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Autocannons, Artillery, and Balancing Fitting Requirements

Part three of my series on tracking is being temporarily delayed — some early readers gave me great feedback that I’m incorporating into the upcoming post, mostly in the form of some added graphs and animations.  In the meantime, I’ve got a bit of a rant.

It’s a well-accepted fact in the greater Eve community that the Tech-3 Tactical Destroyers are in need of rebalancing, with the Svipul and Confessor in particular being called out particularly overpowered and dominant in small ship combat.  I strongly agree with this; however, you’ll probably notice that most (if not all) of the really egregious Svipul fits are autocannon fits. Artillery Svipuls are rarely seen outside of specialized instalocking gatecamp fits, or medium-sized themed fleets.  Why is this? The artillery uses a lot of power grid and CPU to fit, so most artillery Svipuls are comparatively lacking in tank or damage.

You don’t see the same disparity in the other Tactical Destroyers; Hecates are equally popular in both blaster and railgun forms, as are pulse and beam Confessors, and rocket/LML Jackdaws.

Also, strongly favoring autocannons isn’t a unique trait of the Svipul.  In fact, the vast majority of projectile ships have this problem; autocannon fits generally have ample grid/CPU for taking extra tank or option modules, while artillery fits tend to be barebones.

  • The Cynabal can take nearly anything it wants if it fits autocannons; you can fit a full rack of 425mm ACs, one (or two) prop mods, a neut, plenty of tank, and all the damage mods you can fit. Artillery fits, on the other hand, are relatively tight. The Rupture, Stabber, and Vagabond are in a similar situation. (The Muninn, arguably, is the only projectile cruiser that actually has sufficient grid to take a full rack of artillery by default and still have ample room for tank/prop mod.)
  • Machariels with ACs can fit nearly anything in their option high, mids, and lows; you can’t even fit a full rack of T2 1400mm artillery on it without a fitting implant or mod, which is why most artymach fits use meta-4 turrets (or 1200mm) instead.  The Maelstrom and Tempest aren’t much better; on both ships, a full rack of 1400mm will use their base grid nearly perfectly, and a fitting mod is required to put on any other essential mod such as propulsion or tank.  A similar situation exists with the Hurricane.  (The Tempest Fleet Issue can do a full rack of artillery admirably, although it’s a tight fit.)
  • Artillery Rifters and Jaguars are mostly a bad joke.  The Wolf does well enough, but needs both an MAPC and a CPU to fit both artillery and prop mod.  The Firetail stands out as a good artillery ship, though.

This is exacerbated by the relatively small set of options at each ship tier:

  • Hybrid turrets get three options each for both short-range and long-range options, at each tier size; for example, Electron/Ion/Neutron blasters and 75/125/150mm railguns.
  • Projectile turrets consistently get three short-range options and two long-range options — for example, D180/220/425mm ACs and 650/720mm artillery at the Medium size.
  • Laser turrets vary: 3 short-range and 2 long-range for small turrets, 2 short and 3 long for medium, and 3 short / 3 long for large turrets.

Artillery has the highest mean cost in terms of CPU/grid per point of DPS, while AC has one of the lowest mean costs. (One reason why the 125mm autocannon is the defacto BNC gun on support ships.) However, CCP doesn’t want to release ships that are essentially incapable of fitting artillery. So, most projectile ships are given the bare minimum amount of grid/CPU needed to shoehorn in a rack of arty.  That same amount of grid/CPU ends up being a gross excess if you fit ACs to the same ship.

So, is it possible to make a Svipul that can be viable with an artillery fit without handing AC users a cornucopia of multiple MSEs, neuts, and damage mods?

An easy solution would be the one used by the Firetail: Cut the number of turret hardpoints in half, and add a double-damage bonus to the hull to keep the DPS in the same area.  The player T3D focus group proposed “Firetail-izing” the Svipul at one point, and it’s a decent suggestion… but I suspect that a better (but harder) solution exists.  Balance could be improved across the board for projectile ships by revisiting fitting requirements for turrets, eliminating the need for such hacks in the first place.

(It’d also be an opportunity to rebalance some of the rarely used turrets in the game. When’s the last time you saw a laser boat with Quad Light Beam Lasers?)

Fixing the Nestor

The Nestor has been a problematic ship practically since its creation; it’s the least used of all the faction battleships.  Even the Barghest, despite being added mere months ago, has more kills and more losses on zKillboard than the Nestor.  CCP recently announced a small change to the Nestor, adding refit capabilities to it; however, I don’t think that this will solve the Nestor’s issues.  Its popularity stems from two problems with it — a smattering of mismatched bonuses, and horrible fitting problems.  Let’s break them down.

