Here we go again... Disclaimer: This is all just my opinion. Take it as you will, a guide, a gospel, a potato, but this is purely subjective.
Now I have completed almost every cruiser line other than the French cruiser tech tree. Having cut my teeth grinding through the lines, I feel it safe to say I've earned my stripes. Most people gravitate towards cruisers because they are more versatile and have significantly higher damage output compared to battleships. (Especially at high tiers) Though I myself started off on the IJN cruiser line because waifus.
For those who stand undecided on which line to start with, here is a basic description of each line with a brief guide on what playstyles they bring to the table. (Keep in mind the date this thread was created) I will not be going over the exact specifics of each and every value and statistic for every cruiser because that would detract from my point of how these ships feel to play and also make this thread way too long. I may touch on premiums, but not all of them.
And now, we begin with the pre-split US Cruiser Line:
USN Cruisers are in a bit of a spot right now. They're supposedly getting changed soon, but no one knows exactly when. Could be the next update, could be later. This section will be edited after the line splits and I've had enough time to go through the ships.
Guns and Layout:
At the start, American cruisers sport the pre-war gun layout, or as I like to call it, the 'GUNS FACING EVERYWHERE' layout. This design style prevails up to tier 6 with Cleveland where the guns switch to a more conventional configuration of two front, two back (AB-XY). At tier 8, the ships lose a rear turret, swapping out for gradually increasing fire rate all the way up to tier 10 with Des Moines' 5.5 second reload guns. Gun-wise, the ships sport the classic American type shells. Decent high explosive shells with good damage but somewhat mediocre fire chance and Armour-Piercing shells that travel high and slow, but have very good penetration, enough to penetrate battleships in some cases. (Usually aiming at the ship's upper belt will grant the most damage in penetrations) The high arcs and long travel times can frustrate at longer ranges, but allow you to throw shells over islands most cruiser shells would simply slam into. Not to mention, the shell dispersion is decently tight, allowing you to actually hit where you aim.
Armour and Speed:
American ships have very mediocre armour and speed. Nothing really stands out as good, let alone great. Battleships will be able to penetrate you even when angled sometimes and you will have a hard time dodging shells especially when under concentrated fire because of your lacklustre speed and maneuverability. Some special cases like Pensacola have Deja-Vu levels of rudder shift with the right upgrades, allowing them to dodge decently well. As such, US cruisers require you either hug islands or sit at long range and lob shells at the enemy. Either way, you can’t tank many shells, and you will need to be very patient in your playing
Past tier 8, American cruisers are one of the three tech tree lines that get that most sacred of consumables: Radar. (The other two being the Russian line and the Royal Navy Line) This allows one to instantly spot any enemies within their radar range regardless of smoke or any islands in between you and them. Radar range for US cruisers maxes out at 9.9km (starting at 8.9km with New Orleans) and lasts between 30 to 45 seconds, depending on the tier. (With the notable exception of Atlanta with an 8.7km range) With the radar upgrade, Des Moines can increase her radar duration to a whopping 56 seconds. (That’s a whole minute of middle fingers to destroyers)
American cruisers also sport the second most powerful anti-air suites tier for tier. With the right upgrades and captain skills, you can make Carriers weep as you swat their flies out of the sky.
(TL: DR) American cruisers rely heavily on their guns and their captains. Skill in navigating islands, managing consumables, angling and kiting and supporting your team are just as important as being able to hit targets with your heavy freedom guns. The line is a bit of a grind as it is, but that may not be for much longer.
Highlights: Cleveland (A tier 8 at tier 6), Atlanta (If the P90 were a ship), Des Moines (11 salvos per minute of heavy American steel is no joke)
Lowlights: Omaha (To tier 7s, you are merely free citadel ribbons), New Orleans (This thing is painful to use sometimes)
Next on the list, the Imperial weeb Japanese Navy Cruisers:
Guns and Layout:
The IJN cruisers have somewhat more sensible gun layouts right from the start. From tier 3, the gun layouts generally stick to the ‘all along the middle of the ship’ type of layout. At tier 5, the Furutaka mixes things up by being the first cruiser to mount 20.3cm guns, able to cit-pen every other cruiser in her tier bow on with her AP. As tier increases, the number of guns and volume of fire increases as well. A notable exception to this trend is the tier 8 Mogami which comes with 15 15.5cm guns as stock, with her 10 20.3 layouts available as a researchable module. IJN cruisers have the best cruiser HE alpha in the game. Their opening salvos can deal a heavy initial strike, should your aim be true. IJN ships also get better fire chance per shell, allowing them to deal additional damage by fires. AP, however, is still effective, especially against broadside enemy cruisers. The trade-off here is that the ships’ turrets turn very slowly (almost painfully so), and the guns have lower fire rates compared to their counterparts.
