT shell in the old days were incredibly OP, but other arties generally do not use AP shells as much (they use it mostly for giggles). On sandbox, even for 261, AP shells are bad choices.
2. Alternative shells are not better than standard shells. The fundamental issue is that the splash radius is cut by half. The result is that while alternative shells did have a bit higher damage on direct hits, but they do less damage on misses. Compounded by the fact that alternative shells do not have stun assist, the use of alternative shells is very limited.
3. Mark of excellence calculation. The ONLY viable shell for marking SPG is the standard shell, since stun assist is just too important. As the result, even if the alternative shells have the same splash radius as standard shell, they are not useful for marking the SPG.
There could be solutions which WG could come up with, but the sandbox implementation of arty shell types is essentially a straight nerf to arty, as the new alternative shells and AP shells are not viable.
I was not saying if such nerf is a good / bad. I merely pointed out the facts.
It is a slight improvement over the current implementation. However, it is still not particularly useful in counter battery by arties. If you blink, you could miss the origin of the fire (which should be made brighter). If you are not already looking at the area, you will miss it. Furthermore, the difficulty to counter battery is actually increased with the sandbox, because you get warned for incoming arty shells.
On the other hand, brighter tracer also makes blind fire possible by regular tanks and eliminated some arty positions. The Cliff map has very limited arty positions already, but A4 is basically not viable now, because there are many places that can blind shot that position.
Counter Battery not Improved much
Fundamentally, I think that counter battery should be made significantly easier. Right now, it is just not worthwhile to do the counter battery.
- Long reload time makes it difficult to know when enemy arties have fired. You could be staring at the wrong place, or enemy arty might be just reloading. If you kept looking, then you were effectively not doing anything for minutes.
- Long reload time makes every shot critical. The average game time is less than 5 minutes. There are only so many 40 seconds in that 5 minutes. A missed shot for counter battery is a major missed opportunity to shoot visible enemy tanks.
Personally, I would like to have the arty firing position to be a visible cloud both on the minimap and satellite view and stay up to 5 seconds. With this in place, I think that WG can either increase the arty damage or reduce the reload time. Making counter battery a priority is the best way to balance arty.
Light tanks can be quite OP on open maps, but light tanks countering each other on these maps. It is often the better light on these maps win the game. Likewise, let the better arty survive the counter battery fight and then be useful on these maps.
I like it overall. However, the issue is whether it is a separate skill that needs to be trained, or it is part of 6th sense.
If it is a separate skill, then it is fairly useless. Commanders already under severe pressure to have a lot of skills trained. Even putting it on radioman as QB suggested would not help, because a lot of commanders are also radioman.
In the end, it should just be part of 6th sense skill.
Splash Circle on Minimap
I like it. It is a very useful tool for knowing when enemy arties have fired.
The circle is a bit too big though. It could be that WG wants people to notice it, but at the same time, it is a bit harder to figure out the direction of the fire, particularly for positions that have upper / lower grounds.
As I said above, a much better approach is to show the actual arty firing position for 5 seconds.
This skill does not work well for auto-reloaders, since only the last shell in the magazine gets the switched. Auto-reloaders already have lower DPM, there is really no reason to punish them further. If the auto-reloader have the full magazine, then let intuition switch the full magazine.
Otherwise, I simply cannot wait for this skill to be moved to the live server.