EVE Evolved: Sovereignty 2.0 Needs Some Work

    
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When CCP Games announced last year that a complete nullsec revamp was coming to EVE Online, the playerbase breathed a collective sigh of relief powerful enough to create its own tropical weather system. There’s no question that nullsec and territorial warfare in EVE are broken beyond belief, and players have been campaigning for a complete revamp for years. It’s been over five years since the Dominion expansion tried and failed to revamp nullsec for the better, and most of the changes since then have been small iterations and quality of life fixes. The situation came to a head late last year when players and CCP acknowedged that nullsec had become stagnant and something really had to be done.

The first phase of the revamp came last October, when developers made changes to jump drives and jump portals to stop people from deploying fleets across huge distances within minutes. This week CCP announced phase two of the ambitious plan: a complete overhaul of the sovereignty gameplay designed to allow smaller alliances to capture and hold space, among other goals. It’s the change I’m sure a lot of corps in EVE have been waiting for to finally try their hands at claiming their own little corner of New Eden, but discussion on sovereignty is far from over. Developers have reached out for feedback on the proposal ahead of this month’s fanfest, and the forum thread has reached nearly 200 pages.

In this edition of EVE Evolved, I look at EVE‘s upcoming sovereignty revamp and explain why I think the system needs a few design changes to work.

sov20-1New capture mechanic: Entosis links

The biggest change with the new sovereignty system is that shooting at structures will be replaced with the use of a new “Entosis” module. The high-slot module has a five-minute cycle time and can be used to either capture a hostile structure or block capture of a friendly one. Players using an Entosis module will be unable to dock, jump, warp, or receive remote assistance while it’s active. Each structure will also operate completely independently in the new system, so an alliance can plant a Territorial Claim Units to officially get its name on the map, but it’s not required for anything else. A completely different alliance can own the infrastructure hub or station in a system, and they’re separate strategic targets that can be captured independently.

It may seem as if Entosis modules are just shifting the fight from grinding hitpoints to grinding Entosis links, but there’s one fundamental difference: Adding extra Entosis modules has no effect on the capture. As long as there’s no opposition to the capture, a single player in an interceptor could take over a structure. It also doesn’t matter if the attacker has 1,000 active entosis links on a structure, as a single active defending link will cancel them all out. Since the ship using the entosis link can’t receive remote assistance, it’s likely that anyone using one during a battle will just get called primary target and blapped out of the sky. The best way to capture something under the new system will be to remove all opposition from the field, either by preventing the other side from getting its Entosis links online by killing everyone before the five minute cycle ends, or by chasing all enemies off the field of battle.

sov20-2Vulnerability and reinforcement

In the current sovereignty system, attacked structures enter an invulnerable reinforced mode for 24 to 48 hours and display a public timer for all to see. The idea is to give both sides time to prepare for the final battle so that no alliance logs in one day to find all of its sandcastles have been kicked over by someone in a different time zone. In practice, this often discourages battles, as both sides will know what size of force their enemy can muster and there’s plenty of time to bring most of that to bear. A lot of timed sovereignty battles end in no-shows and leave the attacker to shoot at structures alone for hours.

The new system will add the “vulnerability window” mechanic, which asks alliances to pick a four-hour slot during which their structures become vulnerable and can be fought over. Alliances will typically set this to their prime time so that they have as many pilots online as possible to defend. Structures still have a 48-hour reinforcement timer after the initial attack, but now when the timer ends, it’ll spawn faction warfare-style control points all across the constellation. Capturing those sites will give you points in a kind of tug-of-war for control of the structure, and you have to collect enough points before the vulnerability window ends to win. It’s hoped that splitting the battle across an entire constellation will spread server load and lead to more interesting battles.

sov20-3Reinforcement timers need to be removed

On its own, the vulnerability window is a brilliant idea and an example of really elegant game design, though four hours may be a little too short a window. In principle, it should prompt more frequent turf wars, with fleets attacking enemy systems throughout the vulnerability period each day. Systems that aren’t actively defended during the four hour period each day would be very vulnerable to attack, forcing alliances to maintain only those systems that are actively filled with pilots during their prime time. In theory, a small alliance could also swoop in and steal an undefended system from under someone’s nose while the group is busy warring elsewhere. This should create a self-balancing system that makes alliances shrink to claim only those systems they actively use.

