Hell Let Loose – Arty Sucks (And here’s how to fix it)

Hell Let Loose is an amazing game. It was my favourite game of last year, a game I poured dozens of hours into because it did something rare for shooters in 2021 — it delivered what it promised. It’s a Battlefield style shooter based in World War 2 with high lethality and a strong emphasis on teamwork.

But it’s not perfect. The hit registration can feel off sometimes, which might be a server issue, but it might be a game issue too. Player inventory isn’t bound to specific keys, so pressing 5 on one class might bring up your hammer while it equips your binoculars for another. The sound is fine, but it’s not good — and remember, this is a game in the Battlefield genre, the namesake of which was the gold standard in game audio for a long time.

Speaking of audio, one of Hell Let Loose’s biggest issues is that you’ll sometimes find yourself completely deaf because nobody around you will shut the fuck up. And when I say “sometimes”, I mean any time you find yourself playing as Squad Leader. Hell Let Loose has three different voice channels — proximity, squad and command — and the command chat channel is the audio version of unmoderated Twitch Chat.

Still, all those problems are really just minor inconveniences. You can manage all of them. Move in pairs, so your partner can refrag if you get hitreg fucked. Key through your inventory at the start of the round to make sure you don’t panic-equip your smoke grenade in the middle of a gunfight. Remind yourself that you can’t trust the sound, and play the game like a paranoid tweaker, spinning in every direction every time you hear a bird chirp or your own footsteps two metres behind you.

And if you’re playing Squad Leader, press Tab and individually mute every other Squad Leader in the game at the start of the round. And if the Commander won’t shut the fuck up, mute them too.

There’s just one problem that Hell Let Loose has that you can’t really manage around. It’d be amazing if Black Matter fixed all of the above issues — and a few more — but there’s one thing in particular they need to do for the health of their game.

The Problem

Artillery needs to go.

Hear me out. In its current state, Artillery is the single worst thing about Hell Let Loose. It’s a nigh unsolvable problem for a player — to not be killed by Artillery in Hell Let Loose, your play option is to not go where Artillery is firing. But if the Artillery is firing on the capture point your team is currently contesting, then not going there is not playing the game.

Does that make sense? If your only option for avoiding vaguely random instant death is to not enter the area being shelled, and the area being shelled is the objective, and you’re PTFO, then not going to the area being shelled is not playing the fucking objective. If A equals B, and B equals C, then A equals C.

On a fundamental level, Artillery will be why people stop playing Hell Let Loose. Because that is how Artillery is designed. It’s some War Games shit — the only winning move is not to play.

But Artillery is actually worse than simply being a direct path to player burnout. It actually makes other parts of the game worse, too.

Take Recon, for example. Superficially Recon seems like an amazing role. The Sniper gets the only scoped weapon in the game, which provides phenomenal visibility for those able to wield it. And the Spotter can place Outposts deep in the enemy’s backfield, far deeper than any other squads are able to.

A good two person Recon squad is able to win games. Hell Let Loose is the rare sort of game where logistics actually matter. Dedicated players ferrying supplies back and forth between the ever-moving frontline can change the landscape of a battle. Building nodes and garrisons regularly radically alters a team’s options.

And a good recon squad is able to shut that shit down. They can pop supply truck drivers from behind the wheel and dismantle shit deep behind the frontlines. When you look at the map and see a squad deep behind the next-next cap point, your initial thought might be ‘what a pair of idiots’ — but when you cap your current point and you’re able to steamroll your way to victory because the enemy doesn’t have anywhere to spawn, you should chalk that win up to the Sniper player who lay on the ground in front of their garry holding F for 45 seconds and the Spotter player who covered them while they did it.

Here’s the thing though — if there’s Artillery active in the game, the Recon squad practically isn’t allowed to do what they do best. If there is Artillery active — and there almost always is — the most efficient use of a Recon squad’s time is to run into the middle uncap of the enemy team and to shoot the cannoneers. There’s no dismantling, no logistics interruption — they have to run four kilometres into the centre HQ spawn and kill the arty players.

