What is to become of capital ships?
Dominion sovereignty is a beast that requires millions of hit points per structure be ground out in order to take control or systems and stations from your enemies. This put upwards pressure on fleet size and ship size in order to maximize time efficiency that, when combined with a maturing demographic with more skill points and ISK to utilize as well as the realization that a super cap blob is in effective immune to being defeated by anything else except another super cab blob, pushed null sec alliances to create large standing fleets of capital and super capital assets in order to be competitive in null sec warfare. In contrast to the downward pressures we've seen in many changes to ship balance over the past couple years, this upward pressure had not been addressed up until the Phoebe changes came into effect last fall which severely limited the tactical and strategic power of capital ship fleet movements.
And now the Fozzie Sov changes proposed for this summer will remove a major motivation for having these fleets as sovereignty warfare will no longer require grinding millions of hitpoints, thus the only remaining upward pressure will be their opponents capital fleets, and like a table with two legs removed (strategic/tactical flexibility and maximization of firepower required) the upward pressure will wobble and eventually topple. If your opponent never needs a capital fleet to attack your sov, why would you expend resources to maintain your own capital fleet?
So back to the opening question, what is to become of capital ships?
CCP Fozzie and others have stated many times that capital ships severely need a turn through the rebalancing machine to turn the classes into something that is more properly integrated into the overall EVE ship meta. But what exactly does that mean? What role should capital ships have?
Note: I'm only talking about the four combat capital ships: Carrier, Dreadnought, Super Carrier, and Titan. The industrial capital ships (Rorqual, Orca, Freighters, Jump Frieghters, and Bowhead) are outside the purview of this discussion and have little effect on it regardless.
Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock
In any game your ultimate goal is to have a circular balance between choices: choice A is superior to choice B, and choice B is superior than choice C, but choice C has some advantages over choice A. We see this in classic games such as chess and Stratego where there is a distinct hierarchy in power of the pieces but the weakest piece has power to rival the most powerful in certain scenarios (e.g. pawn promotes to Queen, Spy kills Marshal).
We also see this balance in modern computer games like World of Tanks where the five classes of tanks all have advantages and disadvantages when compared to each other:
- Light tanks are most mobile but weakest guns and armour
- Heavy tanks have big armour and guns but slow
- Medium tanks blend mobility with guns and armour but have less mobility than light tanks and less firepower/armour than heavy tanks
- Artillery has big guns with long range but super slow and no armour
- Tank Destroyers have big guns but lower armour and mobility
In order to be successful in World of Tanks all five classes need to work together in a coordination fashion, leveraging the strengths of the other classes and covering their weaknesses.
The current 'balance' such as it is in EVE for capitals seems more to be the latter with carriers at the bottom and Titans at the top (but no spy to bring down the marshal). Of course, its not as simple as that so let's take a closer look at the classes before we propose any radical changes.
Carriers - Eventually almost every long term player owns a carrier. At one time it was the most efficient and practical solution to moving your stuff and other people's crap from point A to point B. It probably still is even with the Phoebe changes to jump range and the addition of jump fatigue because nothing compares to 1 million meters cube of assembled ship carrying capability, 40,000 meters cubed hanger for stuff, ability to jump, AND can dock at stations.
But not only are carriers great at moving stuff logistics, they also have considerable combat capability. They are one of only two ship classes that can use Fighters which can chew up battleships, and they are the pinnacle of space healing Logistics as they can use capital sized versions of the repair and cap transfer modules AND have the ability to go into triage mode which makes them even better at the role with super lock speed and longer ranged and more powerful reps.
Carriers are simply the Swiss Army knife of capitals.
Dreadnoughts - On the other hand, you have the counterpart to carriers which has two modes: damage dealer extraordinaire, or it can go into siege mode and be the "MORE DEEPS" damage dealer extraordinaire but with the risk of being immobile for five minutes.
Dreadnoughts are the hit-man of EVE when you have a target with lots of hitpoints. When battleships are not doing the job fast enough, you call in some dreads and they go siege green for a cycle or two and usually that's enough to take out almost any target not receiving active reps. It has to be a very specific type of target too, i.e. on that is not moving hardly at all because those capital guns do not have tracking or explosion speeds worth talking about.
Unlike carriers, Dreadnoughts do not do anything else.
Super Carriers - They are just like carriers except bigger, right? WRONG! They share some similar characteristics such as the bonus to logistics modules range, a large ship hanger for moving assembled ships, a large fleet hanger for moving other stuff, ability to use fighters, and all on a larger scale than the ubiquitous carrier, but it comes with a few other traits that turns it into another class entirely.
For one thing, no triage module so the effectiveness of its space healing is a fraction of what the carrier can accomplish. Secondly, it cannot dock so the ease of use of its carrying capacity is severely downgraded compared to the smaller carriers. Third, instead of fighters the super carrier class usually has Fighter Bombers which are better suited to striking large immobile or super slow moving targets for tonnes of damage whereas fighters are more capable against smaller targets. Finally, super carriers represent a massive investment of capital, more than 15 times that of a single carrier, so their use has to be carefully managed or one slip up and its gone as every hostile in thirty systems will come shoot you if you get caught to get on the killmail.
What this means is that super carriers tend to be used for the specific role similar to dreadnoughts where they jump in, use their fighter bombers to assassinate a large slow or immobile target, and then jump out.
Titans - This ship class suffers from a dual personality. On one hand, it has a capital-ship-only doomsday weapon and a fierce array of capital sized weaponry (for example, the Ragnarok can fit 6 turrets and has a 125% bonus to Capital Projectile Turret Damage per level of Minmatar Titan skill). But on the other hand, its more often used for its ability to fit a Jump Portal and sling fleets to destinations light years away on unsuspected (or suspecting as the case may be) targets, not to mention its warfare linking bonus which is less often used but still is a support role mechanic as long as off grid boosting is a thing.
To add a little to the confusion is that Titan's sport huge ship maintenance arrays (5 million m3), large fleet hangers (100,000 m3), and clone vat bays which seems to imply that its to be used in a logistical manner for moving war materiel from deployment to deployment.
So is the Titan a front line combat vessel, or a support vessel?
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So that is the current state of capitals and the reduced role they face in light of sovereignty requiring no structure grinding on any scale. Next post I'll discuss my ideas for revamping combat capitals into a more holistic design that will fit into the new realities going forward.