Another thing to add is that IJN cruisers get very good team killers torpedoes. With ranges up to 10km and raw damage up to 20k, these metal fish are more than capable of killing a battleship in a single salvo. The catch is that to fire these, one has to angle themselves perpendicular to their target, exposing their juicy broadside and citadel. This means that your torps should only be used when the enemy is distracted, or when you are undetected. Keep in mind that your torpedoes can also damage your teammates. So make sure your line of fire is clear.
Armour and Speed:
The Japanese were the original creators of the concept of ‘troll armour’. IJN cruisers have an uncanny ability to dodge enemy fire with their small turning circles and fast rudder shift. Additionally, at medium to close ranges, the unique armour layout means that shells can simply over-penetrate or just bounce off, dealing little or no damage. Keep in mind though, you still are a cruiser with squishy armour. You cannot tank shells for an extended period unless you wish to be sent straight back to port barely five minutes into a game. Coupled with slow firing, slow turning guns, the IJN ships are the worst ships to use in close range duelling. Kiting and keeping the enemy at range is a better option. With your high shell speeds, you can hit them, while your speed, fast shifting rudder and comparatively small turning radius allow you to get away should you need to.
The IJN’s focus is its torpedoes. However, one can make a case for the secondary gimmick being their universally high HE alpha. Couple that with their great shell velocities (Just behind the Russian cruisers) and you have a ship that can knock out destroyers surprisingly well. Your comparatively small detection range also helps, allowing you to get closer than most other ships.
(TL: DR) IJN cruisers are the flip-side of the USN line. Slow firing, fast turning and speedy. They perform surprisingly well as ‘dive bombers’, Running in with their high speed, dealing damage, then running back out while dodging incoming fire. For all your troll armour, you can’t take hits for an extended period of time.
Highlights: Furutaka (You have big guns, the biggest gun of all cruisers in your tier), Atago (First T8 with heal)
Lowlights: Aoba (Wot is this. You can’t fire forward?!), Ibuki (Basically just a Mogami with a heal)
And now, on to the German Kriegsmarine cruiser line:
Guns and Layout:
Germans are very sensible in their gun layout. Their ships get penetrated easily? Have the guns on the back so you can fire while running away. Is the ship better armoured? Have them in AB-XY. Turrets turn quite well, faster than Japanese cruisers at least. Their guns come with built-in IFHE, meaning better penetration but worse fire chance. AP is the same classic German AP. Fat, heavy, able to devastate enemy broadsides. It does have worse penetration compared to the freedom American type but is still very effective. The rate of fire is decent and can be improved with adrenaline rush. And arcs are quite flat, but once again not the best. Overall, the guns are very much a jack-of-all-trades. Good at everything, but not particularly great.
German cruisers do get torpedoes, but they can only swim as far as 6km. As such, they are really only effective in a close-range knife fight, or when rushing an unaware enemy. (But the amount of satisfaction you get when you uppercut enemies with those. #feelsgoodman)
Armour and Speed:
Up to tier 6, German cruisers have almost non-existent armour. The Nurnberg at tier 6 is famously known as the floating citadel. Do NOT show even a hint of broadside in a fight, especially against enemy battleships. Fortunately, your handling is serviceable, enough to get you by and help you dodge shells with relative ease. Past tier 7, you do get more armour in exchange for slightly decreased speed and slightly more sluggish handling. The upshot is that you can actually angle yourself to fire all your guns at the enemy.
German cruisers get cruiser turtleback. It does its job, but only semi-reliably. Exposing full side will still send you on a fast track right back to port. German Hydroacoustic is as good as always, allowing you to detect torpedoes and enemy ships at close range with ease. (It’s almost like having a short-range radar)
The armoured turtleback is good for close range duelling. Couple that with the close range forward firing torpedoes, and you already know where this is going. CLOSE RANGE DUELING. GARRRRRR.
(TL: DR) German ships are good in medium to close range. They are better at tanking, but will still melt under concentrated fire. If you have a chance to shine, get in close and you can shred any enemy that stands in your way.
Highlights: Konigsberg (360 guns!), Hindenburg (The CQB king. Minotaur mains fight me.)
Lowlights: Nurnberg (Eats citadels so much), (Pre Buff) Hipper & Prinz Eugen (Not bad, just underwhelming)
On to the next. The Russian Navy cruisers:
Guns and Layout:
After tier 4, Russian cruisers have the conventional gun layout throughout their whole progression line. The turrets have decent turn rates and good range tier for tier. Their gun calibre at the middle tiers are comparatively small, but the fire rate and shell speeds are higher to compensate. As such, the obvious purpose of these guns is to shred less armoured ships. (ie. Lolibotes Destroyers)
Up to tier 9, Russian cruisers get torpedoes, but they only reach an abysmal 3km. (A usable 9km in the tier 9 Donskoi but that one is an exception) This means you have to get suicidally close to use them.