It’s a criminal waste of a role in the game that dramatically changes a player’s understanding of it. Once you play recon and realise the impact you can have disrupting logistics, you’ll never sit on top of an airplane picking people off one at a time again. Hell, German Snipers get an FG42 and that’s even crazier. It’s like you’re those two Rangers in Black Hawk Down with scoped weapons deep behind enemy lines. Amazing shit.

Changing how players think about the game leads us to the third problem with Artillery — it emphasises something no player in Hell Let Loose should be thinking about.

Kill to death ratios mean nothing in Hell Let Loose, and focusing on them makes you a worse player.

One of the most valuable lessons a player can learn in HLL is when to throw your life away. A player who is willing to pop their head up out of the trench to draw the fire of the enemy, allowing their teammates to spot them out — that player is invaluable.

And a player who is chasing kills will spawn on the airhead and start shooting at the first silhouette they see — even if that silhouette is across 150m of wide open ground. A solo AT player can kill a Tiger tank, they just have to be willing to throw their life away — either by crawling through an open field to plant a satchel, or by redeploying three times to get the rockets they need to kill the thing.

That’s the essence of Hell Let Loose — accepting that your death is inevitable, and trying your best to use that knowledge to your advantage.

Artillery players aren’t playing the same game there. They’re raining death from kilometres away, safe in sandbagged defences, racking up kills knowing the only thing they need to worry about is a Recon team who need to actively choose to do something less interesting than the core Hell Let Loose game experience.

They’re earning their “The Name’s Khan, Genghis Khan” achievement from near limitless safety. They aren’t trading their lives for anything — when a recon squad eventually reaches them, they either fight back or they go do something else for a little while, wait for the Recon to get bored and then they go right back to freely committing genocide.

There’s a core element of Hell Let Loose that relies entirely on players getting bored.

The last problem is actually related to that — Artillery in Hell Let Loose is boring as shit. It’s an idle clicker game, except instead of Cookies you’re clicking the trigger on a howitzer. You look at your map. You either do some maths and calculate some shit yourself, or you use one of a half dozen easily google-able calculators to do it for you, you hold the direction keys for way too long and then you click. Hit tab, click “personal stats” and wait to see if the numbers go up.

The only upside here is that you can do it one handed, which I assume is the appeal, because everyone who mains arty is a fucking wanker.

The Pros of Artillery

Ok, so my position on Arty must be pretty clear at this point, right? I don’t like it. That might be understating it.

But before we get to how to fix it, let’s address the positives of Artillery in Hell Let Loose.

The first one is pretty easy — Hell Let Loose does explosions well. I fell in love with the game when I first experienced a bombing run. I saw it march its way towards me and I stood in awe of what was about to happen.

And the whistle and boom of Arty does keep that feeling going even outside of the 10 minute Bombing Run cooldown. The sound of the drums beating in your heart is because of the thunder of guns that tear you apart.

I think you’d have to keep some part of this experience in the game for Hell Let Loose to still feel the way it does — but its current implementation doesn’t have to be ‘it’.

Another argument in Artillery’s favour is the impact Smoke Artillery has on the game. I’ve seen smoke artillery utilised in the most fascinating ways — to cover an airhead push, to allow a team to get a foothold on a tough position, I’ve even seen it used to fake out the enemy, and to get them looking North while the attack approached from the South. I’m reasonably sure that last one was accidental, but it worked.

It would be a shame to lose that. I wouldn’t miss what Smoke shells do to my framerate, but the impact they have on a game does feel pretty significant. 

The third argument for Artillery is that it exists as a resource sink. Loading a shell into one of the Arty cannons costs 3 Munitions. The moment it’s loaded, that’s 3 munitions gone. A Bombing Run costs 300 munitions. Now, when you’ve got some level 1 dudes taking the AT position in a random open squad and then squatting in the centre HQ all day not listening to the commander, that can be a bit of a problem.

