Updated Tue, Jan 26, 2010 by The Mittani
Chaos, distrust, breaking alliances, and anarchy are just a few things that could be coming to Eve Online. This week The Mittani examines the new sovereignty mechanics and what impact combat and ship changes might have on the Eve Online universe.
First of all, let's go over sovereignty. Regardless of how stations are taken, seizing sovereignty in the currently described mechanic is a process that heavily favors the defender. An attacker must online disruptors and guard them for at least 12 hours on every gate in a system, and the defender merely has to blow them up at some point during this timeframe. Actually capturing sov - not merely wrenching it to neutral - takes even longer. This requires constant, round-the-clock guarding, vulnerable to raids from defenders in the defender's primetime.
I bash this out on the verge of my red-eye flight to the land of 'people who eat rotten shark and make spaceship games' for the 2009 EVE Fanfest - my first time attending the event. One goon helpfully offered me the following valediction: "Here's hoping you don't get shot by a pet." On the cusp of a convention full of alcohol-soaked spreadsheet nerds in a tiny little country, there's very little news in New Eden to report; the most excitement in my life of late has been my office being inundated and overworked, and meanwhile CCP has been keeping relatively mum about their future intentions in order to have a lot of fancy news to report at Fanfest itself. Yet the test server is open, so we do have some tea leaves to peer at. It's time for some wildly irresponsible speculation about the future of EVE, the sort which will probably seem silly once I return from Reykjavik - and my liver recovers.
Let us channel dear old Donald Rumsfeld and count our 'known unknowns' and our 'unknown unknowns'. There's been a dev blog released which describes the new sovereignty mechanics in draft form, but critically this does not relate to how stations are won and lost. The actual control and upgrading of empty space is amusing and important, but what wins or loses wars is locking alliances out of stations - and we don't really know how that works. We do know a lot about upcoming capital and supercapital changes thanks to CCP Abathur (nee Seleene) and we have a lot of generalized rambling with very little specifics that's supposed to give us an insight into the dev's thought process. What can we draw from this?
First of all, let's go over sovereignty. Regardless of how stations are taken, seizing sovereignty in the currently described mechanic is a process that heavily favors the defender. An attacker must online disruptors and guard them for at least 12 hours on every gate in a system, and the defender merely has to blow them up at some point during this timeframe. Actually capturing sov - not merely wrenching it to neutral - takes even longer. This requires constant, round-the-clock guarding, vulnerable to raids from defenders in the defender's primetime. It looks like contesting non-station sov is going to be such a wrenchingly unpleasant process that no one will be bothering with it as it currently stands, because after pilots are told "stay awake and camp here for 36 hours, don't screw up" the first couple of times, participation will tank. So system sov will reflect an uncontested view of what an alliance chooses to claim, rather than being an actual battleground; the war will be on the stations. In general, alliances will shrink in geographic claims, as each system will take resources to seize. That's CCP's intent and at a glance that's going to happen.
The political and metagame implications of the 'space development' system are catastrophic for certain alliances in EVE. Since the galaxy was randomly generated by an algorithm of some flavor, certain regions are better or worse in nullsec than others. Some are absolute backwaters, the kind of space which no ambitious tyrant would wish to own. In these backwaters - Geminate and Providence, here's looking at you - roleplaying and merchant alliances have thrived over the years, protected from the vagaries of conquest by a greater power by dint of having space not worth the pos fuel to claim it. The development mechanics are unknown to us, but we do know that they are intended to allow investment in currently worthless space to bring it up in value for those living within it. This means that there is either (1) no such thing as bad space any longer (2) at the very least, the value of currently worthless space may increase to the point where previously neutral alliances find war on their doorstep.
The combination of supercapital changes (let us all celebrate, yet again, the replacement of an AoE doomsday with a single-target one) with the removal of "sov levels" throws even more uncertainty in the mix. We do know that "pos invulnerability" in a Sov 4 system is gone for good, which means that supercapital assembly arrays can always be attacked and destroyed regardless of pos warfare. With 200+ Titans in New Eden, this should hopefully curtail their population growth, as alliances return to the ASCN/BoB/G/IRON era strategy of preemptively hunting down and killing supercapitals before they are completed. This will cause tremendous market disruption and military chaos.
While considering the delightful prospects of vulnerable CSAAs, consider that without a Titan AoE doomsday, defense of structures will require fleets rather than one ship and one button-click. This will shift the strategic makeup of fleets substantially. Supercapitals are now intended to be fielded in battle, and the current version on SiSi suggests that they will be invaluable. Since supercapitals will be the highest target priority, carriers (particularly triage carriers) have seen their stock rise, and the barely-useful Heavy Interdictors have quadrupled in strategic value. In the past, Titans could warp in, doomsday, and warp out with relative impunity, making flying a Heavy Interdictor a somewhat unpleasant and luck-based affair. In the Dominion battlefield, expect to see many more of these ships, as their pilots can at least feel certain that they'll be able to grab hold of a hostile supercapital in a sizable engagement. In general, subcapitals of all kinds see a boost, because they no longer need to worry about being abruptly vaporized; battleships are finally freed of the practical requirement of having 75k EHP to survive a doomsday, allowing the possibility of a return to the pre-capital 'glass cannon' 250km sniper fleets. (Of course, those sniper fleets existed in the pre-dictor era, too; one screwup on your warpout now and your entire group is bubbled, so I don't think we're headed back to 2005 tactics)
Anyway, my personal take is that this is awesome for both the game and the metagame. Vulnerability makes for paranoia and scheming; alliances will be smaller, their CSAAs will be more vulnerable, and in any given engagement there is a stack possibility of multiple supercapital losses. Best of all, newer pilots and non-capital pilots are no longer going to be summarily excluded from the battlefield by doomsdays. (not bitter)
And now, to Reykjavik.