Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Assault Frigates - Squeezed Out of the Meta

The main problem with Assault Frigates is nothing to do with the ship class itself directly, but more a problem with the overall meta and realities of EVE Online.

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How many things can you do in a ship? Off the back of my hand, you can:
- do damage
- tank damage
- heal damage
- do electronic warfare
- tackle
- scout
- hack
- transport stuff
- mine
- probe

Lots of stuff right? Most of those roles have a cheaper tech I version and a more specialized tech II version. But the first two, causing and absorbing damage, tend to be extra overloaded, even if we break the "causing damage" into two for short range and long range damage, and another 3 for small/medium/large ship sizes.

Take for example the Gallente line of ships:

Small short ranged damage: Incursus, Comet, Catalyst, Enyo
Small long ranged damage: Tristan, Algos, Ishkur, Hecate

Medium short ranged damage: Thorax, Deimos, Phobos, Brutix, Proteus
Medium long ranged damage: Vexor, Vexor Navy Issue, Ishtar, Myrmidon

Large short ranged damage: Megathron, Hyperion, Megathron Navy Issue, Kronos
Large long ranged damage: Dominix

I've taken some liberties classifying the ships as obviously the role of ships is largely determined by how they are fit and many of the ships can fit in both roles. And I'm ignoring specialized ships that cause damage as well as performing another role like Command Bursts or Interdiction.

Overall there is a decent balance between cost of a ship, its damage potential, its tanking potential, and its flexibility. For example, the decision of taking a Tristan frigate or an Algos destroyer is based on whether you want a cheaper ship with more speed or a more expensive ship with more damage and tank.

So here's the problem with Assault Frigates. They are supposed to help straddle the divide between Tech I frigates and Tech I cruisers by providing more damage and tank than frigates while still being faster and more mobile than cruisers, but the advantages of being smaller and more mobile are outweighed by the fact that cruisers are 50% to 66% cheaper than assault frigates while having better damage and tank (most of the time). In other words, they are not worth the ISK for the upgrade over Tech I frigates compared to cruisers. Meanwhile Tech I destroyers offer damage and tank upgrades over frigates for a modest price increase, and Tactical Destroyers offer a huge boost in damage and tank and capabilities that is worth the large price tag vis a vis cruisers.

Do Heavy Assault Cruisers suffer from the same issue? After all, they are positioned to be the stepping stone from Tech I cruisers to Tech I battleships, and are in competition with Tech I battlecruisers and Strategic Cruisers. To a large part, yes, HACs suffer from the same squeeze but get a little relief from the price of battleships only being ~25-35% cheaper than the Tech II cruisers, as well as having enough module slots to make up for some of the shortcomings.

Also, while both assault classes have a bonus to reduce micro warp drive signature bloom by 50%, giving them some unique advantages over their competitors, the advantage for frigate classed ships is not very noticeable while the cruiser class in certain situations and fits can boast a decent gain.

The end result is that Assault Frigates are at the bottom end of the usage profile for ships in EVE. How do we address that?

CCP has three options:

1 - Leave them Alone

There is nothing that says that Assault Frigates have to be worth it in the game at all. CCP could leave them alone and concentrate on balancing the existing ship classes that do see frequent or moderate use. The downside is that it would leave a decent concept languishing and CCP still needs to update them for art assets and code changes regardless, unless they choose to simply remove them.

2 - Lower the Build Cost

If Assault Frigates were closer to the cost of Tech I cruisers they would be able to compete with them more. It would be a trade off in damage and survivability of the cruisers for more speed and agility and smaller signature of the assault frigates without adding in the huge extra cost.

3 - Increase their Stats

Another option instead of lowering the cost is to make the cost more worth it by simply making them deal more damage and/or have even more tank. This approach is the least appealing because if you increase the abilities of the assault frigates to make them worth the 25 million ISK, you run the risk of obsoleting Tech I cruisers completely if they can't compete at all with the upgraded ships, and even making them obviously preferable over destroyers and Tactical Destroyers.

4 - Give me a Unique Ability

I mean beyond the current unique ability that reduces MWD sig bloom by 50%, which as I discussed has less value for a small sig ship compared to a larger cruiser. The trick here is finding an ability or set of abilities that makes the ship class have a unique role or niche without butting into the role of an existing class. For example, longer range on warp disruptors/scramblers or some immunity to stasis webifiers and they start to look better than interceptors. Another idea bandied about was having their MWDs immune to being shut off by warp scramblers but that runs the risk of making them near impossible to catch without a specialized counter webbing ship.

Whatever CCP decides to do (if anything) they will have to be careful in the packed meta that assault frigates live in not to push something else out in the shuffle.


  1. There are a couple of niches.

    Vengeances are seeing some use in the AT. It's very useful to put a low point ship in as tackle/screening and Vengeances and Punishers do a very fine job. A good Vengeance pilot holding down a ship that needs to move somewhere else, (often a battleship), can clinch a match.

    The other niche is in small FW plexes. There's not much that can take a Hawk in a small plex. (AB Web Scram, follow Suitonia's Kestrel tactics from Eve is Easy).

    Missing the podcast, remember us to your partners on Broadcasts from the Ninveah.

  2. What is the agility or warp speed of an Assault Ship compared to a cruiser? What about signature radius? Raw, AB and MWD speed? How about sig radius while MWD active? Lock times?

    One of the problems with spreadsheet analysis is that spreadsheet cells don't move, and only incorporate the numbers you wanted.

    Compare an Assault Ship versus your doctrine battleship, to a similar cruiser versus the same battleship. Now apply tracking disruption or one successful ECM cycle. How does the battle change?

    The dominance of doctrine fleets comes from the dependence on DPS and weight of numbers. Once you have a hundred a side, you really don't care about tracking, signature radius, etc: you have enough firepower that any target dies quickly.

    The challenge for CCP is not to rebalance all ships for large fleet combat but to rebalance large fleet combat for all ships.

    As an example, an ideal scenario would be line of sight weapon fire. If you are firing on my friend I should be able to take some of the hits by flying in between you and them.

    Emulation of this kind of behaviour could include spreading damage between ships that are grouped tightly, proportional to some ratio of signature radius. Other manipulations could include penalties to tracking or lock times.

    I don't think tweaking ships is the only way to balance space battles.

    1. Unfortunately that kind of balancing has never been done in EVE (LoS, target limiting, etc.) because it increases the server loads by several orders of magnitude. Implementing the changes would be wonderful but it would then drastically reduce the size of the largest fights. So it's a damned if you do and damned if you don't scenario sometimes, especially with smaller ships.