Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Swimming in a Shark Tank

Last week in the post Downward Pressure I talked about the mechanic and balance changes over the years that morphed the meta of low sec PvP from battleship-battlecruiser dominant to cruiser-frigate dominant. Now I want to discuss what roles the larger ships fill in the low sec arena and if they can be expanded upon or added to without reverting to the large-ship-only environment of past years.

Battlecruisers

Let's start with battlecruisers as they are less of a departure from cruisers in terms of capabilities and price.

Right now battlecruisers have roles in low sec. The Attack Battlecruisers, nee Tier 3 Battlecruisers or as I used to like to call them, pocket battleships, are the go to ship for anything that requires high damage like attacking structures (POS, POCO, IHub) or piling on a capital kill. The other Combat Battlecruisers are pretty rare to be seen in space doing anything as they don't provide enough value for their ISK over a small and more nimble cruiser except the possibility of fielding command links. Unfortunately for them, Tech 3 Strategic Cruisers configured with a Warfare command subsystem, and to a lesser extent Command Ships, already cover the linking platform with far more capabilities.

However, one reason why linking is left to these more expensive ships is that links are system wide so the linking ship is rarely facing very much risk as it merely needs to be in space in a safe locaiton. Yes, they can be probed down but if they remain cloak until an engagement is about to begin and cloak up soon after, the window of opportunity is small and most enemies will rather work around the links than give up a pilot to try and probe down the linker during a fight. Furthermore, the probing mechanics allow for ships to make themselves harder to probe down by boosting their own sensor strength (which still makes absolutely no sense to me, BTW). But if linking was limited to on-grid only, the boosting ships would be at far more risk and much easier for an enemy fleet to target and try to take out. That might make command ships and combat battlecruisers more attractive, the former for their cheaper-than-tech-3 price tag and better combat performance and the latter for their even-cheaper price tag.

And the end of the day, battlecruisers are not too far off from where I think they should be and its possible that over time without any mechanic changes that the meta will evolve to include them more frequently again.

Battleships

Battleships, on the other hand...

The base hull cost for a Vexor is about 10 million ISK, for a Myrmidon it is about 48 to 50 million. About 5 times increase in base hull cost. To go to a Dominix batteship you need about 180 million or more which is about 18 times the cost of the cruiser. Its a big jump in cost for a far less jump in capabilities and downgrade in terms of mobility.

Let's be clear: battleships are not dead in EVE as a whole. They are still the dominant platform for PvE activities in high sec and probably still see use in PvE in null sec and wormholes. They still see use in null sec fleet doctrines and in wormhole space small fleet combat. But in low sec they are virtually unheard of. The reasons are different for the different areas of space: high sec you are not worried about getting caught by a faster ship while travelling, wormhole space combat tends to take place very close to your home system so there is less risky travel and fewer enemy targets (in general) to worry about, and in null sec frequent titan bridging and established jump bridge networks reduce the downside of travelling in a battleship so its easier to make use of its advantages.

But in low sec? The violent and uncontrolled nature of the area coupled with medium length travel routes laden with bottlenecks and opposing forces means that the slow and attractive target that is a battleship is like swimming in a shark tank with several bleeding cuts on you.

That's not to say there is no role for a battleship in low sec. Station games where you depend on a massive tank to keep you alive while an aggression timer runs down is one example. Specialized ships like the neutralizing Armageddon or the 90% webs of the Serpentis Vindicator have uses as long as they have proper support. However, its exceedingly rare to see a battleship in a typical session roaming low sec.

So what can be done?

CCP has already recognized some of the issue with battleships and hence the development and introduction of Micro Jump Drives which attempt to give battleships some unique mobility not available to other classes of ships (although it is now through the new deployable structure but that's a different topic). The new module allows the Battleship to make a straight line 100 kilometers immediate jump after a 9-12 second warm up period (depending on skills). This is not stopped by warp disruptors or warp bubbles in null sec/ wormhole space, but is stopped by warp scramblers. While this is cool functionality, it has more use in null sec and wormholes where bubbles are a factor while in low sec the extra maneuverability does not outweigh the downsides of slow movement and being a big target, especially with so many fast locking ships in small gangs packing warp scramblers.

Another advantage of battleships is the average drone bay size of the class is larger than cruisers. This allows all battleships (except the Rokh, ccp, get on it) to have at minimum a full flight of lights and a full flight of mediums allowing them to punch down as it were at smaller targets. So in theory, a group of battleships should be able to fight off a group of frigates or cruisers, right? Well, remember that for most battleships those drones are unbonused so do less damage, for example, with a flight of Hobgoblin IIs than a Tristan would. And remember what I said about Frigate Logistics and improved cruiser Logistics last post? They ensure that small hull fleets can punch up more easily than drones allows large hulls to punch down, and the cost differential pretty much ensures that every battleship will be possibly facing a horde of opposing smaller ships.

In the past, battleships have been excellent at remote repair gangs with their large buffers and ability to fit large remote repairers in the high utility slots. This meta has fallen off as the downward pressure has been applied and cruiser fleets with tech 1 logistics have proven just as or more effective for a lower barrier to entry and price point.

Not sounding very hopeful, eh?

I think the Micro Jump Drive concept has the right idea. Battleships need more abilities that other classes can't perform. Black Ops battleships and Mauraders are perfect examples of specialization in battleships that gives them more of a niche to operate in that is not crowded out by other classes of ships.

Next in this series of posts I'll bat around some ideas of special modules / abilities that would increase the use of battleships in the low sec meta without unbalancing the class in regards to the rest of the game entirely.

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