Killmail Archivist

EVE Online theorycrafting and history

History of a Ship: Echelon

(Apologies for the radio silence — a medical emergency killed most of my spare time for the last week.)

CCP likes to do limited-edition ships whenever Eve hits an anniversary, or has a major feature launch. The last few releases have mostly been reskinned versions of T1 frigates; however, even when they were unique ships, most of them either were never useful to begin with (the Primae) or ceased to be useful due to balance changes.

So, let’s talk about one that is useful: the Echelon.

Echelon hull

An Echelon was awarded to every account who logged into Eve during the release of the Incursion expansion in late 2010. This expansion added Sansha incursions to the game; prior to the expansion’s official release, CCP actors did a number of live events to drum up excitement for incursions.

During these live events, a wormhole would appear near a planet, and Sansha ships would spawn around the wormhole and “steal” citizens from the planet to turn into slaves. (This is why the first name of all Incursion rats are the name of a solar system in Eve; that’s the system they were taken from.) The wormholes were targetable, and CCP hinted that running data analyzers would have some effect on it. I assume that this was a complete lie, and CCP just wanted some people to show up in scanning ships — more targets. :)

That said, the Echelon was released with this in mind: a dedicated data-analyzer ship. It has a single mid slot, and no low/high/rig slots; it’s only capable of fitting a single module in that mid slot, the Purloined Sansha Data Analyzer. (One was handed out with each Echelon.) At the time it was released, the hacking minigame didn’t exist, and data analyzers simply had a chance per cycle to unlock the can; the Echelon’s scanner was simply average.

However, when the hacking minigame was instituted and all data analyzers were redesigned, the Echelon and its custom analyzer was included in that redesign pass, and became fantastic. In particular, until you have Hacking V trained and can use T2 Data Analyzers, the Echelon is the best ship in the game for Data Sites — you need a Covert Ops or Astero with a T2 Analyzer and two hacking rigs to equal it.

Listed as a virus strength / virus coherence pair: (bigger is better for both numbers)

  Echelon Heron
CovOps & Astero
(hacking rigs)
Hacking I 40/90 25/50 30/70
Hacking IV 40/120 25/80 30/100
Hacking V 40/130 35/110 40/130

Even a perfectly skilled hacker, with the best ship and modules in the game for it, can only tie the Echelon.

Of course, there’s a flip side: the Echelon can’t fit a probe launcher, or a propulsion mod, or any sort of tank module. So, you’ll have to probe out the site with another ship, and then switch to the Echelon to hack it. But that may be an acceptable tradeoff for quiet systems and players with low SP.

If you don’t have the Echelon, they’re quite cheap, despite being a limited-issue ship; a ship and its matching module can be found at Jita for 7.5M isk total. Quite cheap, given that the nearest comparable ships for hacking cost 20M or more each.

Update: A sharp Reddit commentor also points out that, if you have multiple Echelons sitting around, you can get a rather funny set of items by reprocessing the Purloined Analyzer.

History of a Ship: Ishkur

This will be the first in a series of articles that talk about a ship’s past and present.  Let’s open with the Ishkur, the drone-focused Gallente assault frigate.  The Ishkur is generally overshadowed by other frigates today… but it used to be one of the most overpowered ships in Eve!

The Ishkur was added to Eve Online during the Castor era.  Castor was the first expansion after Eve’s launch, and one of the hardest to document: the initial expansion added the baseline mechanics for Tech-2 ships (both flying them and building them) to the game.  Then, over the course of Castor’s “lifetime,” a series of micropatches were slowly trickled out that added/revealed individual classes of T2 ships over multiple months.  When the Ishkur was introduced, it was by far the most powerful AF in the game, and even competitive with most cruisers.

In The Beginning: Drones Were Broken

During the Ishkur’s golden years, Eve’s drone mechanics were very different from today.  Individual drones did significantly less damage, but there were three things compensating for that:

  • The Drone Interfacing skill actually gave you an additional +1 drone control per level, instead of a flat increase to drone damage.  This stacked with the Drones skill, meaning that a character with Drone Interfacing V could control ten drones total.
  • There was no drone bandwidth mechanic.  Players could put out, and control, any drone that they could fit in their drone bay, up to a limit of 10.  (Or less, if they didn’t have perfect drone skills.)
  • The Gallente T1 drone hulls — the Vexor and Dominix — got an additional +1 drone control per level of Gallente Cruiser/Battleship.

This was interesting, because it gave a great deal of flexibility and power to pilots who were willing to specialize their training into drones:

  • The Thorax, given its 50 m3 drone bay, could choose between carrying five medium drones (for optimal performance versus cruisers), or ten light drones (making it a flexible frigate-killer).
  • The Vexor‘s 100 m3 drone bay could hold five mediums and ten lights, and deploy all 15 of them at once with max skills.
  • The Dominix had room for fifteen heavies, or a huge variety of heavy, medium, and light drones.
  • The Ishtar and Ishkur didn’t get the +1 drone control skill of the Vexor or Dominix; instead, they had ship bonuses that increased the size of their drone bay.  This would both add flexibility and directly add DPS potential to the ships:
    • The Ishkur started with 25 m3, capable of deploying five lights; with Assault Ships trained to V, it grew to 50 m3 of drone bay, and could deploy ten lights or five mediums.  (Or some mix between.)
    • The Ishtar started at 125 m3, and could grow up to 375 m3 at HAC V, giving it Dominix-level DPS and flexibility.