Armour and Speed:
Russian cruisers are fast. But because of that they do tend to turn a little slower. On top of that, Russian cruisers are lightly armoured up to tier 10. This means you can’t tank. Seriously. Do NOT, and I mean do NOT try to tank. (Unless you’re in a Moskva with overpowered bow tanking)
Russians get a longer ranged variant of radar that lasts for a shorter period of time. Their radar reaches out to 11.7km, which puts you safely out of most destroyer torpedo ranges. The radar duration is only 20 seconds but that can be just enough to tear a helpless destroyer to shreds. At tier 10, the Moskva also gets arguably the most powerful cruiser guns in the game. Fast reloads (Not as fast as Des Moines though), long range, great AP and HE. (Russian Bias much?)
(TL: DR) Russian cruisers are paper as all hell. They have to stay at range, but they don’t really need to get in close. They are the most comfortable at long range where dodging shells from enemies are much easier. At the same time, their high-velocity railguns can strike any target even at maximum range. (Unless you’re a Stormtrooper)
Highlights: Dimitri Donskoi (People rag on about it, but it was pretty good, even at tier 9), Moskva (Glorious guns when used properly)
Lowlights: Shchors (Just way too awkward at t7)
Rolling up in the penultimate spot, the Royal Navy cruisers:
Guns and Layout:
RN cruisers all run 152mm guns. The gun volume and rate of fire increases drastically as tier increases. The layout is AB-XY all the way from tier 6 to tier 9, with the tier 10 Minotaur running ABC-XY with twin turrets. (An AP only Atlanta at T10 almost. We’ll have to wait for Worcester to see how that fares) Shell arcs are high, and the shells do very little damage at range anyway. These guns are very much suited for close range engagements against enemy destroyers and cruisers. Turret rotation is fair, not fast but not slow either.
RN CLs have torpedoes as well. In fact, the tier 10 Minotaur is the only cruiser capable of stealth firing torpedoes. Per torp damage is not great, but being able to fire eight torpedoes into a single spot on a target is nothing to sneeze at.
Armour and Speed:
These ships are called RN CLs for a reason. They are light cruisers. Armour is not really their thing. If you expose your broadside even a little, you will absolutely eat citadel hits. Unfortunately, the rudder shifts are a little slow so you will have to be careful when turning. Ideally, you will be engaging only enemy destroyers. However, game balance dictates you will also have to fight enemy battleships and cruisers. When you have to do that, keep yourself behind an island or at range, or smoked. (Or all of the above.)
RN cruisers get the smoke generator and repair party consumable from tier 3 up to tier 10. This gives them better survivability in combat (Which helps when your armour is paper). Additionally, from tier 8 and up, RN cruisers can equip the radar consumable. This makes RN cruisers the ultimate destroyer killers from tier 7 onward.
(TL: DR) Royal Navy cruisers cannot survive out in the open. They have to rely on navigation, islands and their consumables to keep them alive. If you need to engage face to face, stay angled and shred their citadels.
Highlights: Belfast (There’s a reason why this is no longer available, Edinburg (Pronounced Ed-in-bruh. Radar Edinburg is surprisingly effective), Minotaur (Also known as the shredder)
Lowlights: Low tier cruisers (Not being able to fire HE in low tiers is actually painful)
And finally, the French:
Guns and Layout:
Most of the French cruiser line has either the AB-X configuration or the AB-XY layout. Their guns do decent damage and reload quite quickly, but the shells feel very draggy and slow. Both AP and HE have that problem. Despite their faults, the shells do do quite a considerable amount of damage. And the HE fire chance is not bad either. One just has to get behind the slightly slow shell travel time to do well.
Torpedoes on French cruisers are not bad, but the ships only have only one launcher on either side. This means one has to aim very well (or have a straight-lining target) to get any hits.
Armour and Speed:
French armour is weird. It takes damage so often, but also somehow manages to randomly eat critical damage when shot from the side. This is because of the unique layout of French cruiser armour. And I can’t explain it either. In close range, it really is up to RNG. At longer ranges, your speed and maneuverability can get you out of any situation you get into. The problem is, at this range, your guns’ effectiveness becomes a little problematic.
The French gimmick is once again SPEED. Apparently the French love going fast. But really, that’s about it for French cruisers. All they have is that speed. And their guns.
(TL: DR) Run fast, shoot at targets, be a bit selfish. You are basically the IJN line but with even less teamwork involved. Also, make sure you don’t get hit. Because you really don’t want to play the ‘do you feel lucky’ game.
Highlights: None yet
Lowlights: La Galissonnière (Bloody glass cannon)
In summary: (For those who got impatient and skipped here)
There is no Noob friendly cruiser line. All of them will punish you for making the slightest of mistakes.
The American Line is great for the reward at the end (But this line is getting changed)
The Japanese line is for those who like setting fires on helpless battleships
The German line is for REAL FOKKIN' MEN
The Russian line is for those who like to snipe
The British line is for those who enjoy a bit of a close-range tussle
The French line is for cowardly bastards damage farmers
I hope my opinions have helped those who are as yet, undecided. And for those who have already been there and done that, I hope this was at least a good read. I may do the DDs when I get more time on them. Until then, Fair winds.