First, the Nestor’s bonuses imply that it should be useful at pretty much everything, when most Eve players learn at a very early age to favor specialized ships over jacks of all trades.  Running down them:

  • 4% bonus to all armor resistances per level of Amarr Battleship
  • 10% bonus to drone hit points and damage per level of Gallente Battleship
  • 50% bonus to Large Energy Turret optimal range
  • 50% bonus to Remote Armor Repairer strength
  • 200% bonus to Remote Armor Repairer range
  • 50% bonus to exploration probe strength
  • +10 bonus to Relic and Data Analyzer strength
  • Finally, the Nestor has an absurdly low mass, allowing it to go through wormholes with low impact.

This hull tries to do everything.  It can be a dedicated logistics boat, a split logistics/drones RRBS platform, a laser gank boat, a drone boat; it can even be an exploration platform.  (The last of these is the most laughable — nobody sane is going to use a battleship in data/relic sites.  In lowsec/nullsec, you’re risking an easily-probed billion-isk hull in that site; in high-sec, someone else is going to finish off the site while you’re slowly motoring between cans.)

The few successful fits for an Nestor rely on ignoring almost all its bonuses in favor of one or two — either it’s a brick-tank brawler that ignores the remote rep bonuses, or it’s a plus-sized brother of the Oneiros, for use in high-alpha-strike environments (incursions and C3/C4 wormholes).

However, even once you’ve picked a role to focus on, the Nestor’s anemic fitting stats and relatively sub-par bonuses bite you:

  • The short remote-rep range bonus is risky, as is the capacitor needs.  A 25km range is a bit short for logistics use, and the Nestor’s comparatively slow speed (just under 1km/sec with MWD on) and long lock times means that you’ll need to pulse your MWD often to stay in range of the ships that you’re repping, if you don’t have them orbiting you.  And with no capacitor bonus for either MWD or reps, cap stability becomes an issue.  (Most of the logistics-oriented Nestor fits out there invest in an deadspace X-type MWD to stay stable, or are reliant on a full set of cap rechargers or multiple injectors.)
  • Drone damage output is questionable due to having only six lows, on a ship with an armor tank.  If you keep to a relatively small 4-slot tank (suitcase, two EANMs, 1600mm plate; a risky gamble for a 1B+ faction battleship) then you only have room for two Drone Damage Amplifiers.  Furthermore, while it may have the same damage bonus as an Ishtar or Dominix, it doesn’t have the tracking/optimal bonuses of those hulls.  The combination of short range and low mobility means that you’re forced to use heavy drones, or must stick to low-damage long-range sentries such as Curators.  You can compensate for some of this with using your ample six mids on ODTLs — and you’ll have no choice but to do so, really, due to the fitting issues:
  • The Nestor has absolutely abysmal grid, which particularly impacts laser builds.  With a hair over 14k grid at Engineering V, you can’t fit a MWD, a 1600mm plate, and a full set of Mega Pulse Lasers on it.  You’re a whopping 27% over, even with Advanced Weapon Upgrades V.  And that’s before you even consider putting on an injector, option highs (neuts, smartbombs, remote reps), or a second plate!  Due to this grid crunch, all laser fits for a Nestor either spend multiple rig slots on ACRs, or downgrade to Dual Heavy Pulse Lasers (terrible damage output) or use faction lasers (expensive, and no Scorch).  On top of that, you can fit a maximum of two Heat Sinks due to the same problems as DDAs.  For all these reasons, combat Nestors usually focus on drones, and fit 2-3 ODTLs in their mid slots because they have nothing else viable to stick in there — there’s not enough grid for a MJD or a second injector.  And in general, what do you do with six mids, when the ship is generally armor tanked?  It’s too slow to tackle something, it has no ewar bonuses, and it struggles to fit multiple prop mods.
  • The ship’s low base shield HP, high sig radius, and low mobility makes shield fits questionable.  T2 CDFEs and two invulns are needed to push a shield fit above 100k EHP, and two nanofibers barely get you to 1400m/s under MWD.  In comparison, a single 1600mm plate gets you above 100k EHP even before Trimarks are added.  Also, it has a gigantic signature radius; most shield tanked ships are 425m or less.  A shield-tanked Nestor with CDFEs would have a sig radius of 520m when slowboating and over 3000m when MWDing — that’s bigger than a carrier!

A jack of all trades is a master of none.  The Nestor isn’t particularly good at any of its roles, and hilariously bad once it starts to multitask.  I’ve seen effective uses of it as a logistics platform in C4 Cataclysmic Variable wormholes, but it also required a fairly expensive fit to be useful there: A-type hardeners and an X-type MWD.