These mechanics also had some side effects that could be badly abused.  For example, if a Dominix dropped a full load of heavy drones on a gate and then warped out, any ship with a drone bay of 25 m3 or could warp in, scoop in each drone (filling its drone bay) and redeploy it, repeating until it had control of all 10-15 drones.  A Thorax or Arbitrator camping a gate with ten heavy drones out (or a Vexor with fifteen of them) was horrible to fight!

This didn’t last forever, of course; whenever drone ships were brought to a fight, intolerable lag would follow, as the servers struggled to track hundreds of drones.  (In fact, some alliances had agreements to only bring turret/missile ships to wars.)  CCP eventually removed most bonuses that allowed additional drones to be controlled: Both the Drone Interfacing skill and the Gallente hull bonuses were changed to a +20% damage bonus, effectively doubling (or tripling) the damage of all drones, in exchange for all conventional ships being limited to five drones.

However, even after this change, there was no drone bandwidth mechanic.  The Ishkur still benefited directly from its +5 m3 drone bay bonus: at Assault Ships V, it could choose between carrying either five mediums or two waves of five lights.  Of course, most players with that skill preferred to do the former.  This made the Ishkur an absolute terror — a dualprop Ishkur with five Valkyries and a nosferatu module was very hard to hit with medium guns, was quite sturdy for a frigate, and did over 400dps between Valks and blasters.  Ishkurs were capable of engaging both frigates, cruisers, and even some battleships with relative ease.

The Other Shoe Drops

Finally, December of 2007 brought the Trinity expansion, and drone bandwidth mechanics were added to the game, limiting the Ishkur to five lights.  Since then, the little drone wonder has never regained its crown.  (The Myrmidon and Eos would also be crushed by this change.)

Between 2008 and 2012, the Ishkur still remained a somewhat popular hull, despite no longer being the clear king — at the time, the Enyo had only two mid slots, so the Ishkur was considered the superior tackler and more well-rounded.  In 2012, the assault frigates were rebalanced in Crucible 1.1, buffing the Enyo, and the Ishkur dropped even further in popularity.

Today, the main challenge that the Ishkur faces is that it’s considered a weaker version of its blaster-oriented brother, the Enyo.  The two hulls have many similarities: identical resist profiles, the same number of low/mid slots, and common bonuses to hybrid turrets.  The Enyo, however, has higher base armor/hull HP, more generous power grid, a fourth turret hardpoint (to use up that power grid), a stronger damage bonus, and a bonus to turret tracking; the Ishkur retains its largely useless drone bay bonus and a bonus to drone durability.

In theory, the Ishkur should have superior flexibility due to drone DPS — i.e. reduced weakness to neuts or tracking disruptors — however, in practice, the Enyo is usually the preferred ship on TQ today.  The peak damage on the Enyo is far higher, and the extra grid ends up being useful for more than just fitting an extra turret.  Also, drones have their own weaknesses: they can be shot down, or smartbombed away, or abandoned accidentally after a fight.  On top of that, the total DPS of five lights (even with a Drone Damage Amplifier module) doesn’t really compensate for the fourth turret of the Enyo.

Typical Fits of Today

All this said, if you really want to fly the Ishkur, you won’t be disappointed — while no longer the king of AFs, it’s still a reasonably solid pick, especially if you only have Assault Ships trained to 3 or 4.  (The Enyo really needs AF 4 or 5 to shine.)  This is a reasonable starting point:

[Ishkur, Baseline MWD+Scram+Web]
Damage Control II
Small Ancillary Armor Repairer, Nanite Repair Paste
Adaptive Nano Plating II
Drone Damage Amplifier II

Limited 1MN Microwarpdrive I
Warp Scrambler II
X5 Prototype Engine Enervator

Light Ion Blaster II, Null S
Light Ion Blaster II, Null S
Light Ion Blaster II, Null S
Small 'Knave' Energy Drain

Small Anti-Explosive Pump II
Small Auxiliary Nano Pump II

Acolyte II x5
Hobgoblin II x5

This is a fairly tight fit on grid, and may be 1% over if you don’t have Armor Rigging IV or Advanced Weapons Upgrades V trained.  In that case, you can either use an implant to get 1% more grid (either the EE-601 or the Genolution CA-1), or replace the Small Auxiliary Nano Pump with something else suitable: a drone durability rig might be good.

This will perform well against both frigates and cruisers; in most fights, your goal will be to operate at roughly 4km away, putting you out of range of the highest-damage close range weapons but still in range to use your nosferatu module.  If you’d like a little more survivability versus cruisers or battleships, you can consider replacing the web with a tracking disruptor (use a ‘Balmer’ Series Tracking Disruptor I to save on CPU) or even an afterburner (replace both rigs with Ancillary Current Routers) to mitigate incoming damage.