The problem is that vulnerability windows make no sense if you also have reinforcement timers. All it does is pointlessly limit the initial attack that reinforces a structure to within a four-hour window. There’s no incentive for players to actively defend against the initial attack if a reinforcement timer will give them two days of preparation time against the next attack. With 48 hours’ warning of the exact time of the final battle for a station or infrastructure hub, massive alliances can still issue a call to arms to hundreds of members who otherwise might not be logged in to defend. It also gives alliances time to relocate capital ships from across the map, which is one of the things the new sov system is trying to fix in the first place. A lot of people are raging about the vulnerability windows right now, but I think it’s the reinforcement timers that really need to go.

sov20-5The “main event” needs to be rethought

While I think some kind of constellation-wide sovereignty battle would be amazing, CCP’s Command Node battle idea feels really fake. If I’m in an alliance that wants to capture a station, why should we have to wait through four full days of reinforcement timers and chase down and capture these random control nodes that appear throughout the constellation and weren’t even put there by the station’s owner? The devs can dress this up with all the Jovian and Sleeper fluff they like, but as a mechanic, it seems very arbitrary, artificial, and gamesy.

Command Node battles ought to be used for something else like capturing Jovian listening posts, not for our core sovereignty battles. System ownership in EVE needs to be a constant tug-of-war fought on a daily basis by those living in or nearby a system, and you can’t enforce that as an arbitrary game mechanic. It needs to be organic, with fleets forming daily to capture objectives and respond to threats as and when they happen, and it absolutely cannot be scheduled days in advance. If I’m fighting for control of a space station, the battle should be happening at the space station, and it should happen in periodic skirmishes over several days to give the defender plenty of time to react and plan his next move.

sov20-6The sov system we actually need

Any new sov system needs to get rid of reinforcement timers in favour of spontaneous, organic fleet battles and ongoing system defense. The ideal solution is to have multiple capture levels for all structures so that they have to be captured multiple times during separate vulnerability periods. Give each structure an ownership rating out of five that can only be decreased by one point in each vulnerability period, and make it automatically increase by a point if the structure isn’t successfully attacked that day. It would take about the same amount of time to capture something, but it’d be an organic daily battle instead of two alliances sitting on their hands for 48 hours and then throwing everything they’ve got at each other (or worse, one side not showing up).

Most of the sovereignty proposal is actually pretty perfect, and the Entosis module is a clever idea, but the capture mechanics need a few fundamental changes. In the ideal sov system, we should form daily assault fleets to hit strategic targets in nearby systems and defense fleets to keep watch on our systems that have been recently attacked. Structures should be made vulnerable over time by repeated successful attacks, not captured or destroyed in a single all-out battle. We should have to plan for when we think the enemy will strike, how big their force is, and whether they’ll split up and go for different targets at the same time. And we should have to log in every day to be ready to defend our space if the enemy attacks, not just ignore the initial attack because a reinforcement timer will kick in and save our asses. The new system as it’s proposed won’t do any of this, and that’s a damn shame.

sov20-end

Most of the sovereignty revamp devblog had me shouting “YES! YES! YES!” at my screen like a rabid Daniel Bryan fan, but a few parts of it feel completely over-engineered. EVE is a sandbox game that lives and dies on its emergent gameplay. We don’t need an explicitly designed control point minigame for sovereignty, and thinking that we do is practically a conceit on the part of the game designers. This isn’t a PvE activity like missions or incursions where the devs can create the content, and it isn’t casual PvP like faction warfare where the capture mechanics don’t really matter.

All we actually need is a lightweight capture mechanic that fits naturally into people’s everyday PvP goals. You take your fleet into enemy space during its vulnerability window and try to capture stuff, and the owner either defends the structures successfully that day or loses one point of control over them. Lose enough control over the structures and they’ll turn neutral and will be accessible to everyone, and the next alliance to capture it gets ownership of it.

Why can’t we have a simple system like that? No 48-hour warning so you can schedule all the PvP that matters far in advance, no complicated mechanics, and no artificial control-point minigame. Just neighbouring alliances locked in a perpetual tug of war, forced to actively defend their space for a few hours each day in order to keep it. If I sound overly negative about the new sov system, it’s only because the proposal is so close to perfect and just needs just a few core changes to be successful. What do you think?

EVE Online expert Brendan ‘Nyphur’ Drain has been playing EVE for over a decade and writing the regular EVE Evolved column since 2008. The column covers everything from in-depth EVE guides and news breakdowns to game design discussions and opinion pieces. If there’s a topic you’d love to see covered, drop him a comment or send mail to brendan@massivelyop.com!
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