Where to go from here?  Given the opportunity, I’d change three things:

  • Remove one of its mid slots, and add a low slot.  This gives two benefits: it allows it to have competitive drone damage with an Ishtar when using a small tank, or competitive tank with smaller damage.  It eliminates “fill all your mids with cap rechargers / ODTLs” for all roles, forcing players to make meaningful choices about their mid slots.
  • Increase its base power grid to 13000.  This bumps its final grid to around 16300 — enough that you can fit a a MWD, a heavy injector, a single 1600mm plate, and a full rack of MPL turrets, but with almost no grid left for option highs/mids.  It allows you a basic ship, but you will have to make sacrifices (in the form of downgrading to DHPLs, using ACRs, or using deadspace/cosmos modules) in order to fit meaningful additions such as extra plates, MJDs, or neuts.  Again, the goal is to make the ship viable at a few roles, but to not give the players everything they want; you want to force the player to make choices about how they fit this ship.
  • Abandon the exploration role bonuses, replacing them with a new role bonus: a 50% reduction in capacitor usage for remote armor reps.  There’s very little reason to run data/relic sites in a Nestor, when the same LP could be used to purchase a Stratios or Asteros instead.  The player base has responded well to using the Nestor as an RRBS or plus-sized logistics platform; let’s allow this to be done without filling your mids with capacitor rechargers and dropping hundreds of millions on deadspace MWDs.  Right now, running more than two reps demands use of an injector or a full rack of cap rechargers, even before you factor in armor hardeners, MWD pulses, and other users of cap.

A final option has occured to me, but I’m not sure if it’d be too powerful: Don’t give the Nestor a covert ops cloak, but do allow it to take Black Ops bridges — or even give it a jump drive that only locks onto covert cynos.  Right now, there is only one remote rep platform that can take a Black Ops bridge, and it’s a shield logistics that’s only available in tiny numbers (the Etana).  Adding an armor option would give extra reason to use Black Ops ships as combat platforms rather than as miniature titans.

If you’re intent on making a jack-of-all-trades ship, it might as well be good at a few of them.  Until then, nobody’s spending 1B+ on the hull, and giving it yet another trade (in-space refits) isn’t going to improve matters.

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Interceptor Balance: Risk Versus Reward

Over 17,000 pilots flew an interceptor in combat in the month of May.  (Either because they showed up on a killmail, or because they became one.)  Looking at those pilots, 38% of them didn’t lose a single interceptor in May — if those pilots flew nothing but interceptors, they would have an infinite kill-to-death ratio!

If we dig further into this data, we can select the set of capsuleers with a K:D ratio higher than 10:1 in interceptors; if you check their choices of interceptors to fly, three hulls are used almost exclusively: the Malediction, Crow, and Stiletto.  The Stiletto’s appearance on this list is fairly unremarkable; it’s an extremely popular fleet interceptor, and we discovered earlier (in Wednesday’s post) that it does comparatively little damage in most fights.  However, we also found on Wednesday that the Malediction and Crow do relatively good damage — between 80-95%, on average, of the damage of a “gank” interceptor like the Taranis or Crusader.  That’s odd, and deserves some looking at.

Committing To The Fight

The Taranis, Crusader, and Claw are all extremely high-DPS ships — and they can even be reasonably sturdy.  (Taranises favor reinforced bulkheads after the Kronos changes; Claws typically carry a local armor repairer, and Crusaders typically fit a 200mm plate.)  However, all of them have weapons that encourage engaging at very close range: 1-3km for blaster/AC fits, and 6-8km for railgun/artillery/pulse laser fits.  Fighting at this range exposes them to a lot of danger:

  • It puts them in range of warp scramblers, stasis webs, and medium neuts.  (In the case of blaster/AC fits, it also puts you in range of small neuts and smartbombs.)
  • When orbiting, you can maintain full speed in a large orbit, but tend to lose speed when in tight orbits (subject to your ship’s agility stat) .  This means that you’re more likely to be hit by light drones.

As a result, these close-range ships are forced to commit 100% to a fight; they rarely have an opportunity to escape if things don’t go their way.  Taranises and Crusaders wade into a fight, guns blazing, and don’t leave until at least one party has died.

Rote Kapelle once had a guide to interceptors on their forums, and it had five points that looked roughly like this:

  1. Pick how far away you’re going to engage (i.e. long range vs close range ammo)
  2. Pick how you’re going to avoid damage (i.e. keep-at-range versus orbit).  Set that range.
  3. Burn in.  Press whatever movement key you’ve decided on.
  4. Overheat everything.
  5. Cross fingers.