But that logistics thing that makes Hell Let Loose as special as it is only exists because players have reasons to do that shit. You need players rolling around in trucks dropping off supplies to build nodes, but they won’t really trouble themselves with doing that if the Commander doesn’t need the supplies.

Artillery is a great munitions sink. Hell, from a strategic perspective well-aimed artillery is pound for pound better than any Bombing Run. It’s just a shame that it costs you a piece of your dignity each time you fire it.

So how do we solve a problem like Artillery? Obviously the easiest solution would be to delete Arty from the game and to fire everyone who ever sat on it out of a howitzer and into the sun. And yes dear reader, that includes me. I’m a hero that way.

But this solution would leave a void in the places where Artillery was, however briefly and mitigated, good. Resource management would suffer, and nobody would be thunderstruck as much.

So instead I’ve come up with a three piece feed of potential solutions that would if not fix, at least negate some of Artillery’s drawbacks. Bear in mind that none of these solutions take into account real world resource costs like the manpower required to implement these changes or the fact that I know nothing about how Hell Let Loose works behind the scenes.

Solution 1

The easiest way to immediately limit the impact Artillery has on a game is to dramatically increase the cost. Triple the cost of Artillery and the decision to fire all three cannons the moment the warm-up period ends will be one that requires a cost-benefit analysis and a new “Treasurer” role that sits below the Commander.

Quintuple the cost of firing an Arty shell and the Commander himself will execute anyone who fires more than twice a minute. Firing the howitzers will require genuine introspection. If you sit on the gun, you’ll be like Dewey Cox – you’ll have to think about your whole life before you fire.

The thing about this idea is that a diligent enough team could still bring overwhelming indirect fire to bear on their enemy. If Arty shells cost 15 munitions instead of three, enough nodes and precise use of the resource conversion tools available to Commanders would still allow for a nightmarish bombardment on any point within range of the guns — it just couldn’t be an indefinite barrage.

The biggest problem this idea has is that anyone can jump on a gun and start pissing away munitions, and it would make the already pretty thankless task of playing Commander worse. If you think your team has a shit king now, wait until you play a game where they can’t even call in supply drops because the peanuts in the backfield have exploded away all the resources. Joe Schmo on the ground isn’t gonna realise that, either — they’re just gonna wonder why someone would jump in the Commander role and then never drop a fucking bombing run.

Before we move on, note that I didn’t mention raising the cost of smoke arty. That’s because it’s already perfect.

Second Solution

Mortars are, ostensibly, on their way. They’re something Black Matter wants to add to the game, and they’ll do so eventually. They’re a small team, and Hell Let Loose is a giant endeavour, and adding new stuff is never easy.

But I hope they get here sooner rather than later. And when they come, I hope they replace Artillery.

Actually, if they are added alongside Artillery and not instead of Artillery, I’ll probably stop playing Hell Let Loose.

Indirect death is not a good game mechanic and it shouldn’t be prevalent in a game like Hell Let Loose. But every other indirect death in Hell Let Loose can be managed for. You can hear Strafing and Bombing Run planes before they arrive. You can hear grenades being primed, and if you’re paying attention you can see where they land. You can not run in front of the tank.

But if the whistle of Artillery is a certain tone, you literally cannot run fast enough to exit the zone of death. In fact, once you know the tone, you mentally transport yourself to the death screen three seconds earlier.

And I didn’t mention it before, but let’s not trot out this whole “it’s realistic” thing. Hell Let Loose isn’t realistic. People don’t love Hell Let Loose for the realism. They love HLL for the ways it apes realism in gamey ways. If people wanted realism, Hell Let Loose wouldn’t have 10 times the players that Post Scriptum does.

Not to mention realism isn’t exactly a justification for this sort of thing. Realism is cool when the guns are modelled accurately, or when you can tell what kind of tank is nearby because of the engine sound or something.

