I love speculating and ruminating about game mechanics, and attempting to design new ones to overcome perceived problems. My idle speculations in my blog and podcast about a sub cap ship capable of threatening super capital ships has generated some interest and comments and disagreements in the Echo Chamber so I thought I would take a post to flesh out my idea.
A super capital fleet in any normal reasonable situation cannot be countered by anything except another super capital fleet. This is mainly the cause of supercarriers and is due to huge effective hitpoint tanks, tactical flexibility due to jump drive, powerful DPS at all scales of combat due to drone capability, and special immunity to normal electronic warfare.
Possible Solution #1 - Enter Nerf Bat
A general nerfing of the supercarrier is required, including some combination of:
- lower hit points
- limits on fighter bomber targets
- less dps
- fewer non-fighter drones
- lower jump range
- less special ability
- make it harder to make hotdrops
The balance point of finding how much nerf to apply while still allowing the ships to be useful and worth the 15-20 billion ISK price tag can be tricky. If you don't nerf them enough the same problems will exist (i.e. not afraid of a sub-cap fleet) while if you nerf them too much you have the situation with motherships where they are never used anymore, alienating a portion of your dedicated playerbase that has trained for them.
Yes a nerf is needed, but I think alone it will not suffice unless you nerf the ship back to uselessness.
Possible Solution #2 - SUPER Doomsday!
It was proposed that increasing the doomsday weapon of Titans to make them capable of quickly eliminating supercarriers would be good counter. Sort of a collar on supercarriers being deployed willy-nilly with no fear of death.
This does not address the problem of sub-cap fleets being able to have some method to counter a supercap fleet. This simply reinforces the problem that the only counter to a supercap fleet is another supercap fleet. It may make Titans more frontline worthy, but they don't exactly need a boost IMHO.
Right now Titans feel about right, and I would be reluctant to change them for fear of the ripples.
Possible Solution #3 - Deathstrike Missile
Ever play Stratego?
The pieces are divided into levels and when two pieces clash, the higher level always wins (ties kill both). At the top level we have generals who are able to defeat everyone else except another general that they attack, but at the lowest level there is the spy. If a general attacks a spy, the spy dies but if the spy attacks the general, WHOOPS! There goes the enemy's most powerful piece.
So now we get to my proposal.
Here's the idea: stealth bombers are only effective in relatively few situations and only when flown by a skilled group of pilots. A single stealth bomber against a lone battleship is no contest and usually ends up in a dead bomber; however a fleet of stealth bombers properly flown can decimate a battleship fleet. Flown poorly and the bombers are still toast.
So let's take that dynamic and recreate it at a different scale. Let's say we have Tech II versions of the Tier III battleships (Rokh, Hyperion, Maelstrom, Abaddon) that could only fit a single weapon, call it the Deathstrike bomb launcher. These ships would cost in the 800 mil range, have Tech II resistances and bonuses to tanking but would lack any weapon hardpoints except for one launcher point for the bomb launcher. No cloaking bonus.
The Deathstrike bomb launcher would operate just like the current bomb launcher but can only fit Deathstrike bombs. These bombs are huge, 1000 m3 each, and only one fits in a launcher at a time. These bombs would be fired just like normal bombs: 10 second flight time at 1500 meters per second, straight line ahead (i.e. not targeted), explode. The difference would be that they have a 500 meter explosion radius(instead of 10,000 m) and do not do normal damage. Instead they do damage to shields, armour, and structure all at once equal to 20% of the capacity of shields, armour, and structure, ignoring resistances.
Why the new damage mechanic? Well, simply doing straight up damage would make them useful for any purpose like structure shooting or destroying normal carriers and battleships straight up. By making it proportional to the targets overall hitpoints it means that any fully repaired ship would require 5 hits to kill it, regardless of hull size.
In order to make pilots reserve these weapons for only the most high value targets, the bombs are about 250 mil worth of minerals each.
Consider the implications: here is a weapon that can destroy any ship with only 5-6 hits but is delivered at close range from a non cloaking ship that has to be perfectly aligned and at the right range. The explosion radius is so small that hitting anything but the largest targets or immobile ones is impractical and its cost is not worth using against anything but the largest targets anyways. The bomb size means the ship can't carry any reloads and has to be resupplied from a station, hauler, carrier, etc meaning that they can't easily wipe out fleets.
But a well coordinated small group of pilots in these ships, say 15 of them, could deliver a credible threat (albeit with considerable risk) to a small fleet (5-10) of supercaps that currently is not possible in the game. Combined with a decent regular sub cap fleet, and I think you have a decent balance.
On the defence side of the equation, protecting supercaps from these enemy ships would require a subcap fleet for support, providing a picket to prevent these deathstrike ships from getting into the right position for an attack run. Right now, a sizable supercap fleet has no overriding need for a support fleet.
There is a large potential to either create a ship/weapon too hard to use or too expensive to use, thus wasting development resources. There are potential balance issues if the weapon is too useful against structures and stations. There would probably be a limit against using it in low sec like normal bombs so supercaps would continue to be overpowered in that sphere.
I want there to be a rock-paper-scissors scenario in the sub-cap, capital, supercapital dynamic. I feel that adding a fleet element to sub-cap fleets capable of providing a credible threat to supercaps in skilled hands while still being a risk might go towards introducing that balance.
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I'm sure CCP is working on a nerf for supercarriers. Its the easiest of the three approaches to implement and has a decent chance of success, or at least of negating some of the overpowering effects of supercap fleets. But I feel there is room in the game for a sub-capital ship whose role is supercapital killer. Time will tell.