In summary, these hulls present a lot of risk to the pilot, but that risk is balanced by the reward: extremely high DPS for an interceptor.  The Taranis and Crusader are capable of burst DPS that can overwhelm local tanks easily, and take down hulls much larger than themselves.

We can contrast this with the classic tackle interceptors — the Stiletto and Ares — which present a low risk, low reward choice.  These hulls lack the damage bonuses of their counterparts, but get a bonus to the range of warp disruptors and warp scramblers instead, allowing them to tackle at long range.  Both of them typically fit some weapons; however, the hulls have extremely low power grid and a limited numbers of low slots, discouraging long-range weapons or high damage builds.  Their guns/missiles are largely intended for shooting down drones that are chasing them, and potentially defending themselves from other frigates that have successfully warp-scrambled them.  In exchange for that limited utility, they can operate largely risk-free: they’re nimble, and can maintain a point from 30-36km away, well out of the range of most weapons and even heavy neuts.  When orbiting at long distance, they can maintain high speed, meaning that drones have to shift in and out of MWD mode and will struggle to apply damage to them.

The Brave Sir Robin of Interceptors

The Malediction and Crow, however, live in an intermediary area: they are low risk, but moderate DPS.  They’re billed as tackle interceptors, and have the matching bonus to point/scram range; however, they also have bonuses to all missiles, and the grid/cpu to fit light missile launchers.  As a result, they can both tackle at long range, and apply damage at long range.  They aren’t required to close to a hostile ship’s web/scram/neut range, and can fight for a sustained period of time.

This explains why Wednesday’s findings showed Maledictions and Crows with a median damage-dealt value so competitive with the high-damage interceptors: the high-damage interceptors are forced to wade into dangerously close ranges, and have a lifetime measured in seconds.  They output a very high DPS for a short period of time!  The Malediction and Crow, on the other hand, output a moderate amount of DPS for a sustained period of time (due to not being threatened by tackle, neuts, or light drones) and end up putting out a similar amount of damage on each completed kill.  And the player base has certainly figured this out, given that over 90% of Crows and Maledictions are fitted with light missiles.

This is particularly notable given how difficult it is to fit LMLs, since they have high grid/CPU needs.  The general theme for most of Eve’s weapons is that close-range weapons have high damage potential and low fitting requirements, while long-range weapons have a slightly lower damage potential and high fitting requirements.  Fitting LMLs to a Crow or Malediction requires significant compromises in tank and mobility, compared to a rocket-based fit; however, the vast majority of Eve players prefer LMLs.

While the Crow may be more popular, I’d argue that the Malediction has the lower risk-to-reward ratio here.  While it may have much lower damage potential than the Crow, the Malediction compensates for this in two ways:

  • It has four low-slots, giving it room for mobility mods, at least one damage mod, and at least one tank-related module (either a suitcase or a small armor repairer).
  • It’s significantly more mobile than the Crow, and does so with a smaller signature radius (being armor-tanked instead of shield-tanked).

A Malediction with two speed modules is capable of jumping through a gate, aligning to its outbound destination, and entering warp in under two seconds.  Meanwhile, it is tiny enough that even the fastest-locking ships will take one second or longer to lock it.  This means that it’s exceptionally difficult to catch — even if you have a remote-sensor-boosted interceptor or Keres that can lock a frigate in less than a second, you will struggle to activate tackle modules on the ship, because the tackle modules won’t activate until the subsequent server tick after you lock the target.  (I’ve got a blog post on server ticks queued up for next week.)

As a result, Maledictions that are fitted in this way are near-invincible.  They’re only killable by catching them while they’re in the process of killing something (i.e. while the pilot is distracted) or killing them in mid-warp with a smartbombing battleship.

I actually don’t think that this mobility is a bad thing.  I find it quite interesting to have a ship that’s nimble enough to evade instalocking gatecamps, especially when combined with the bubble immunity that’s common to all interceptors.  (In particular, I think the Taranis is excellently balanced against the Enyo.)  However, when you have this functionality AND the ability to put down decent damage from a safe range, things start breaking quickly.

Steps Forward

There’s a fair amount of argument among Eve bloggers that giving bubble immunity, or high mobility, to interceptors was a mistake.  I disagree with this — I think they’re fantastic for running down targets, and for providing an interesting alternative to assault frigates.  However, the long range of Maledictions and Crows is a problem.  Thus:

What if Maledictions and Crows had a bonus to rocket damage only, instead of all missiles?

In this case, LMLs would still be an option to those pilots that desired to fit them; however, their damage on those systems would drop to be comparable with the Stiletto and Ares.  However, they could still fit rockets to get moderate-to-high damage for self-defense versus drones, or for high-risk ganking at scrambler/web range.