Realism is garbage when you’re dying because of indirect, unavoidable, semi-random fire. It’s an argument used as an excuse by Arty mains who want to sit in the Main HQ and spam their way to a million kills without ever needing to worry about being in danger. Let’s not even get into the fact that Hell Let Loose limits Artillery in quote unquote unrealistic ways already by preventing players from firing on the other team’s HQ spawns. “Realistically” the mortars Hell Let Loose will one day add to the game have a range greater than the size of every HLL map.

The Final… The Third Solution

My favourite option is pretty easy, or at least it seems that way from my armchair, right? The best option, I think, at least until Mortars are added, is to make artillery an area of effect ability available to Squad Leaders.

Not Commanders, Squad Leaders.

There are a few reasons for this. First of all, Commanders already have a lot on their plate. It’s probably the one role where you can’t just hit tab and mute every chatty cathy in the command chat, because you actually need to hear those guys to play your role well. What a nightmare.

Secondly, Squad Leading is a pretty thankless task as it is. You have to put down OPs, you get to spot tanks but you can’t do anything about them, you have to herd the cats that make up your squad — and you have to listen to Command chat for at least as long as it takes to mute them all.

Worse, if you’re levelling up Squad Leader, you’re not levelling up any other role. You’re pumping more XP into a role you play out of obligation, because someone has to do it or else you can’t spawn at all. And Hell Let Loose’s progression system is one of the worst to ever exist, so it feels like a big old waste of time at the post-match rewards screen.

You know it’s bad if you finish a round and you beg your squad mates to not give you Commendations because it’s a waste of the 10% XP bonus.

But if Squad Leaders could use their Binoculars to call in Artillery, I think it would revolutionise the role. First of all, more Squad Leaders would realise they have binoculars.

It would make playing Squad Leader exciting. You’d have the opportunity to create the big bada booms, instead of largely just being a mobile spawn point placer and smoke thrower. People would want to be Squad Leader all of a sudden.

By tying it to the binoculars, you’d create an element of risk that simply doesn’t exist with Artillery’s current implementation. Players would be able to manage around Artillery by targeting and shooting the guy with binoculars — by sniping the Officer. How’s that for realism? Hell Let Loose is a game about risk and reward — this change would make the concept more consistent.

To balance it, you’d need to create some other resource sinks. Because it would be marginally easier to click on something with binoculars than it would be to click a map on one of the many Artillery Calculator websites, there’s a risk of Arty fire becoming even worse with this method.

But what if you needed supplies to call in Arty? At the very least you wouldn’t have one-man squads running around raining death all game. Consider a cost of 10 supplies and 10 munitions for one shell of Arty on target. That means a support player could supply his squad leader with the resources for five shots on a target every five minutes. If you had an Engineer nearby and you practised a little forethought as a squad, you could pop up a Manpower node to double your supplies output (and help your team).

This would have a monumental impact on the logistical portion of the game. A critical part of a robust point defence already involves watching the skies and diligently dismantling supply drops from the enemy — it would be so much more important if those supplies weren’t only for a deep garry, but could be used for shelling the point.

Recon Squads would be freed to do what they do best — harassment in the backfield, disrupting logistics and not running for 20 minutes to shoot three dudes who are alt-tabbed on a calculator website and then dying of boredom.

There’s no doubt there’s some part of this equation I’ve missed. It would make entrenched positions even harder to attack, because if you can’t destroy a garry on point, you’re certainly not going to stop them from airdropping extra supplies to defenders. Of course the upside there would be more people actually playing fucking defence, but still — I can see it being a concern.

And of course implementation itself is not as easy as saying “hey wouldn’t it be cool if”.

But I love Hell Let Loose. It was my Game of the Year last year. And I don’t want to burnout on it because the one thing I think it does explicitly badly has eventually worn me down with its shittiness. Something has to be done about Arty. And now is the time to do it.

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