EVE Evolved: Free-to-play PvP cruiser fitting guide
I discussed the free account limitations and their implications for gameplay in my previous EVE Evolved column two weeks ago, which sparked off some interesting discussion on exactly how powerful free players would be. What kinds of ships will they be able to fly, and how will they fare against subscribers? Is there a useful place for hordes of new players in EVE, or will they just be cannon fodder for the wealthy and established elite? I've been investigating various alpha-clone-ready ship setups this week in an attempt to answer these important questions, and my conclusion is that free players may be a lot deadlier in PvP than many people think.
In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at four cheap but effective PvP ship setups that free players will be able to use.
Gallente ships are designed to dish out massive damage at close range, and in that role the Vexor is probably the most destructive tech 1 cruiser available to alpha clone players. The setup above will only cost you around 12.2 million ISK per death with the ship fully insured, deals up to 463 DPS (or 502 with the weapons overloaded), and has a respectable 29,535 effective hitpoint tank. Free players should always remember to use navy issue ammo and integrated drones in PvP rather than standard tech 1 drones and ammo as they give a significant DPS boosts and aren't very expensive.
Your goal when flying this ship is to use the microwarpdrive to get to point blank range on your target as quickly as possible, as your blasters deal very little damage beyond the 5-6km mark. The invulnerability field can be switched for a warp scrambler if your fleet doesn't have dedicated tacklers, though this will hurt your survivability. It's also possible to squeeze a little more damage and tank out of this ship by using some tech 2 modules that are available to free players, but it'll cost you a few million extra ISK per ship loss. If your goal is to spend as much time as possible in PvP fleets and as little as possible farming ISK, then go for the cheap option.
Caldari alpha clone players are spoiled for choice when it comes to combat frigates and cruisers. The Moa can make a powerful close-range brawler similar to the Vexor above, but I quite like the anti-frigate Caracal setup above, and more expensive versions with T2 modules will work extremely well in a fleet. This setup will cost you only about 11.2 million ISK per death and has a pretty solid 27,171 effective hitpoint tank. Though on paper it deals a rather anemic 260 DPS with the launchers overloaded, that damage comes from rapid light missile launchers that can apply a greater percentage of their maximum damage to small ships such as frigates. The down side is that the launchers can only hold enough ammo to fire for about 60 seconds and then take a full 35 seconds to reload, so your actual DPS could be as low as 150-165 in long engagements.
When piloting this ship, your aim is to chase down any frigate or destroyer sized targets on the battlefield. This is easier than it sounds, as you can squeeze up to 2,409m/s out of the microwarpdrive when it's overloaded and your missiles have a respectable maximum range of around 44km. It's important to keep your target within 22km if possible so that you can keep your warp disruptor on them, as frigate pilots can warp out very quickly once they realise they're taking damage and you'll be deprived of the kill. If you have some spare ISK that you don't mind losing, this ship setup can be easily upgraded by swapping the shield extenders and ballistic control systems for tech 2 versions.
Minmatar ships can be equally effective when shield or armour tanked and tend to use a combination of projectile weapons, drones, and missiles. There are some pretty excellent alpha clone Stabber setups out there for heavy tackler and anti-frigate roles, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to bring back a personal favourite of mine: The "brick in the face" shield tanked Rupture. This ship setup will cost you about 11.4 million ISK per death after insurance, has a solid 29,938 effective hitpoint tank, can reach up to 1,917m/s with the microwarpdrive overloaded, and deals up to 352 DPS with all weapons overloaded. It's a solid and cost-effective damage-dealing platform for small gang PvP that performs best against cruiser sized ships and above.
When flying this ship, your goal is to get within 5-10km of a target and unleash hell. Use the microwarpdrive sparingly when you're over 15km from the target and shut it off once you've closed in to less than 10km as it will make your signature radius massive and make you a very easy target to hit. You can deal about half of your maximum damage in this fit from the 15km mark and will be able to track anything destroyer sized or above quite well. This setup has no tackle of its own and is intended to be used in a small gang or fleet engagement where your target will already be tackled by other ships. If your fleet commander requires all ships to have a warp disruptor, switch the invulnerabiltiy field for one and you'll only lose about 5k effective hitpoints.
Amarr alpha clone players have some fantastic cruisers to choose from, but the skill limitations make it tricky to put together a good gang Arbitrator or Augoror. The Omen makes a quick and competent damage-dealer in small gang PvP, but in larger groups I always find that I prefer the immovable object that is the Maller. The setup above has an absolute monster tank of 35,654 effective hitpoints and deals up to 345 DPS with consistent damage application to cruisers and larger ships closer than around the 8-10km mark. It's a slow ship that probably won't be getting the initial tackle on anything, but it contributes steady DPS and its tank will slow down the attacking force by several extra seconds.
Your goal when flying this ship in a gang is to get within 8km of a high-priority target that's cruiser sized or larger and hold it firmly in place while your gang kills it. You're a heavy tackler, and if the enemy wants to free the ship you've got locked down then it's going to need to grind through your 35k effective hitpoints to do it. The warp scrambler will shut off your target's microwarpdrive if it has one, and your stasis web will slow it to counteract most of the speed bonus of an afterburner. Both the warp scrambler and stasis web can also be overloaded to increase their ranges slightly. This setup is a little more expensive than the others at around 15 million ISK per death, and you need to use a 5 million ISK powergrid implant (Inherent Implants 'Squire' Power Grid Management EG-602) to make it fit.
There has been some suggestion online that free EVE players will simply be outmatched by subscribers flying more powerful tech 2 and tech 3 ships, but this problem has been severely overstated. Those ships are so expensive to lose in PvP that any player who has enough ISK to routinely replace them can easily afford to buy a PLEX from the market to upgrade to a full subscription. With that in mind, the ship setups above are designed to be dirt cheap ships that free players will be able to comfortably fly and lose in PvP while still saving up ISK to eventually buy a PLEX.
The truth is that any ship which goes into PvP in EVE is expected to eventually explode, and the goal is to cause as much damage as possible before that happens. On the grand scheme of alliances warring with each other, that damage often comes in the form of morale or strategic objectives lost rather than actual ships. For those more concerned with financial damage, the best way to win the ISK war will be to fly cheap but effective PvP ships.
I know from experience in faction warfare and elsewhere that gangs of newbies in cheap tech 1 cruisers can cause some serious damage to veterans with shiny and expensive toys. It's going to be a lot of fun to see that happening all across the cluster when alpha clones land in November and the flood gates open on a free-to-play EVE.